Tag Archives: Masonic Lodges

A memorable December

In the early 1830s, walking along George Street from Sydney Cove, one soon came upon St. John’s Tavern, on the north corner of George and Bridge Streets. On the other side of Bridge Street and extending along that street was a Lumber Yard.

The Tavern was one of a number of buildings that stood on what used to be called the ‘Orphan Grant’ or the ‘Orphan House Ground’, which stretched between George Street and the ‘Stream of the Tanks’, and was bordered on the south by Bridge Street and on the north by the allotment of James Underwood. This ‘Orphan Grant’ was subdivided into six separate lots and sold off in 1827. Offered for sale at the same time was the Orphan School Grant at Cabramatta (6,000 acres), subdivided into lots, and offered for lease was farming land near Bathurst also known as the Orphan School Grant (1,000 acres, of which 20 were reserved for a possible church and school).

In October 1830 we find Thomas Brett advertising his recently opened ‘Wholesale and Retail Wine and Spirit Warehouse. St. John’s Tavern, Opposite the Lumber Yard, George-street.’ He acknowledged the ‘flattering patronage’ he had already received, and assured his friends and the public of ‘his determination to persevere in the sale of the finest articles that can be produced, and at such prices as cannot be undersold by any house in the trade.’

The name of St. John was appropriate to a tavern that housed Masonic Lodge Rooms where the Australian Social Lodge held its meetings. The feast-days of St. John the Baptist (24 June) and of St. John the Evangelist (27 December), six months apart, were particular occasions of celebration for the Masonic movement. In December 1831, for example, to honour the anniversary of St. John the Evangelist, the Australian Social Lodge ‘regaled their friends’ at ‘Brett’s, St. John’s Tavern’, while the Leinster Marine Lodge assembled at the Royal Hotel and the Military Lodge gathered in the Non-commissioned Officers’ Mess room at the Military Barracks.

December 1831 was a memorable month. On the 2nd General Richard Bourke arrived to become the colony’s eighth Governor, and on the 5th the town held an ‘illumination’, in which St. John’s Tavern took part. It was also a personally memorable time for Thomas Brett, but the outcome was not what he had originally intended. Nor was it the outcome expected by Rebecca Miller, whose guardian was Mr. William Bennett, baker, of Parramatta. Thomas met Rebecca at Mr. Bennett’s home, became an admirer, made frequent visits, wooed and won Rebecca, and received Mr. Bennett’s approval to marry her. The wedding was set down for around Christmas time, or New Year’s Day at the latest. Wedding clothes were prepared and guests invited.

However, there was a hitch. The Bennetts received warning that Thomas was already married. Enquiries were made and the family were able to satisfy themselves that Thomas had no wife in England, as had been rumoured. But by this time Thomas found himself no longer willing to proceed with the marriage, and he wrote to Mr. Bennett to that effect on 23 December.

We learn these details from the newspaper report of the court case which eventuated. The matter was heard before Justice Stephen and a common jury at the Supreme Court on 18 June 1832. Rebecca Miller, under age, through her guardian, was suing Thomas Brett for breach of promise of marriage, and seeking compensation of £1,000. William Charles Wentworth was counsel for the plaintiff, while counsel for the defendant was Mr. Macdowell, who professed himself in awe of the fame and ability of his learned colleague.

[To be continued.]

Orphan Grant land for sale: Australian 7/4/1827, p. 2. St. John’s Tavern, recently opened: Australian 29/1/1830, p. 1. Anniversary of St. John the Evangelist: Sydney Monitor 31/12/1831, p. 2. Court proceedings: Australian 22/6/1832, p. 3. Louis Green, ‘Macdowell, Edward (1798-1860)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 164-165, and online. Michael Persse, ‘Wentworth, William Charles (1790-1872)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 2, 1967, pp. 582-589, and online.

Sydney in 1841: a directory [instalment 7]

The ‘Directory of the Public Institutions and Government Offices in Sydney’ published in the Sydney Herald on 5 July 1841 includes (12) Masonic Lodges, &c. (See the entries of 17/11/2010, 18/11/2010, 19/11/2010, 22/11/201023/11/2010 and 24/11/2010 for further details.)

(12) The Directory lists five lodges: the Australian Social Masonic Lodge; the Royal Arch Chapter; the Leinster Marine Lodge of Australia; the Lodge of Australia; and the Australian Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows.

Two lodges meet at St. John’s Tavern, on the northern corner of Bridge and George Streets. The Australian Social Masonic Lodge meets there on the first Monday of each month, and the Royal Arch Chapter meets every three months, on the second Tuesday of January, April, July, and October.

Two lodges meet in the Masonic Hall in York Street, on the western side of that street a few doors from the Barrack Gate. The Leinster Marine Lodge of Australia holds meetings at stated times. The Lodge of Australia meets every month on the Tuesday nearest to the full moon.

The Australian Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows meets in the Lodge Room in King Street, on the northern side of that street between Elizabeth and Phillip Streets. It meets on a weekly basis, every Wednesday.

