The Grand Lodge Movement in New Zealand (1876-90)
(from the pages of The New Zealand Masonic Journal) contined from last update - part 3

Grand Lodge of New Zealand

For some years action to found a Grand Lodge in New Zealand and the actions of the various movements in Australia almost marched hand-in-hand: the present time was no exception. On the 1st February 1889 a large and representative meeting of Past Masters, of the three constitutions, was held in the Exchange Buildings in Wellington to consider the advisability of taking steps to form a United Grand Lodge of New Zealand. Bro. B.T. Gillon occupied the chair and explained the many reasons why the Freemasons of New Zealand were desirous of having a Grand Lodge of their own. He concluded his address by assuring the brethren that the action to be taken would be in accordance with recognised masonic procedure and would thus result in recognition by the Grand Lodges "at home". At the conclusion of W.Bro. Gillon's address the District Grand Master for Auckland, R.W.Bro. G.S.

Graham recorded his dissent and withdrew. The motion "That in the opinion of this meeting it is desirable in the interests of masonry that a United Grand Lodge of New Zealand be formed," moved by W.Bro. H.J. Williams, The New Zealand Pacific Lodge, No.517 E.C. and seconded by W.Bro. G. Robertson, Lodge Wellington, No.1521 E.C. was carried with but this one dissension.

To carry the resolution into effect it was resolved to form a Masonic Union with branches throughout the colony. A Central Executive was set up with W.Bro. Gillon as chairman and W.Bro. Robertson as secretary and the further decision made that a circular, with copies of the report of the meeting, should be sent to every lodge. It was also decided that a convention should take place in Wellington during the ensuing sessions of Parliament for the purpose of constituting The Grand Lodge of New Zealand, adopting a constitution, and electing a Grand Master.

The Masonic Union Branches The circulars and report were duly issued to the Masters of the various lodges.
The first district to respond was Canterbury and on 26th February a meeting of representatives in the St Augustine Hall agreed on the desirability of a Grand Lodge and fixed 2nd April as the next meeting date. About 140 brethren attended this second meeting and moved to establish a branch of the Masonic Union. The vote in favour was 50 to 14. The Union's first meeting was held 11th April and appointed brethren to office. Being now operational the Canterbury branch of the Masonic Union sent circulars to all lodges in the District urging brethren to vote in favour of the proposal to form a Grand Lodge.

The next branch was formed in Otago at a meeting held 29th March. The notice convening the meeting being signed by 74 brethren. At the meeting a resolution was passed to immediately take the necessary steps to form a Grand Lodge. The vote on this occasion was 134 to 24.

The Auckland brethren met 10th April and like their southern counterparts passed the resolution in favour of a United Grand Lodge but while there were over 200 brethren present the resolution was passed by only 75 votes to 17.

There was also opposition from the members of the Board of General Purposes of the District Grand Lodge of Auckland. The Board passed resolutions against the proposal and these resolutions were endorsed by District Grand Lodge. A circular from the Board, dated 10th March 1889, in the form of a manifesto, conveyed these resolutions to the brethren. It also contained reports against the movement by the District Grand Lodge and the Board of General Purposes of Wellington and Westland. Westland in its report resorted to calling into question the patriotism and loyalty of those involved in the movement. This was a grave error as it had been made clear from the outset that New Zealand Freemasons were not "cutting the cord" and a few years before in repines to the Jubilee Appeal the English lodges had declined to make a significant contribution on the grounds that they already gave in their returns to England and received little in exchange. But these tactics were effective and by 5th May only 12 lodges had signified their assent to the proposed United Grand Lodge while 5 were opposed. That 12 were in favour was probably due to the financial circular issued by the Auckland Union Branch showing that £283/19/- per annum for Auckland and £900/-/- would be available for use if brethren no longer had to remit money home. This aspect was at various times to assume proportions out of keeping with masonic ideals - on both sides.

Masonic Union branches were formed in Southland and Oamaru shortly afterwards.

As elsewhere there was opposition. R.W.Bro. T.S. Graham District Grand Master for Otago issued a circular to all Masters in his District forbidding them to discuss or allude to the circular of 18th January from W.Bro. T.G. DeRenzy. After refusing requests to withdraw his circular a deputation of brethren, including his own Secretary waited upon him and pointed out that his action was contrary to the willingness of the United Grand Lodge of England to recognise any properly constituted Grand Lodge. Bro. Graham, although always opposed to the movement, issued a new circular both granting permission for discussion to take place and for delegates to attend the coming conference. He later withdrew his permission.

During the March/June period a great many meetings took place the length and breadth of the colony. Some are reported in full in the "Journal" other merely mentioned but month by month the rate of discussion depth was increasing and the tone of the meetings was changing from ascertaining those in favour of a Grand Lodge to discussing it as a fait accompli. The New Zealand Masonic Journal changed the emphasis of its editorials to explaining the reasons for it, the benefits to accrue from it and why it was legal.

