Review of Freemasonry

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by W.Bro. Richard Num
Leonardo da Vinci Lodge No. 238, Adelaide, South Australia
Grand Lodge of South Australia & Northern Territory.
Past President of the Australian and New Zealand Masonic Research Council 2002-2004.
This paper was delivered at New England Lodge no.4 in Ohio in December 2003 and was first published in Proceedings of the Ohio Lodge of Research - Volume 25.

The Discovery of Australia


The island continent of Australia was a figment of the European imagination from the times of antiquity, a consequence of the artistic license of mapmakers who supposed that an unknown southern continent was needed to counterbalance the landmasses of the Northern Hemisphere.  From 1606 that land hitherto depicted on early maps as "Terra Australis Incognita" slowly evolved from the fantastic into a still-strange reality as a result of the discoveries of traders, navigators and natural scientists. 

During the 1600’s and early 1700’s portions of the arid and desolate coast of the western third of Australia were mapped. Ships of the Dutch East Indies Company occasionally veered off course during the voyage to the Spice Islands onto the reefs and shores of a land they called "New Holland". In 1770 the English navigator James Cook (who had served in the British Navy in North American waters during the wars against the French around 1760) explored the fertile East Coast of Australia which he named “New South Wales”. Sir Joseph Banks, a wealthy young man who sponsored his own attendance on Cook's expedition as well as that of several scientists, was one of the first Freemasons to set foot on the continent of Australia.  He later became President of the Royal Society of London.

Certain of the settlements of North America had been a useful dumping ground for the unwanted petty criminals of Great Britain but after the American War of Independence the British had to find a new place for their convicts. They intended to establish a penal settlement at Botany Bay in eastern Australia but this site proving unsuitable, the first settlement began a few miles to the north at Port Jackson on 26 January 1788. The settlement grew to become the city of Sydney.

The first four Governors and Captains-in-Chief of the new penal settlement were naval officers. The last of these was the short-fused Captain William Bligh of HMS Bounty fame. He was deposed as Governor of New South Wales as a consequence of another mutiny, this time by military troops stationed in the colony.

The British Government then sent out a military Governor with his own troops. He was Maj.-General Lachlan Macquarie. Macquarie encouraged the development of the colony to such an extent that he became known as the "Father of Australia". A Freemason, he was noted for his tolerance and often criticised for his policy of rehabilitating emancipated convicts.



Early Freemasonry in Australia [i]


Freemasonry had tentative beginnings in Australia. In the first 20 years from 1788 the authorities in charge of the penal colony were very suspicious of unauthorised meetings, particularly those held in private. Their caution was justified as the Australian penal settlements were the destination not only of petty criminals, but also of political prisoners who were transported from Ireland, England, Scotland, Canada, the West Indies and other British colonies. This period saw revolution in France and unrest elsewhere. Concerns in Britain about threats to the established order led to the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799, which governed the activities of Freemasonry in Britain until repeal in 1967.

In such an atmosphere it is not surprising that the authorities refused requests to form a Lodge in Sydney during the first decade of the 1800’s. In 1802 there were reports of Masonic meetings held on board several English ships at anchor in Sydney Harbour. On 14 May 1803 a meeting of Masonic brethren was held in Sydney, attended by sailors, settlers and an Irish convict named Sir Henry Browne Hayes. All present were arrested when the meeting was interrupted by the military. A week earlier Sir Henry had written to London complaining that he had been forbidden to hold a Lodge and preside at initiations, despite being in possession of a Warrant. Later that month an Order was published forbidding Masonic meetings without the Governor's express permission. In a dispatch dated 21 August 1804 the Governor reported that "every soldier and other person would have been made a Freemason, had not the most decided means been taken to prevent it". 

The Governor's orders, which had the object of suppressing all Masonic activities in Sydney, were not enforced elsewhere in his jurisdiction. There is fragmentary evidence of an unwarranted St John’s Lodge[ii] not only working but in possession of a building and land on the island of Norfolk Island in the first decade of the 1800’s. That island was intended for the worst offenders, being isolated and situated in the SW Pacific hundreds of miles north east of Sydney.

In August 1801 one George Hales, commander of an American whaling ship named the "General Boyd", was brought ashore on Norfolk Island after becoming ill, dying on 16 August. Bro. Hales had been made a Mason on 24 December 1789 in the Dundee Arms Lodge No. 9, which met in Wapping, London. His tombstone[iii] on Norfolk Island bears Masonic symbols including square and compasses above an open book, between two pillars that are surmounted by an arch. It is moving to see this surviving evidence of the care of local Freemasons for a fellow Mason who died in a tiny isolated settlement amongst strangers so far from his home more than 200 years ago.  

