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Developed by W.Bro. Kent Henderson
Dip. T., B. Ed., Grad. Cert. Ed., Grad. Dip. Ed., M. Ed, Diploma of Masonic Education (Sth. Aust.)
Past Junior Grand Deacon, A. F. & A. Masons of Victoria, Australia.


In a biography dealing with the leadership of Freemasonry, it is useful to look not only at the nature and purpose of that institution, but also at its history. Clearly, historical reflection is necessary in order to anchor and enhance the understanding of what a Grand Master is, what he does and where he comes from. A discourse on Masonic history, in the context of this book, must be brief, even though the subject itself is vast, as testified by the huge number of books and publications which have been dedicated to its study. That which follows here, therefore, can only be a Spartan and unelaborated attempt on the subject.


Freemasonry originated from the guilds of operative stonemasons (known as lodges) which flourished in Europe, and Britain in particular, during the Middle Ages. Stonemasonry was then a most important craft, the manifestation of which can still be seen today in the many cathedrals, churches, castles and manors which survive from those times.

However, operative lodges were somewhat different from the guilds associated with other medieval trades. Stonemasons were itinerant workers who were forced to travel to renew their employment as each building project was completed. The fluid nature of the operative craft, therefore, posed many problems in the determination and recognition of qualifications and skills. In the largely illiterate society that then prevailed, lodges acted as trade regulatory bodies, not only in the area of professional skills and the recognition of practical qualifications, but also in the moral and religious standards of their members. In response to these needs the operative craft,through its lodges, evolved a system of instruction that combined practical knowledge and morality. The medieval lodge system also, of necessity, involved a degree of privacy and secrecy, so that the supposed skills of a newly- arriving stranger could be readily checked. 1


The march of technology in building saw the decline of stone construction in the late Middle Ages, and with it the steady demise of the stonemason's craft and the operative lodges. As a reaction to this decline, the passage of time saw increasing numbers of men who were not stonemasons being received into lodges. By the eighteenth century lodges had largely ceased to be composed of stonemasons. These non-operative members became known as 'speculative' or 'symbolic' Masons.'


The decline of operative Masonry and the rise of the 'speculative' kind also heralded the end of the itinerant nature of some lodges. All lodges could now find permanent homes in urban locations. The premier Grand Lodge of England was formed on 24 June 1717 by four London lodges. No records remain of the event. Our knowledge of this foundation meeting comes largely from Anderson's 1738 edition of the 'Constitutions' of the Grand Lodge. According to Anderson, representatives of the four lodges met in 1716 and determined upon a meeting in the following year to revive the Annual Assembly and Feast, at which they would 'chuse a Grand Master from among themselves till they should have the Honour of a Noble Brother at their Head'.2


The first meeting was duly held and one Anthony Sayer, Gentleman, was elected as the initial Grand Master. He thereupon 'commanded the Master and Wardens of Lodges to meet the Grand Officers every Quarter in Communication'. Nonetheless, for the first four years of its existence the Grand Lodge only met annually, with its only business being the election of its Grand Master and Grand Wardens.3 There would seem little doubt, therefore, that the formation of the Grand Lodge was not prompted by a perceived need of central organisation, but simply to enable the London lodges to meet together socially -- bearing in mind that members were now largely of the 'speculative' kind. The only other discernible reason was a desire to elect a 'noble brother' as their leader with, one suspects, the view of raising the social status of their organisation. Success first occurred in 1721, with the election of John, 2nd Duke of Montagu, as Grand Master. Since then the Grand Lodge of England has continuously had either a Peer of the Realm or Prince of Royal Blood as Grand Master.


It was not until the 1720s that the Grand Lodge commenced its emergence as a regulatory body. In 1723 the first secretary to Grand Lodge was appointed, and regular minutes kept. Grand Lodge started to meet more frequently, and its Constitutions were published. The membership of nobles attracted press publicity, and the number of lodges rapidly expanded - not only in England, but overseas as well. An independent Grand Lodge was formed in Ireland in 1725, followed by a new counterpart in Scotland in 1736.


