The Grand Lodge Movement in New Zealand (1876-90)
(from the pages of The New Zealand Masonic Journal) part 2

The New Zealand Masonic Journal

The aforesaid information about the Victoria Grand Lodge Movement, very pertinent to any similar movement to independence in New Zealand, was extracted from the pages of the New Zealand Masonic Journal. First issued 1st February, 1887, it was intended to be complementary to its senior The New Zealand Freemason. It was the owners' stated intent, among other things, not to champion the cause of any particular Constitution or lodge. Reading through the pages it must be said that the Editors treated all Constitutions favourably but, commencing with issue 2 of 1st March 1887 showed that they were in favour of and would "actively" promote any proper New Zealand movement to an independent Grand Lodge. They later accomplished this by giving space to the points of view of all parties but exercised an editorial policy always geared to an independent Craft in New Zealand.

Issue 2, under Miscellaneous Articles commenced the history of the Grand Lodge of Victoria movement; continued the series in issue 3 and in issue 4 printed an expansive article on the founding of a Grand Lodge. For this article the Editor drew on the example of Victoria and to a lesser extent New South Wales and South Australia.

In this article (entitled Erection of Grand Lodges), which should have been required reading for those who were later to head the New Zealand movement, several vital points were made and it is worth summarising them here for they were probably known to the brethren who instigated our own Grand Lodge movement a few years later.

1. The existing mode of masonic government by Grand Lodge, was conceived and inaugurated in the early years of the 18th century by a small group of lodges who created a supreme body under that title and invested it with the sole power of chartering new lodges and legislating for the general good of the fraternity. It was established for the government of the Craft in England, and not with any idea of its being permanently the ruler of the masonic world.

2. As the Freemasonry expanded throughout the world and as the necessities of the Craft in various states and territories called for local autonomy their declarations of independence were acquiesced by the Grand Lodge of England and the later established Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland.

3. A new Grand Lodge was not the creation of another Grand Lodge by charter or any other means but was the creation of the lodges erecting it and was subject to no higher power. It was through an imperfect understanding of this principle that the 1863 movement in Victoria foundered. Those trying to establish a Grand Lodge in Victoria were told by the Grand Lodge of Ireland that it could not acquiesce to their request to form a Grand Lodge but that it must be the act of the Victorian masons themselves.

4. Although the right to establish Grand Lodges is inherent in a single lodge Page 8 or confederation of lodges both must wholly represent the Craft of the territory where it is proposed to establish the new Grand Lodge; not necessarily the whole territory but a preponderance of it.

5. The doctrine held by some of the American Grand Lodges that any three lodges in a state or territory where no Grand Lodge then existed, may establish a Grand Lodge which shall thereupon become a sovereign body with exclusive jurisdiction has never been recognised by the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland.

6. The right of brethren, in unoccupied masonic territory, to discuss the formation of a Grand Lodge in open lodge had, until recently, never been objected to and in fact was supported in several instances by the United Grand Lodge of England. The restrains of this right in Victoria by a Deputy District Grand Master was far in excess of his authority. The Executive Committee representing the lodges wishing to form a Grand Lodge should have appealed the actions of the Deputy District Grand Master to the District Grand Master and if necessary to the Grand Lodge of England.

7. The lodges in Victoria and New South Wales which declared a Grand Lodge were not a majority and, their action in declaring Grand Lodges created a masonic schism which has resulted in no recognition of those Grand Lodges and the continued chartering, tightly so, by the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland.

8. As the Grand Lodges of Victoria and New South Wales are not recognised their lodges and members are being ostracised.

9. In the case of the Grand Lodge of South Australia, of which no mention had as yet been made, a totally different approach to the formation of a Grand Lodge was taken for at the Communication of The United Grand Lodge of England on 3rd June 1885
Bro. the Earl of Limerick, Provincial Grand Master for Bristol and Acting Grand Master in the chair said "Grand Lodge (England) could not, he thought, but acknowledge the fraternal and friendly spirit with which the body styling itself 'The Grand Lodge of South Australia' had approached this Grand Lodge; they must recognise that their request might be said to have been a unanimous one; they had not endeavoured - in fact they had repudiated the idea - to enforce obedience on any lodges in that district which did not wish to join them - they had repudiated that idea altogether. They had approached this Grand Lodge - he felt sure every brother present would think - in a most proper spirit." He went on to support the motion "that this Grand Lodge agrees to enter into fraternal relations with the Grand Lodge of South Australia."