The French were exploring parts of Australia and the South Pacific in the years around 1800, perhaps with a view to ousting the British from Australia before they had become well established. This was the era of Napoleon, when the population of Sydney was less than 10,000. A Masonic meeting termed a “Triangle” was held aboard a French expeditionary ship in Sydney Harbor on 17 September 1802. A candidate was initiated. Australia’s earliest surviving Masonic document[iv] stems from this meeting. A certificate was created for the new member, Captain Anthony Fenn Kemp (1773-1868).

In 1814 the British 46th Foot Regiment arrived to staff the military garrison at Sydney. This Regiment had a Lodge attached to it, holding a travelling Warrant No. 227 from the Grand Lodge of Ireland. Earlier this Lodge had been in North America during the War of Independence. Apparently the lodge lost the chest containing its regalia and Masonic furniture. The chest was returned when their American opponents discovered its contents. During 42 months military service in Australia the Lodge initiated several candidates. Members participated in a cornerstone ceremony[v] during the construction of a private home.

Other military Masonic Lodges were attached to later British regiments. Additional settlers became Masons. The first civilian Lodge was formed in 1820 after obtaining a Warrant from the Grand Lodge of Ireland. During the next decade two more lodges formed in Sydney, and one in Hobart on the island of Tasmania to the south of the Australian mainland.

Free settlements were formed in Melbourne and Adelaide in the 1830’s. It was not long before a lodge was formed in Melbourne. The Warrant was carried by horseback rider on an overland journey of about 700 miles from Sydney.

In the case of South Australia, established by and for free settlers according to the Wakefield theory of colonisation, Freemasonry was included in plans for the new colony. In 1834 the South Australian Lodge of Friendship was formed in England for prospective settlers. They did not sail from England to South Australia until 1836. As intended the Lodge transferred to the new settlement of Adelaide. No suitable place was available in which brethren could meet until after the construction of a tavern in 1838, two years after the first members had arrived.

By the 1840's Freemasonry no longer met with disapproval from the local authorities. Rather it was seen as an institution tending to promote good order in society. In South Australia several early Governors were members while in Western Australia the Governor had a leading role in the establishment of the first lodge in Perth.

During the following 45 years more lodges were formed in many parts of settled Australia as the population expanded, holding allegiance to the Grand Lodges of Ireland, England and Scotland.



Moves to Self Government


Britain granted self-government to the various colonies of Australia from the 1850’s, shortly after the discovery of gold in 1851. At this time correspondence with Masonic authorities in Britain could take many months (and occasionally several years). From the 1840’s onwards a limited form of Masonic self-government developed with the establishment of Provincial or District Grand Lodges under the three Grand Lodges of the British Isles (England, Ireland and Scotland). Freemasonry was able to expand more easily as local Masonic authorities had the ability to accede more quickly to requests for lodges in new locations. The District Grand Lodge of Queensland Scottish Constitution even spread its wings so far as to oversee the formation of a lodge in Hawaii[vi].

Despite these measures, local dissatisfaction developed because the “home” Grand Lodges in the British Isles were perceived as being insufficiently responsive to local needs. On occasion there were serious disputes between brethren and certain District or Provincial Grand Masters, who were not answerable to local brethren but were appointed by and responsible to the Masonic authorities in Britain[vii].  However, attempts at forming independent Grand Lodges in the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales proved fruitless, as the support of a majority of the Local District Grand Officers was not forthcoming in either case[viii].  

In South Australia there was a crucial difference in that a majority of District Grand Officers became alienated from the District Grand Master of the English Constitution, leading them to support moves towards a local Grand Lodge. In July 1883 a meeting of 123 local Freemasons from the English, Irish and Scottish Constitutions decided to form a Masonic Union. They pledged themselves to aid in the formation of a Grand Lodge. The members of the Masonic Union succeeded in creating an atmosphere of trust, fraternal harmony and lack of jealousy, quickly obtaining the wide support of local Freemasons. Crucially these included the vast majority of leading and senior members and not least the District Grand Master of the Scottish Constitution who resigned his position in order to support the move in clear conscience. A Convention of Delegates from 24 Lodges voted in March 1884 to found a Grand Lodge of South Australia. After this decision had been well supported at meetings of 30 lodges a further Convention of Lodge Delegates met on 16 April 1884 and established the new Grand Lodge which convened the same day to elect Officers. The Chief Justice of the colony, Bro. the Hon. SJ Way, was elected Grand Master. Being a Master Mason, he then received the Past Master's Degree in a Board of Installed Masters and was duly installed as inaugural Grand Master the following day, being the leading South Australian Freemason until his death in 1916[ix]. 

