Speaker’s Chair #1999-0430
A carved oak Speaker’s Chair, being a replica of the Speaker’s Chair by Pugin in the House of Commons, Westminster; the carved canopy with a pierced gallery and four carved pillars and a Royal armorial at the centre; the front section with carved panelling of scrolling leaf floral decoration; the centre panel with crossed mace decoration, the front inset with a wing back armchair, upholstered in green leather; the back with 10 carved panels, raised on a stepped platform with later added desk. The Chair incorporates a small amount of timber from both Westminster Hall and Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, which saw service in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Inscription carved into the front of the platform: “Replica of the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons at Westminster, presented to the House of Representatives at Canberra by the United Kingdom Branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association, comprising Members of both Houses of Parliament, as a fitting symbol of the great Parliamentary tradition which binds together the free Nations of the British Commonwealth. Anno Domini 1926.”
This chair was used as the Speaker’s Chair between 1927 and 1988 and is still located in the House of Representatives Chamber. It is one of only two international gifts of furniture presented to Provisional Parliament House, the other being the President of the Senate?s chair.
The original Speaker’s Chair was designed by Augustus Welby Pugin (1812 - 1852) who was one of the key interior designers when the Palace of Westminster was rebuilt in the 1840s. The replica in the House of Representatives was built by Messrs Harry Hems & Sons of Exeter, England, using traditional medieval methods (no screws, nails, etc). The Speaker’s Chair is heavily carved with symbols including the Royal coat of arms, Queen Victoria’s initials, Tudor roses and the black rod and mace (representing the House of Lords and the House of Commons). The linen-fold carving on the rear is particularly fine. The Latin inscription on the chair translates to: ‘The hand that deals justly is a sweet smelling ointment. A heedful and faithful mind is conscious of righteousness. Justice is influenced neither by entreaties nor gifts. Liberty lies in the laws. Envy is the enemy of honor. Praise be to God.’
The chair represents the ties between England and Australia and reflects a history of continuity through the inherited Westminster system of Parliament. In 1926 Sir Littleton Groom, the first Speaker in the Provisional Parliament House, stated the chair stood for ‘the authority, honour, and dignity of Parliament… it will inspire feelings of affection, esteem, and gratitude towards the land that gave birth to Parliamentary institutions’. This relationship was reinforced when the Speaker’s Chair in the British House of Commons was destroyed during an air raid in 1941. The Australian government paid for a replica of the Speaker’s Chair at the Provisional Parliament House and presented it to the British House of Commons in 1951. It was carved by British craftsmen out of black bean and had ‘The Gift of Australia’ inscribed across the back.
In August 1925, John Smith Murdoch was informed that the United Kingdom Branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association was making a replica of the Speaker’s Chair in the British House of Commons. Murdoch voiced his concern over this decision as he felt that the gothic-style chair would look out of place with the Inter War Stripped Classical design of the building and furniture. Despite his protests, the chair was installed in the Provisional Parliament House and was officially presented to the Australian Parliament on October 11, 1926. Although it is a significant piece of furniture, the Speaker’s Chair was not moved to the new Parliament House on Capital Hill in 1988.