10. The Editor made the final point that the proceedings of the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland show that should a new Grand Lodge be fairly and squarely established the claim of tyrannically refusing recognition, such as claimed by Quebec, Victoria and New South Wales, is unfounded.

In the final paragraph the Editor, having set forth the basic conditions and requirements for the declaring of a Grand Lodge likely to receive recognition as well as the pitfalls exposed by the Australian experience continued "only Page 9 let a new Grand Lodge be fairly and squarely established, as we trust will ere long be the case in New Zealand, and there cannot be the shadow of a doubt that the old Grand Lodges will extend to it as cordial a recognition as they did to the Grand Lodge of South Australia." One unfortunate side effect of the declaration of these Grand Lodges was that although South Australia was recognised by England the Grand Lodge of Scotland refused recognition on the grounds that the South Australians had themselves accorded recognition to Victoria. This matter was commented upon by Gould in Volume 6 of his History of Freemasonry, then recently published, and a letter from South Australia taking Gould to task for his comments was forwarded to New Zealand for publication.

This article in The New Zealand Masonic Journal was the first record I can find of press advocacy for a Grand Lodge of New Zealand. Whether the experiences it recounted and the lessons it preached were heeded I will leave for the reader to decide as the story unfolds.

The final movement began on 2nd May 1887 with the editorial mentioned and ended with the formation of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand in 1890 and for the whole of this period The New Zealand Masonic Journal and its successor were at the forefront of reporting the developing Grand Lodge Movement.

The Ground is Prepared

The first occasion when anything official occurred was 18th May 1887. Exactly what, we do not yet know but at the Annual communication of the District Grand Lodge of Otago and Southland, E.C., chaired by the R.W.D.G.M. Bro. T.S. Graham a circular issued by Lord Carnarvon was read and discussed at length but it was agreed no action would be taken at that time. What the circular was we can only guess. We are also informed that the rest of the business was of a private nature so there was no information available for publication.

An educated guess can be made after reading the New Zealand Masonic Journal of 1 March 1888. This issue reported the news from Sydney that the lodges of the three constitutions operating in New South Wales had united to form a Grand Lodge and that as a result Lord Carnarvon had guaranteed recognition, by the Grand Lodge of England and Lord Carrington had agreed to become the first Grand Master.

There were problems associated with the founding of this Grand Lodge and it is known that Lord Carnarvon had travelled extensively through the colony, supposedly to heal the rifts between the various factions. So it is not unrealistic to suppose that the suppressed circular concerned forming a Grand Lodge.

The Editor also reported a coming together of the Victorian Lodges as a result of Lord Carnarvon's actions and suggested, once again, that the lessons to be learnt from the formation of these two Grand Lodges should not be lost on the Craft in New Zealand. One of the actions of the United Grand Lodge of England not lost on New Zealand Freemasons was its unhappy relationship with the Grand Lodge of Quebec. In a long standing dispute over the three lodges Page 10 still working in Quebec under their original charter the United Grand Lodge of England refused recognition of the Grand Lodge of Quebec and also refused an offer of mediation by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana thus placing itself in both an untenable and somewhat hypocritical situation bearing in mind the background mediation carried out by Lord Carnarvon. This was to be repeated in New Zealand At the same time the N.Z. Mail's masonic Editor suggested that things in this country were "very well as they are" and that there were "difficulties in the way of such a scheme [for New Zealand] which are insurmountable." By way of example he suggested that "unity of purpose in this direction would never be obtained among the adherents of no fewer than two Provincial and eight District Grand Lodges." To put the size of Freemasonry in this country in perspective there were, by mid 1888, 150 lodges registered, comprising 86 English, 15 Irish and 49 Scottish.

In the New Zealand Masonic Journal 2 July 1888 a regular correspondent, writing under the pseudonym Spalls from an Ashlar, asked "shall New Zealand remain split into nearly a dozen petty organisations any longer." The election and installation of V.W.Bro. His Excellency Lord Carrington, P.G.S.W., E.C. as Grand Master and acceptance of the Patronage of the Grand Lodge of South Australia by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was probably the cause of this ungracious outburst and brought in its wake a major editorial leader in the “Journal”.