The fledgling Grand Lodge was comprised of 30 lodges with a membership of 2,064, drawn from a male population of 163,262, giving 137 Masons per 10,000 males in South Australia. Recognition was sought from other Grand Lodges, the first to approve being those of Ohio, Delaware and of Colon and Cuba by January 1885, followed in April 1885 by Utah. In July 1885 notice was received that England had agreed to recognition. In 1888 the Grand Master of England, MW Bro. HRH the Prince of Wales became Patron of the new Grand Lodge. His acceptance of this position was considered the final seal of approval by the colonial Masons of South Australia[x].

Grand Lodges formed successfully in most of the other colonies during the next 20 years, while agreement to form the United Grand Lodge of Queensland was reached by 1921.  There are now six Grand Lodges in Australia and one in New Zealand[xi]. A number of lodges have retained allegiance to their parent Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland.

Moves to Masonic independence were mirrored in the various Australian colonies at large. Freemasons were involved in the many discussions and national conventions leading to a national Constitution by which the people of the Australian colonies federated peacefully to form the nation state of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.

The creation of a national government was not copied in Freemasonry. There were moves to establish a uniform ritual for Australia in the years around 1900, but this proposal never gained approval. Each Masonic jurisdiction has its own approved version of the ritual, its own way of setting out the furniture and furnishings in the Lodge room, and its own customs. In general each ritual is based on what is known as the English Emulation working, which originated in London some years after the Union of the English Ancients and Moderns Grand Lodges in 1813 and gained increasing popularity from the 1860's.

Regular meetings and conferences of Grand Masters of the seven Grand Lodges of Australia and New Zealand have been held in the past forty years as travel became easier and cheaper. There has never been any move to establish a National Grand Lodge.

Since the early 1990's Masonic researchers from each of the seven Grand Lodges have held regular meetings under the name of the Australian and New Zealand Masonic Research Council (ANZMRC). This body has been formally constituted with Masonic research lodges and bodies as members. By virtue of its membership crossing jurisdictional boundaries ANZMRC has no official standing with the various Grand Lodges. Associate members include lodges and research bodies in Africa, Europe, North America and the Caribbean. ANZMRC arranges research conferences and organises lecture tours. It publishes a magazine, proceedings and books. The website is at



Current Masonic Jurisdictions


There are six sovereign Grand Lodges in Australia and one in New Zealand.

Each Australian State has a Grand Lodge, and two of these cover additional territories of Australia. The United Grand Lodge of Queensland has some lodges in the nation of Papua New Guinea. One lodge in Australia remains under the Grand Lodge of Ireland, several lodges in three states have remained under the United Grand Lodge of England, while there are 15 lodges in Western Australia under the Grand Lodge of Scotland, arranged in two District Grand Lodges.

In New Zealand there is the Grand Lodge of New Zealand (formed 1890) with about 330 lodges, including 10 research lodges. There remain 37 lodges in two District Grand lodges under the United Grand Lodge of England, 4 lodges in a Provincial Grand Lodge under the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and 11 lodges in two District Grand Lodges under the Grand Lodge of Scotland.

Freemasonry encourages its members to practice charity. In each jurisdiction Freemasons engage in extensive charitable efforts at various levels. These tend to be focussed at the local level with support often offered to local hospitals and schools. Larger projects such as aged care facilities, retirement villages, hospitals and children's homes are coordinated and organised at Grand Lodge level, but in recent decades some of these endeavours have reduced or closed as a result of changes in society and increasing involvement of governments in social welfare. More recently there has been increasing emphasis on supporting high profile charitable activities that it is intended will bring Freemasonry into public notice. 



Current State of Freemasonry in South Australia


Each Australian Masonic jurisdiction has its own special characteristics and local problems, but there are aspects that are shared and common to all.  The remainder of this paper will focus on the Masonic jurisdiction of South Australia and Northern Territory.

Membership in Freemasonry grew steadily from early beginnings, with fluctuations in membership during times of economic distress, most noticeably in the 1890’s and the 1930’s. There were large increases in membership following each of the World Wars. Membership in each jurisdiction peaked in the 1960’s, since when there has been a steady decline.

