Biography of Gustavus William Wicksteed, Q. C.

Gustavus William Wicksteed, the present Head Clerk and Chief of the Legislative Department of the House of Commons, has held that office and a like one in the Legislative Assembly and of United Canada, and in the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada as a first assistant, since 1841. He was born in Liverpool, England, December 21, 1799. His father, Richard Wicksteed, was a member of the Cheshire and Shropshire family of that name, and his mother, whose maiden name was Tatlock, was of a Lancashire family. Mr. Wicksteed came to Canada in 1821, by invitation of an uncle, the Hon. John Fletcher, for twenty-two years Judge of the District of St. Francis, Lower Canada, and an elder brother of Sir Richard Fletcher, R. E., who was killed at San Sebastian. Before leaving England, Mr. Wicksteed had studied mechanical engineering for some time, and, after settling in Lower Canada, was for some time employed in work connected with that profession.

In 1825 he commenced the study of law with Col. B. C. A. Gugy, and three years later entered the service of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada as Assistant Law Clerk. Years afterwards, when the constitution was suspended, and the Special Council for Lower Canada was constituted, he became one of its officers under the Attorney-General, the Hon. Charles Richard Ogden. In 1841 he was appointed Law Clerk and chief English translator to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, composed of. the reunited Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and in 1867, on the formation of the Dominion, to the same office in the House of Commons of Canada, which he still holds.

In 1841 Mr. Wicksteed was appointed one of the Commissioners to revise the Statutes and Ordinances of Lower Canada, and in 1854, Lord Elgin, then Governor-General, gave him a silk gown. Two years later he was appointed one of twelve Commissioners to “examine, revise, consolidate, and classify “the Public General Statutes of Canada, eleven of the best lawyers of Upper and Lower Canada being associated with him in the work. The Commissioners from Upper Canada undertook the Statutes affecting their Province, and those of Lower Canada the Statutes affecting their Province, all the Commissioners jointly taking those affecting the whole of Canada. The three volumes were reported to the Legislature in 1859 and 1860, examined and passed, the Governor being authorized to cause the Statutes of the Session to be incorporated with the work of the Commission; which was done for Upper Canada by the Hon. Sir James Macaulay, one of the Commissioners, for Lower Canada by Mr. Wicksteed, and for all Canada by these two gentlemen conjointly.

In 1864-5 he was one of the Commissioners for fixing the remuneration to be paid to railway companies for transporting the mails. While a resident of Lower Canada he was one the Commissioners for building the Parliament House at Quebec, and for other Public Works.

He was first married in 1834 to Mary, second daughter of John Gray, first President of the Bank of Montreal, she dying in 1835; and a second time in 1839, to Anna, eldest daughter of Capt. John Fletcher, of Her Majesty’s 72nd Regiment, and at that time an officer in the Imperial Customs at Quebec. He has five children living, and has lost one.

Mr. Wicksteed, like Alexander Pope, seems to have “lisped in numbers,” and to have been addicted to verse making, at intervals, all his days. In 1878 his friends persuaded him to print for private circulation, a volume containing some of his metrical compositions. That volume we have been permitted to examine, and are not surprised at the desire of his friends to possess this memento of his Muse. His versification is easy and flowing, and the humor and pathos of some of the pieces are excellent. The “Preface,” written in the measure of “Hiawatha,” is a happy apology for the publication of the volume. His “Advent Hymn,” and one or two other sacred poems, are good, and the quiet hits at Parliamentary doings are sharp and witty. The New Year Addresses of the several newspapers must have been appropriate “tracts for the times,” when they were published; and we agree with the opinion expressed by the late Governor-General, Lord Dufferin, himself no mean poet, that the “National Anthem,” with which the volume closes, is excellent. Many friends will treasure this modest little work.



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