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History of Sergeant-at-Arms

The title of Serjeant-at-Arms takes its name from the time of the Crusades, when Philip the August, King of France, employed special bodyguards to protect him in the Holy Land in 1192. These serjeants d’Armes were encased in head-to-toe body armour and carried a decorated battle mace (Marsden, pp. 76-77).

Later, in 1278, King Edward I of England recruited 20 serjeants-at-arms as his personal escorts. These serjeants wielded royal authority and could arrest anyone for treason. Not only was there a royal serjeant, cities and boroughs adopted the serjeant as well. These men took over the duties of the bailiffs and reeves. They were men to be feared.

In 1415, the House of Commons requested its own serjeant-at-arms to enforce parliamentary privilege. He was the “King’s officer of state, and by virtue of the King’s insignia on his mace he was empowered to exercise royal authority over ordinary citizens – but on the instructions of the Speaker” (Marsden, p. 79). His powers were suspended when parliament was not sitting, but when it was in session, he had complete powers of arrest, trial, and imprisonment.

When the Nova Scotia House of Assembly was established in 1758, there was no official Sergeant-at-Arms. There was, however, a messenger who seems to have taken on the role. John Callbeck, the first messenger, was called upon by the Speaker to confine Archibald Hinshelwood, Deputy Secretary of the Province, who had insulted a member and the House. Similarly, in a letter dated November 29, 1784, Peter Etter was asked by the Speaker to present William Shaw, Esq. at the bar of the House.

Messengers and Door Keepers

(1758-1790) 1758 – 1764 John Callbeck

1765 – 1766 Alexander Cunningham

1767 – 1774 John Kent

1775 – 1779 Unknown (No name appears in the Journals)

1780 – 1789 Peter Etter

March 9, 1790, the House “Resolved, that a proper Person be appointed to Act in the Capacity of Sergeant at Arms to this House”. There is no indication as to why a sergeant-at-arms was sought at that time.

Sergeants-at-Arms (1790-Present)

Adolphus Veith10 March 1790
Charles Stewart Powell9 June 1801
John Angus6 February 1812
Robert Angus11 February 1813
Judah Wells11 February 1819
John Boyd12 December 1820
Thomas Boyd1 February 1827
John James Sawyer8 November 1830
Matthew Forrester31 January 1837
George A. Grassie8 February 1844
Peter Spearwater22 January 1848
George R. Grassie4 November 1851
Edward Joyce26 January 1860
Edward A. Pyke4 February 1864
Angus M. Gidney30 January 1868
Edward A. Pyke6 March 1879
Arthur F. Haliburton8 February 1883
Murdock D. McAskill14 February 1907
E.R. Nickerson27 February 1929
Donald Buchanan MacLeod1 March 1934
Rudolphe V. Comeau14 March 1946
Joseph Israel Pothier21 March 1950
Harold Chisholm Long27 February 1957
Delmore W. (Buddy) Daye22 February 1990
Douglas Giles (Interim)26 October 1995
Douglas Giles28 May 1998
Noel Knockwood22 March 2000
Kenneth H. Greenham3 March 2006
David G. Fraser1 January 2016

Source: Elliott, The Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia 1758-1983.