Membership in the Masonic jurisdiction of South Australia and Northern Territory reached 27,877 in 205 active lodges in 1961, when the male population of South Australia was 517,000. However, a hint of declining popularity of Freemasonry had emerged earlier when a peak of 584 Freemasons per 10,000 of male population was reached during the years 1954 and 1955. Despite the fall in numbers of Freemasons after 1961 new lodges continued to be formed, peaking at 219 active lodges in 1979, by which time there were 18,961 Freemasons in a male population of 708,500, or about 277 Masons per 10,000 males.

Various reasons have been canvassed for the declining popularity of membership, including the advent of television and a much greater range of choice in leisure activities. Other social factors have had an impact on Freemasonry, including changes in the expectations and status of women, increasing demands on the spare time of men and women from employers and families, as well as alterations in the way that men and women perceive their place and role in society.  Freemasonry is not alone in its predicament in Australia or elsewhere in the western world. Falling membership and participation has been noted by almost all community organisations.

At the time of founding of the Grand Lodge of South Australia in 1884 there were 30 lodges and 2064 Freemasons. Now there are 119 lodges and 4,319 Freemasons[xii]. 50% of the present membership is aged 70 years or older.  A continuing decline in membership is expected. In recent years there have been encouraging signs of new members being gained by lodges located in the outer suburban districts of Adelaide[xiii]. Strenuous efforts have been made to promote Freemasonry. A Masonic Foundation has been established to better manage and coordinate charitable activities, and to assist in promoting the good name of Freemasonry before the general public. The leadership of Grand Lodge has adopted a more professional approach to management, membership care, recruitment and retention. Courses in Masonic education and leadership have been provided. The leadership has sought to involve more members in the decision-making process. The Grand Lodge has provided programs and suggestions for lodges to apply in care, education, retention and recruitment of members. These measures have not always been adopted successfully or even attempted by some individual lodges. Considerable apathy prevails amongst the general membership. Australians are generally noted for their distrust of "high-fliers" or "tall poppies" in many fields. Unfortunately some Freemasons retain this attitude in Masonic affairs, displaying a measure of cynicism or distrust towards “Grand Lodge”, even though the membership of Grand Lodge now includes all Master Masons and above.

With regard to membership, great variation exists between lodges, some having fewer than 20 members and others up to 100 members.  Lodge mergers and amalgamations have occurred in metropolitan and some country areas. There have also been lodge closures, more frequently in relatively sparsely populated country areas. Further closures are expected in the future. A "Holding Lodge" has been established for unattached members. The Grand Lodge has considered the options of a “travelling warrant” and of holding "occasional lodges" to meet the needs of members in certain areas.

As a response to changes in society new lodges have been created to cater for the interests of different ethnic groups and new needs of existing and potential members. Different rituals have been approved in the case of certain new lodges. Several have worked a Scottish ritual, one a German (Schroeder) ritual (translated into English), and one lodge works the English “Calver” ritual. One lodge has mainly Italian Australians in its membership, while others have attracted Greek Australians or Lebanese Australians. Such differences are not always fully appreciated by the wider membership, but such lodges do assist in helping to make Australian society as well as Freemasonry more inclusive.

Lodges in Australia at first met in public houses and taverns. They ceased to meet in non-Masonic premises in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, when most lodges moved to purpose-built Masonic buildings. The majority of lodges start their meetings at 7.30pm followed by a light supper around 9.45pm. Recently dining lodges have been created to cater for the needs of business and professional men, meeting at 6pm in club premises, concluding by 8pm when they sit down to a catered meal of two or three courses.

The "festive board" after-proceedings that follow nearly all lodge meetings are generally conducted with those attending seated at tables arranged in U configuration, the Master at the top and a Warden at the end of each arm. Such occasions are not tyled, but the seating arrangements resemble those of "Table Lodges" in the United States. After the main meal the formalities commence. In all lodges there follows a series of toasts, in the following order - the Head of State (“The Queen and the Craft”), the Grand Lodge, the Candidate, and visiting brethren.  The proceedings conclude with the Tyler’s Toast. Most lodges permit the consumption of alcoholic beverages but some are temperance by tradition.

Dress codes have been modified in recent years. As Australian summers tend to be hot brethren are now permitted to attend without their coats. Dining lodges require members to wear business suits. Traditional evening lodges require formal clothing of dinner jacket and black bow tie. Daylight lodges that tend to cater for elderly brethren usually permit less formal attire – jacket and tie. They usually lunch after a mid morning meeting. Unlike other parts of the world, a hat does not form part of the dress of the Master of the Lodge.


Other Orders and Degrees


The Grand Lodges acknowledge the existence of the Royal Arch Chapter and of the Mark Master Masons degree. These organisations have their own governing bodies. Several jurisdictions have set up a Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons.

The Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of South Australia and Northern Territory has 37 lodges with about 1,000 members. The Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of South Australia and Northern Territory has about 900 members in 33 Chapters.

Other Orders are not officially “recognised” or acknowledged by the Grand Lodges.

The Order known in USA as the Scottish Rite is termed the Ancient and Accepted Rite or "Rose Croix" in Australia; in Australia candidates are required to profess Trinitarian Christianity. This body has about 700 members in South Australia. Candidates advance to the 18th Degree on the evening of joining. Following this they are expected to pass through the various offices to Most Wise Sovereign, before being considered for advancement to the 30th Degree.   The Australian Rite has about 7000 members of whom about 3000 hold the 30th Degree or above and some 4000 hold the 18th Degree.

There are 237 members of the Masonic Knight Templars in South Australia. Trinitarian Christian belief is required. The Malta Degree is generally worked once a year. Members wear special regalia, comprising a white tunic with a red cross on the front over their tuxedos, with a white cape, belt, sword, red velvet cap and jewels.  One Preceptory (Percy) works the Baldwyn Rite[xiv], the sole such Preceptory outside Bristol, England.

Other Orders with small membership numbers include the Royal Order of Scotland, the Allied Masonic Degrees, Royal Ark Mariners, Red Cross of Constantine, Order of the Secret Monitor, Royal and Select Masters, Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Knight Templar Priests, and the Masonic Rosicrucians.



Other Organisations


Certain non-recognised forms of Freemasonry are found in Australia. They include Co-Masonry (with close ties to the Theosophists), the Grand Orient of France, Memphis and Misraim, and the Order of Women Freemasons. Adoptive bodies such as Order of the Eastern Star, Amaranth and DeMolay have small memberships.






Attitudes to Freemasonry in Australia have changed over time, with initial official disapproval followed by acceptance, later flowering into official support. Freemasonry grew strong with these changes in official attitudes. In the more recent past there has been indifference towards Freemasonry on the part of many in the professions and business that formerly would have sought membership. Such indifference has developed at the same time as declining involvement in most churches, civic life and community organisations. It is said that history moves in cycles. Recent public concerns about a perceived decline in ethical standards in business, the professions and political life may see the wheel turn for Freemasonry, which traditionally has sought to inculcate ethical behaviour and the practice of moral and social virtues.

Freemasonry is a social organisation that attracts a wide variety of people as members. It does not fulfil its promise to all that seek to join. An understanding of factors that have influenced Freemasonry's evolution in Australia, coupled with an appreciation as to how participation in fraternal activities satisfies its members, may help in determining how the Order can better meet the needs of present and future Australians. Such analysis may have benefits beyond Australia.

[i] For a detailed chronology of Freemasonry in the South West Pacific up to 1848 see

[ii] Linford, R., "The first Australian stationary Masonic Lodge? - Norfolk Island and New South Wales [Australia]",  in Transactions of the Victorian Lodge of Research for 1994, 'Examining Freemasonry'; also see

[iii] Dalkin, R.Nixon, 'Colonial Era Cemetery of Norfolk Island'. Sydney, Pacific Publications (Australia) Pty.Ltd., 1974.

[iv] Sharp, Allan McL.,"Australia's Oldest Extant Masonic Document, a factual interpretation", in 'Ars Quatuor Coronatorum', Vol. 104, 1991, pp.150-165.

[v] Described in "Lachlan Macquarie - His Life, Adventures and Times", by Ellis, MH (1952, second edition, revised), Angus and Robertson, Sydney, Australia

[vi] Lodge Pacific No. 822 Scottish Constitution, which on transferring to the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of California in 1910 was renamed Honolulu Lodge No. 409.

[vii] see Glover, Charles RJ, "A History of First Fifty Years of Freemasonry in South Australia 1834-1884", Adelaide 1916, for a detailed account of several occasions of disharmony in the District Grand Lodge of South Australia, English Constitution

[viii] ibid, pp. 225-7

[ix] ibid, pp. 222-297

[x] Mander-Jones, E, "A History of Craft Masonry in South Australia 1884-1934", Adelaide 1976, pp. 13-14

[xi] Martin, AW et al, "Freemasonry in Australia and New Zealand", Adelaide 1999, pp. 29-37

[xii] as at 31 December 2005 there were 3793 members

[xiii] the population of greater metropolitan Adelaide is 1.2 million out of total state population for South Australia of 1.5 million. Another 200,000 or so live in the Northern Territory.  Australia's population recently reached 20 million.

[xiv] for further information see

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