The name ‘Australian Social Masonic Lodge’ is an informal variant, occurring almost nowhere else, for the Australian Social Lodge, sometimes also called the Masonic Australian Social Lodge or the Australian Masonic Social Lodge, the term ‘Masonic’ being worked in somewhere from time to time to indicate the general category. A news item of 30 June 1821 notes that there are two Masonic bodies in the colony, that of His Majesty’s 48th Regiment (no. 218 Irish Constitution) and the Australian Social Lodge (no. 260 I.C.), the latter recently granted from Ireland by the Duke of Leinster and approved by the Governor of New South Wales. They celebrated, according to ancient custom, the anniversary of John the Baptist (24 June) with a procession and a meeting at the Lodge Room (Smith’s, Hyde Park), where Rev. Ralph Mansfield delivered a sermon on brotherly love and a collection was taken up for the Benevolent Society.

There was also a Lodge 227 I.C. attached to the 46th Regiment, which was replaced by the 48th Regiment in 1817. Some civilians admitted to Freemasonry by the military formed the original core of the Australian Social Lodge. In 1878 the Lodge was renamed under the NSW Constitution the Australian Social Mother Lodge No. 0, and then in 1888 with the formation of the United Grand Lodge of NSW it became the Australian Social Mother Lodge No. 1. On its hundredth anniversary in 1920 it became Lodge Antiquity No. 1. In 1988 Lodge Celestial (no. 512) merged with it.

The Royal Arch Chapter, attached to Lodge no. 260 I.C., was formed under a warrant from the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Ireland. There are some early references from 1834. The Chapter met at that time at St. John’s Tavern, and communications could be sent to the Junior Scribe at that address. This remained the meeting place from at least that time until the period in which the Sydney Herald’s Directory was published – surely a measure of the stability and conservatism of the Masonic movement. Evidently the Australian Social Lodge and the Royal Arch Chapter met at the same place because they were connected with one another.

In 1821 the Australian Social Lodge asked the Grand Lodge in Ireland for permission to grant dispensations which would enable further lodges to be formed in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land until these proposed additional lodges in various places could receive a warrant. Permission was granted and under this ruling in 1824 three members of Lodge 260 were allowed to form a new lodge in Sydney which became the Leinster Marine Lodge of Australia (no. 266 I.C.).

Whereas the Australian Social, Royal Arch and Leinster Marine Lodges derived from Ireland, the Lodge of Australia (no. 820, later 548, and then 390 E.C.) was formed under a warrant to meet in Sydney issued in 1828 by the United Grand Lodge of England. In 1829 the warrant of the Grand Lodge of England itself fell into abeyance. The warrant was revived on the initiative of the Duke of Sussex in 1833 and the Lodge of Australia was renewed at that time. The Lodge Room in 1833 was at the Royal Hotel, Sydney. A special meeting was held on 13 December 1833 to ‘cement’ the renewal (including the election of a Master) and to plan for opening the Lodge on St. John’s Day (24 June 1834).

The lodges acted co-operatively. For example, in April 1834, in an advertisement for a concert at the Pulteney Hotel, three notices appear one under the other from the Lodge of Australia, the Leinster Marine Lodge and the Australian Social Lodge (in that order). In June of that year the United Lodges of Australia assembled to celebrate the Festival of St. John. There was a procession with banners and the bands of the 17th and 4th Regiments. ‘The day being remarkably fine, a great number of the inhabitants assembled to witness the sight, it being superior to any thing of the kind before seen in N. S. Wales.’ The procession went to St. James’s Church, where Rev. R. Hill preached an appropriate sermon. Collections were taken up for the Sydney Dispensary and indigent Freemasons. There was a dinner afterwards at the Lodge with numerous toasts and speeches and the band of the 4th Regiment played appropriate airs.

The Australian Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows, or more fully the Australian Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, was introduced to Australia by Mr. William Moffitt, who returned to England in 1842, farewelled with great emotion by members of the Order. A brief history of the order appeared in the Sydney Monitor in November 1841. The Order grew from small beginnings in 1836, was formalised in 1837, and had the same standing as the Grand Lodge of the Manchester Unity. By November 1841 it had 274 members, a branch lodge at Port Phillip with 45 members, and ample funds. A Lodge Room was purpose-built at the Saracen’s Head Inn, King Street (at the corner of King and Sussex Streets), and dedicated in October 1842. The seventh anniversary was celebrated in February 1843 at ‘the Lodge Room, (Brother Smith’s, “Saracen’s Head Inn,” King-street)’. The Australian Supreme Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows celebrated its eleventh anniversary in 1847.

John the Baptist: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 30/6/1821, p. 3. Australian Social Lodge: cf. the website of Lodge Antiquity No. 1. Royal Arch Chapter: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 17/5/1834, p. 1. Leinster Marine Lodge: cf. ‘Some events in the early history of Freemasonry in Australia and the SW Pacific to 1848’, on the website of the Grand Lodge of South Australia and Northern Territory. Renewal of the Lodge of Australia no. 820: Sydney Monitor 31/7/1833, p. 1; Sydney Herald 9/12/1833, p. 1. Concert: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 26/4/1834, p. 3. Festival of St. John, 1834: Sydney Monitor 28/6/1834, p. 3. See also the website of the United Grand Lodge of Freemasons of NSW and the ACT. There is a Museum of Freemasonry (279 Castlereagh Street, Sydney), with a Grand Archivist to answer historical questions. Australian Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows: Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser 29/11/1841, p. 2; Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 26/3/1842, p. 2 (Mr Moffitt’s departure); The Australian 14/4/1842, p. 2; The Australian 7/10/1842, p. 2 (Lodge Room); The Australian 1/3/1843, p. 2. Australian Supreme Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows: The Australian 27/2/1847, p. 3.