The Grand Lodge Movement in New Zealand (1876-90)
(from the pages of The New Zealand Masonic Journal) part 1

Those of you whom we regard as the elder statesmen of the Craft would have joined during the twilight years of and perhaps knew the "greats" of New Zealand Freemasonry. Those of us who are new to Freemasonry tend to take the contributions made by these men for granted. Not least of their achievements were the creation and continued existence of our own Grand Lodge. We, today, have not known a time without a Grand Lodge and I would venture to suggest we are unable to visualise such a situation even though it did once exist.

From shortly after the arrival of the first immigrant ship, at Port Nicholson, for almost 50 years Freemasonry in New Zealand was well served by Irish, Scottish and English Constitution lodges administered by their respective District or Provincial Grand Masters: and the occasional French lodge. From the outset they co-existed in harmony and even through the troubled period during which the Grand Lodge of New Zealand was enacted our brethren were true to the spirit of Freemasonry.
That any was not I will leave to others to judge as my part in this is merely to recount the facts of history and not to change it.

The First Freemasons

The first documentary evidence of masonic activity among the colonists was provided by the New Zealand Herald and Auckland Gazette of 31 July, 1841.
The "Gazette" reported the laying of the foundation stone of St. Paul's Church in Auckland on 24 July, 1841: The Gentlemen in Auckland, who are Freemasons, appeared with the decorations and insignia of their order.

Significant as this is it does not prove that any lodges were operating, merely that a group of Freemasons had appeared in public wearing regalia. That lodges were not operating (officially) can be assumed from subsequent requests for Warrants.

The First Lodges

During the 1840s travel was slow and the distance from colony to home great.
Although the laying of the telegraphic cable to New Zealand immeasurable eased communications with the rest of the world, particularly Great Britain. Because of these difficulties the three mother grand lodges allowed brethren wishing to form a lodge to do so by dispensation from their "nearest" lodge. Having in mind the irregularity of mails and the long wait for replies a group of Auckland brethren petitioned the Australian Social Lodge No.260, Irish Constitution, meeting in Sydney and were granted a dispensation (dated 5th September 1842) for the constitution of a lodge. The dispensation was brought to Auckland by a brother, visiting from Australia and was produced at the first meeting of the new lodge, which was held on 9th February 1843. Thus came into being the Auckland Social Lodge No.348, Irish Constitution. The Warrant, giving the Page 4 lodge its number, 348, is dated 12 June, 1844; but was not received until some time in 1847.

At, or about the same time a like group of Port Nicholson brethren applied to the Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Australasia, resident in Sydney, for a provisional Warrant. On the recommendation of the Lodge of Australia No. 548, English Constitution, a dispensation was granted, dated 9th September, 1842. By this dispensation Bro. George Smith was appointed Master and he was installed in the Lodge of Australia as Master of "New Zealand Pacific Lodge" to be opened at Port Nicholson, New Zealand. The lodge was formally constituted 23 November 1842 in the presence of 10 members and two visitors. Its Warrant, dated 29th July, 1845, gave it the number 758, English Constitution and was first used at the July 1846 meeting. Although this sequence of events is well known to New Zealand Freemasons it is included here for the benefit of our overseas members.
Although the Auckland Social Lodge was the first masonic lodge in New Zealand it was not the only lodge for long. Both the Auckland Social Lodge and the New Zealand Pacific Lodge were now the "nearest lodge" and both were active in granting dispensations. Indeed by the 1860s the Craft was firmly entrenched in the colony and was spreading rapidly.

By the mid 1860s the United Grand Lodge of England had established a District Grand Lodge in Canterbury (1859), Otago (1864) and Southland (1864).

The Grand Lodge of Ireland established a District Grand Lodge, also in 1859; Scotland in 1871.
During this period of expansion in New Zealand the first act in a great drama occurred in Australia which, because of the significance of decisions made and actions taken it is necessary to recount. I make no apology for including extensive coverage of these events as our brethren were aware of events in Australia and errors made by our cousins in their moves to independence.

The Grand Lodge of Victoria - the first movement

The event in question, which occurred in the middle of this period of administrative expansion by the mother of Grand Lodges, took place in Australia on 18th April 1863.

On that date a committee of brethren, representing the three constitutions, was formed (with powers to add to their numbers) and delivered a resolution to the 65 lodges of Victoria That this meeting of Freemasons, believing that the foundation of a Grand Lodge, to be called The Grand Lodge of Victoria by the union of the different Constitutions at present existing in this colony, would be for the best interest of the Craft, hereby pledge ourselves to use every legitimate means to accomplish that object.
Replies were received from 34 lodges of which 20 were in favour of forming a Grand Lodge.

More important than the number of lodges in favour was that, as individuals, the Officers of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Ireland supported the movement; Page 5 as did the majority of the Scottish lodges. The English Provincial Grand Master was not as warmly disposed as his counterparts although a number of his Past Masters were in favour. To their credit the Provincial Grand Masters referred the matter back to England, Scotland and Ireland for guidance.