A surprising number of letters related to the cost of having our own Grand Lodge. If they were in favour it would save us a great deal of money if they were against - we couldn't afford it because we were too small.

Shadwell H. Clerke - Grand Secretary England Among those not against the formation of a Grand Lodge for New Zealand was Bro. Sir H.A. Atkinson, District Grand Master Wellington, E.C. but to ensure that he discharged the duties of his office in a manner conducive to the good of the Craft he wrote to the Grand Lodge of England seeking a ruling on interpreting Article 219, Book of Constitutions. This article related to the transfer of the Warrant of a lodge to any three brethren not wishing to change allegiance - in other words could a minority of brethren maintain a lodge?
Due to the delay in receiving a reply, caused by the Grand Registrar being out of London for the autumn, Atkinson issued a circular, 4th October 1889, to the Masters of lodges in his District, which cited Article 219 and proceeded: "It is within the power of three or more of the members of your lodge, under this rule, not withstanding the resolution of the lodge, to hold the warrant for the purposes of masonry under the English Constitution: and for the maintenance and enjoyment of their rights thereunder; they are in law and in fact the lodge"; and it will be for those who wish to adopt a different course to take the active step of leaving." The long awaited letter from Shadwell H. Clerke, dated 4th November 1889 arrived too late to repair the damage. The Grand Registrar had ruled when the same question was raised during the formation of the various Australian Grand Lodges, the rule contained in Article 219, allowing three members to retain the warrant was held not to apply as the majority were not leaving the lodge but transferring its allegiance. The Grand Registrar considered this interpretation should also apply to New Zealand.

Atkinson would not accept the ruling and wrote to England referring to a statement made by the Grand Registrar, given when recognition was accorded to South Australia.

The Grand Registrar seconded the motion for recognition of that Grand Lodge. The statement was to the effect that Grand Lodge (England) was "bound to maintain the rights of those brethern who should not feel themselves enabled to join with the majority." Shadwell H. Clerke, upon receipt of this latest communication, referred the whole proceedings of Grand Lodge for 5th June 1885 to the Grand Registrar. In his reply to Atkinson, Clerke reported that during the proceedings he, the Grand Registrar, had used the case of Victoria and the application of Article 219 to show that proposals for the formation of independent Grand Lodges could not be lawfully entertained or discussed in open lodge and that it extended to meet all cases where a minority of not fewer than three claim the right to retain the warrant. Clerke went on to explain that the Grand Registrar in making this point had not "given a ruling" as Article 219 could only extend to matters which can legitimately be discussed in open lodge. Clerke, having given substance to Atkinson's actions, did at least leave one avenue for us by writing that the formation of a Grand Lodge was not contemplated or provided for in the laws or constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of England. So, providing nothing masonically improper was done Page 15 by the advocates of a New Zealand Grand Lodge, they could proceed without fear of censure. And proceed they did. In fact they had not apparently considered the outcome of this correspondence but trusted to overcoming any problem by inviting the Earl of Onslow to be Grand Master.

The Earl of Onslow Prior to his arrival in Auckland on 22nd April, 1889, the Earl of Onslow, at a dinner in his honour in Sydney, declined to comment on the New Zealand movement as his sympathies were with unity - solid and harmonious - in masonry.

An indication of his attitude towards a new Grand Lodge may possibly be gleaned from the farewell dinner he attended at the Onslow Royal Arch Chapter prior to taking up his appointment in New Zealand. The speech is too long to be reported here but in essence he was inclined to think the movement premature. Not a good omen for New Zealand but at least the brethren were aware of his possible attitude for the speech was reported in the "Journal".

Long before the correspondence with Clerke was completed Gillon and his Executive Committee wrote to Onslow, on the 14th October 1889, requesting that he accept a deputation that would offer him the position of Grand Master.
They, the signatories; stated that in their opinion, a majority of the Craft in the colony were in favour of a Grand Lodge and gave the following figures:

English Lodges 85
Irish Lodges 15
Scottish Lodges 47

Gillon pointed out that of these lodges a number were practically dormant but was able to be positive that 50 English, 10 Irish and 32 Scottish lodges, or 92 lodges, were in favour. Those against 21 and undecided 34 or a majority of 92 to 55. The Executive believed that at least 14 lodges were waiting Onslow's approval to commit themselves which would give a total of 106 in favour and 41 effectively against.

Having made his point Gillon went on to discuss the schism that had occurred in Victoria and stressed his, Gillon's, desire to at all costs avoid a repeat in New Zealand intimating that the onus for avoiding such a state of affairs rested squarely with Onslow.