The editorial, previously mentioned, written by George Gordon, made several pointed comments regarding the formation of a Grand Lodge of New Zealand:

1. The masonic press had unequivocally pressed for a grand lodge as long as masonic papers had been published in the colony. This had been done regardless of whether or not the time was right Gordon of course excluded the "Journal" from his criticism.

2. While the opinions of various sections of the Craft in this country were favourable towards such a move no organised effort had as yet been made to solicit the opinion of the Craft in general either for or against the project.

3. This faint heartedness was attributed to two causes: (a) The difficulty of framing a Constitution which would satisfy the numerous sections into which the Craft was divided and (b) The fear that brethren have of being charged with hostility to their present Grand Lodges.

4. The old Grand Lodges would give recognition to any new grand lodge and welcome it as an equal provided the new Grand Lodge was erected by a majority of the lodges therein.

5. As all of the Grand Lodges in existence have sprung directly or indirectly from the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland no movement to form a Grand Lodge of New Zealand is breaking new ground.

6. The recent actions of Lord Carnarvon while acting to heal the rift in New South Wales in favour of the local Grand Lodge, in spite of a minority of lodges having formed the Grand Lodge, reinforced the constitutional rights of New Zealand Freemasons to seek their independence.

7. Gordon quoted an extract from an article by Bro. W.J. Hughan, P.J.G.D., E.C. which reinforced his earlier statements - "it has been the custom of the Grand Lodge of England eventually - though not always very rapidly or willingly - to recognise all Grand Lodges, legally formed, so long as those lodges which declined to join the new organisations were allowed to continue their allegiance as before. In all such cases the Premier Grand Lodge (instituted in 1717) never issuing any new warrants in such Territories or Countries, and simply claiming any of its lodges which declined to participate or join the new body until such time as they happily decide to unite with the majority." Unfortunately the Editor of The Freemason (England) seemed to disagree and stated quite bluntly in an editorial that the cessation of a country from the status of "free masonic territory" due to the founding of an autonomous Grand Lodge did not apply to the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland." The "Journal's" reply was succinct and to the point. But that any other reaction could have occurred is unlikely as the English Freemason and the New Zealand masonic papers had been engaged in a journalistic battle for some time over the English suggestion that colonial Freemasonry contributed nothing financial to the mother country.

In the 1st October issue the "Journal" reported the coming into existence of a United Independent Grand Lodge for New South Wales which event took place on Thursday 16th August. The "Journal" briefly recounted the difficulties overcome in reaching this happy state of affairs whereby 183 lodges out of 186 joined the new Grand Lodge.

The same issue carried, under "miscellaneous articles", another editorial by Gordon in which as a cautionary note he pointed out why New Zealand could not readily follow the same path as New South Wales. He was not suggesting a different path to that which was proper but suggested that the configuration of the colony, the absence of a single main centre of population; the existence of several cities of equal importance, widely distant from one another being commercial and political rivals combined to show that a fixed home for a Grand Lodge was not practical. He went on to suggest the establishment of Provincial Boards of General Purposes and the use of Provincial Grand Masters to administer the Craft when Grand Lodge was not in session; in other words a decentralised Craft operating totally on a local basis in the same way as the old Provincial councils. Gordon also raised, for the first time, the thorny questions of transfer of rank to the New Grand Lodge. All of this before any official final movement was under way.

The November issue sent a message of congratulations to the Grand Lodge of New South Wales, suggested that Victoria would be next and this would be followed by New Zealand before the end of 1890. In the same issue the Editor once again took up the cudgel to defend colonial Freemasonry from the Freemason's accusation of the colonies being financial pariahs but extended the Editorial into a biased argument for independence.

The new Year began for the "Journal" with a letter from the brethren steering the as yet unconsummated Victoria Grand Lodge movement. The Secretary advised of a delay in proceedings occasioned by Colonel Shadwell H. Clerke the Grand Secretary of The United Grand Lodge of England. Colonel Clerke was to feature prominently in the near future in dealings between the Grand Lodge of England and that of New Zealand. The Secretary for Victoria gave details of their voting for a Grand Lodge stating that they had received favourable replies from 102 lodges giving 3,353 votes in favour, 79 against and about 1000 abstentions.

Sourced from UML

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