Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Kenneth (Ken) Charlton (1890–1972)

by Robert Lawrie

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William Kenneth Charlton (1890-1972), parliamentary officer, was born on 11 March 1890 at Balmain, Sydney, eldest son of William Apedaile Charlton, Anglican clergyman, and his wife Minnie Rose, née Day, both native-born. Educated at Sydney Grammar School, Ken enjoyed surfing. He joined the New South Wales Department of Prisons as a temporary junior clerk in 1906, transferred to the newly established Premier's Department in 1908 and in 1910 was appointed to the official staff of the governor, Lord Chelmsford

In 1914 Charlton moved to the staff of the Legislative Council of New South Wales as fourth clerk. Next year he was promoted to second clerk. On 28 March 1917 he married Essie May James at St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney. He was the first secretary (1916-19) of Taronga Zoological Park Trust when Fred Flowers, the president of the Legislative Council, was chairman of the zoo's trustees, and was also the first secretary of the Bronte Progress Association. A foundation member of the Organ Society of Sydney, he played at the Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church, Waverley, and tutored students of the organ. In 1924 he published a booklet, Parliamentary Government in New South Wales, as part of the celebrations of the centenary of legislative institutions in that State.

On 1 September 1932 Charlton was appointed clerk assistant; on 21 March 1939 he was commissioned as clerk of the parliaments and clerk of the Legislative Council, positions he held until 10 March 1954. He was also House secretary in 1933-39 and joint secretary of the State branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. A tall man, with a distinguished profile, he possessed perfect manners and 'impeccable diction' which stood him in good stead throughout his career. He was a master of parliamentary procedure and was impartial to all members who consulted him.

On his retirement, Charlton was appointed organist and choirmaster (1954-68) of St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Macquarie Street, having formerly been the assistant-organist for many years while employed at Parliament House. In 1961 he was appointed O.B.E. He died on 6 June 1972 at his Woollahra home and was cremated. His wife and daughter survived him; his son, Pilot Officer W. R. K. Charlton, Royal Australian Air Force, had been killed in action in 1942.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 31 Mar 1954
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Jan 1961, 10 June 1972
  • Legislative Council Special Bundles: Legislative Council Staff and Legislative Council Salary Register and Legislative Council Staff Service Register (New South Wales Parliamentary Archives).

Citation details

Robert Lawrie, 'Charlton, William Kenneth (Ken) (1890–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 March, 1890
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


6 June, 1972 (aged 82)
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.