In reply Onslow informed the committee that he had made it his business as a member of Grand Lodge to enquire into the state of the Craft in New Zealand and before leaving England had undertaken to communicate with the Grand Secretary from time to time but in this respect had not yet felt in a position to represent to the Secretary that the unanimity which had existed in Australia was present in New Zealand. The differential of for and against was 65 in New Zealand compared with 3 in South Australia.

In closing Onslow said that the establishment of a Grand Lodge in the colony while of immeasurable benefit and inevitable was as yet premature and he would save the Committee the trouble of journeying to him but expressed the hope Page 16 that after a further 12 months or more if a greater degree of unanimity was achieved then they, the Executive Committee, could command his services to act with England on their behalf.

A meeting was convened in Wellington to discuss the reply from Lord Onslow and communicate the result to the various masonic unions. The meeting was unanimous that to postpone declaring a Grand Lodge for 12 months, the practical completion of the work being done, was not acceptable. Bro. Sir H.A. Atkinson, who you will recall instigated the correspondence with Shadwell H. Clerke, met a deputation from the Executive Committee which communicated the decision to him while he, reiterated his ultimate favour, expressed the opinion that the movement was premature and counselled postponement. It was ultimately agreed to call a conference of the District and Provincial Grand Masters of the three constitutions in the hope that such a conference might achieve the results hoped for with Lord Onslow and it was proposed that R.W.Bro. G.S. Graham, District Grand Master, E.C., as the Senior in the colony, call the meeting. Atkinson agreed to attend if called upon. After consideration Graham declined but subsequently agreed to cohost a meeting in Dunedin on 9th January, 1990. The Executive agreed to this three month delay subject to the various branches of the Masonic Union concurring.

A reply to Lord Onslow's letter of 16th October was forwarded to him by the Executive 28th October informing him of events.

Interregnum While awaiting the meeting of 9th January 1890 the Union continued to put its case wherever and whenever it could. Its opponents were not idle. The District Grand Master in Dunedin, S.C., circulated extracts from correspondence with the Grand Lodge of Scotland Two extracts in particular were very damaging: the first dated 24th July 1889, Edinburgh informed brethren that a minority of a Scottish lodge could continue to hold the charter and if carried off surreptitiously a dispensation to continue would be forthcoming from the District Grand Master until the original was replaced: and secondly in an extract dated August 8th Grand Lodge of Scotland stated it would endorse any extraordinary powers assumed by a District Grand Master in defending the interests of Scottish masonry under his jurisdiction in the face of any Grand Lodge. This second circular was ordered to be read out in all lodges under the jurisdiction of District Grand Lodge S.C., New Zealand South.
The Council of Provincial and District Grand Master duly met in January and carried a resolution, without opposition, to the effect that while commending the protagonists of Union for deferring their action for three months, they thought the proposed Grand Lodge was premature and should be delayed until greater unanimity be achieved at some future time. Bro. Gillon attended the meeting in his official capacity as Deputy District Grand Master, S.C. for the North Island and in his capacity as President of the Executive Committee of the Union movement but wasn't afforded the courtesy of a copy of the result of the deliberations. To a certain extent the behaviour of the Council backfired Page 17 upon them as Freemasons excluded from the meeting invited Gillon to address them. The venue chosen was the Dunedin Masonic Hall but the directors refused its use for the address; Graham was one of the Directors. So the City Hall was used instead.

The finale The Executive Committee of the Union met 3rd February to consider the outcome of the Dunedin meeting. The outcome was two resolutions; the first calling the first meeting of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand for Wellington on the second Monday in March, for the election of Grand Master and the issue of provisional charters to lodges; the second was that the Canterbury Masonic Union should be requested to wait upon Bro. Henry Thompson, R.W. District Grand Master, Canterbury, E.C. asking him to accept nomination as the first Grand Master of New Zealand.
Bro. Thompson accepted the nomination subject to further approaches to Lord Onslow in the hope he would accept the position. Onslow discussed the situation with Gillon regarding the current number of lodges wishing to join the new Grand Lodge and cabled England. To allow time for a reply the first meeting of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand was postponed but an interchange of telegrams, finishing 17th March 1890 dashed any hope of Onslow accepting the office. Henry Thompson was duly installed as Grand Master of The Grand Lodge of New Zealand.

Today we have four constitutions working in New Zealand, in harmony. The fears of some brethren, that their masonic identity would be lost, did not of course materialise and as W.J. Hughan intimated the mother Grand Lodge eventually recognised her daughter.

This paper is of necessity short but I hope that even its inadequate coverage of the events prior to the erection of The Grand Lodge of New Zealand, as reported for brethren subscribing to the "Journal", will give some hint of the fascinating history of an aspect of New Zealand Freemasonry.

Sourced from UML

NOTE:  This is the third and final part of a 3 part article. Ed
Food For Thought