An inside view of Freemasonry from Auckland’s United Masters Lodge No. 167

The history of freemasonry in New Zealand goes back to the 1830’s and includes members such as Sir George Grey, former Prime Minister William Ferguson Massey, Sir Peter Buck and Sir Mason Durie. Now 100 years of local and international Masonic history is available to view on a CD-ROM containing Auckland’s United Masters Lodge No. 167 Transactions periodical, 1909-2009, revealing a detailed picture of Freemasons’ ethics, ceremonies and symbols.

Several items document early Freemasons activities in Auckland including the first recorded meeting at which members were present - the laying of the foundation stone of St Paul’s Anglican Church, then in Emily Place, in 1841.

The first Lodge in Auckland to build its own meeting place, Ara Lodge, held their meetings in the Exchange Motel, Shortland Street, before moving in February 1844 to the Royal Hotel, where the Northern Club now stands. In 1845 they decided to build their own premises and bought a £150 section in Princes Street, building the Masonic Hotel. This was let to a hotelier - with one room being exclusively reserved for Lodge meetings.

However, the first Masonic hall was built by Eden Lodge – who began meeting at Karangahape Road’s Rising Sun Hotel. The Eden brethren bought a section on Karangahape Road and built a 40' x 25' temple, with a heavily moulded ceiling. Members had great difficulties travelling to meetings at that time. “Some of the brethren were farming at Epsom and that involved a journey by horse of at least four miles, with a corresponding effort of unsaddling, feeding and stabling at the journey’s end.” Consecrated in 1879, this building was still standing in 1958, partly used as a milk bar, and partly as a bank – and the ceiling was still recognisable.

An article in the Auckland Star, 1889, mentions a meeting for a proposed Freemasons’ Hall in Princes Street to be built by Ara Lodge, noting that the organisation hoped “the meeting will be conducted in a harmonious manner, without personalities or factious opposition”.

The Hall opened the following year. In 1930 the Lodge moved to the Masonic Centre at St Benedict’s Street, subsequently shifting to Khyber Pass Road in 2008. At its highest, membership of this Lodge reached 3,600.

The CD-ROM includes papers about the early history of Freemasonry on the North Shore, too, recording in the early days, “difficulty was sometimes experienced in finding sufficient members formally to open the Lodge. It did happen that on more than one occasion a Brother was brought in from the streets wearing informal clothes and carpet slippers so that the proceedings could be opened in due form.”

A 1972 paper investigated Maori Freemasons providing brief biographical details of many men who were high achievers in all sectors of society from banking to police, arts to politics.

A 1948 paper details reasons for and against the inclusion of women as Freemasons with viewpoints stretching back to the secret societies of Ancient Egypt. In 2004, in the Question and Answer section of Transactions, a member asked why the regulations forbade the admission of women as members and the answer was that historically some guilds did admit women, “usually the wife or daughter of a member or a deceased member. Bakers did and so did dyers, though for reasons of decency the dyers prohibited men and women treading in the same vat.”

Transactions also includes histories of Freemasonry in other parts of New Zealand - as well as the world: Fiji, Sweden, Venezuela, Russia, and the Philippines. The CD-ROM is available for use in the Central Auckland Research Centre. For further information on Lodge No. 167, Auckland Libraries hold copies of Alan Bevin's "History of United Masters Lodge No. 167: Lodge of Masonic Research, Auckland, New Zealand, 1909 to 2009".

In the early decades of last century Herman Schmidt took some wonderful portraits of men in full Freemasons' regalia like the one below. To browse these images go to Heritage Images and search 'masons'.

Author: Leanne, Central Auckland Research Centre