The significance of this attempt to form a Grand Lodge in Victoria was not lost on the brethren in New Zealand and the replies from Great Britain were to have serious implications for this country. The Grand Master of England, the Earl of Zetland, through his Grand Secretary, discountenanced the idea. The Grand Lodge of Scotland sent a lengthy report with the same intent but the Grand Lodge of Ireland referred the matter back to the Provincial Grand Lodge, stating that it was not in the power of that Grand Lodge to found another Grand Lodge - that it must be the act of the Victorian Freemasons themselves. This particular decision was the first of the "official" pronouncements on the formation of a Grand Lodge and like the others that were to follow was of some significance for New Zealand.

Due in the main to delays in communicating with the mother Grand Lodges the movement cooled. But the reply from Ireland while possibly seen as a severe hurdle as only a minority were in favour of a Grand Lodge was the key to their ultimate success and that of the similar movement in New Zealand of 1890.

The Second Movement

The first attempt at forming a Grand Lodge having petered out it was 4th July 1876 before a second attempt was formally made. On this date, in the newspapers throughout the colony, an advertisement announced a meeting to be held at the Masonic Hall, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne on Monday, 31st July, 1876. The meeting was duly held and a resolution in favour of forming a Grand Lodge was passed 40 votes to three with several abstentions. A subsequent meeting was held to elect officers to a steering committee which issued, on 4th September, a circular reporting the proceedings to date. This was sent to each of the lodges holding under the English Constitution and immediately brought forth a letter from the District Grand Master, forbidding all discussion on the subject in lodge and ordering the movement discountenanced in every way. It was.

The Third Movement

The brethren orchestrating the third attempt had obviously learned some lessons from the two previous failures. At the meeting of 27th April 1883 the brethren were informed both of the purpose of this meeting and that a preliminary meeting had been held involving Past Masters of the three constitutions; at which an executive committee pro tem had been elected, with powers to convene this first general meeting. The chairman of this general meeting, with the task of informing the gathering of these arrangements, was Bro. H.W. Lowry, D.G. Treasurer E.C. and D.G. Secretary, S.C.
During the proceedings a brother rose to ask if it was competent for the Worshipful Master of a lodge to take part in the movement, or for the matter Page 6 to be discussed in open lodge. Bro. Lowry, the Chairman, advised that a Worshipful Master could take part and that the lodge was the proper place to discuss the movement.

The Secretary to the Executive Committee then read a report which informed the brethren that the Committee waited upon the Secretaries of the three Constitutions for the purpose of ascertaining their views and enlisting their sympathies. All were in favour and Bro. Lempriere, D.G.S., E.C. advised that he had already written to the United Grand Lodge of England stating that a strong feeling existed in favour of forming a Grand Lodge in Victoria.

R.W.Bro. H.St. John Clarke, Deputy District Grand Master, E.C. did not however see things in the same light and "the iron hand" was once more applied. But it was too late.

Early Exchanges In New Zealand

While our Australian brethren were forming their Grand Lodges, with varying degrees of success, the first attempt was made to form a Grand Lodge in New Zealand.
In the 1870s New Zealand was a colony comprising a number of areas of planned settlement. Wellington, for example, had been established by the New Zealand Company, with groups of selected immigrants; Christchurch was a Church of England project; Dunedin was colonised under the auspices of the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland and New Plymouth by grants of land to members of the militia. Auckland was an unplanned free-for-all.

Communication was not easy and travel both difficult and irregular so these areas of colonisation developed in isolation of each other's needs and with little community interest. To rectify the deficiencies of a central government which could not adequately cope with the problems arising from such a diverse colonial development Provincial Councils were formed. Even these were not successful and they were abolished from November 1876. At their demise there were 10 councils serving a population of 350,000. I surmise this figure related to the immigrant population and did not include indigenous people.

The councils were replaced by strengthening central government and it may well be that this action combined with that of our Australian brethren sparked the first attempt to institute a New Zealand Grand Lodge.

The first movement was led by R.W. Bro. V. Pike, Past Provincial Grand Master, S.C. and W.Bro. E.T. Gillon. Bro. Pike was a member of the parliament which abolished the Provincial Councils and strengthened central government while Bro. Gillon was a journalist of repute who had written extensively on the Provincial Council controversy.

They convened a meeting, in Wellington 7th July 1876 to consider the formation of a United Grand Lodge of New Zealand and issued invitations to Scottish lodges to appoint delegates. The delegates met 4th September and while favourably disposed to the idea of joining the three Constitutions together under the control of a single autonomous body it was considered inadvisable to proceed at that time.

The question was raised again in March 1884 when the brethren of The Leinster Lodge, No.469 I.C. wrote to the brethren of The New Zealand Pacific Lodge No.517 E.C. suggesting a Grand Lodge for New Zealand.

The proposal was not received with any degree of enthusiasm.

Sourced from UML

NOTE:  This is the first of a 3 part article, 2nd part to continue next month. Ed
Food For Thought