The early years of organised English Masonry, however, proved far from harmonious, and the eighteenth century saw six rival Grand Lodges emerging at various times to claim jurisdiction over England or part of it. Only two of these persisted with any substantial following. These were the Premier Grand Lodge of England (often referred to as the 'Moderns Grand Lodge', or 'Moderns'), and the Grand Lodge of England According to the Old Constitutions (known as the 'Atholl Grand Lodge', or 'Antients'). The Moderns according to their opponents, introduced unacceptable changes into the rituals and practices of Freemasonry.4


The Antients Grand Lodge, apparently spawned by their opposition to these 'innovations', had emerged by 1751. It was originally established by Irish Masons then living in England who were 'unhappy' with the Premier Grand Lodge. Both these Grand Lodges developed and expanded their lodges and membership over succeeding years. This occurred quite  independently of each other. Both Grand Lodges were rivals, often bitter rivals, and each considered the other to be irregular. Generally, the Moderns tended to attract more 'upper class' members, while the Antients had a broader membership base. The two Grand Lodges developed quite a number of divergent practices.However, except at official level, ordinary Masons were not particularly interested in this rivalry, and most members on both sides either ignored these divergences or paid little heed to them.


As Freemasonry spread rapidly around the world, the passage of time saw the old discords largely disappear. Newer members on both sides had no understanding of the issues involved, and even less interest in them. The pressure for union increased, and the chance of such an occurrence was greatly enhanced on the election of HRH the Duke of Sussex as Grand Master of the Moderns, and his brother HRH the Duke of Kent as Grand Master of the Antients. Joint committees of the two Grand Lodges met and overcame remaining problems, and the union was happily effected on 13 May 1813. The title United Grand Lodge of England was adopted, and the Duke of Sussex became its first Grand Master 5


The United Grand Lodge of England subsequently developed into the largest Masonic body in the world, having lodges chartered on every continent. English Freemasonry has directly or indirectly been the source of all Grand Lodges elsewhere on the globe. The Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland, respectively the second and third Grand Lodges formed, have also chartered lodges all over the world. As Masonry grew in strength in various localities, other Grand Lodges were formed.


Most Western European countries possess a Grand Lodge, as do virtually all the provinces of Canada, and the States of America. Similarly, most South and Central American countries have at least one Grand Lodge each. Diverse countries such as Israel, South Africa, India, Japan and the Philippines are likewise blessed. In Australia, each of the six states has long possessed a Grand Lodge, with the first being formed in South Australia in 1884.


It needs to be appreciated that Freemasonry is not one worldwide confederation. There are more than a hundred independent Masonic Grand Lodges in the world, most of which maintain 'fraternal relations' with each other - diplomatic relations,to put it in non-Masonic terms. Originally, relations between Grand Lodges were handled by what are known as'Grand Representatives'. These were senior Grand Lodge officers who acted as something akin to ambassadors. This system has long fallen into practical disuse, with business between Grand lodges being handled by their respective Grand Secretaries. Nonetheless, most Grand Lodges still appoint Grand Representatives, who act on an honorary basis.6


There are also quite a number of differences in the constitutional, operational and ritualistic practices between Grand Lodges. They are only limited by a set of basic notions known as 'The Ancient Landmarks of the Order'. Even so, there is far from universal agreement as to what these are, or their number. Noted Masonic author Harry Carr defines a landmark as a principle or tenet that has 'always existed' in Masonic practice, and as an element in the form of the Society of such importance that, if removed, Freemasonry would no longer be Freemasonry. These are:


1 That a Mason possesses a belief in God, the Supreme Being, the Great Architect of the Universe.

2 That the Volume of the Sacred Law is an essential and indispensible part of the lodge, tobe open in full view when the brethren are at labour.

3 That a Mason must be male, free-born and of mature age.

4 That a Mason, by his tenure, owes allegiance to the Sovereign and to the Craft.

5 That a Mason believes in the immortality of the soul.


These items, he states, largely date back to the Old Charges, which were the written laws of the Operative Masons. The oldest of these documents dates from about 1390.7


There are other authors, such as the American authority Dr Albert Mackey, who prescribed a larger range of Landmarks. What is, or is not, a 'Landmark of the Order' is to some extent academic. Clearly, there are quite a number of customs which are observable norms across the gamut of world Freemasonry. These include the division of symbolic craft Masonry into three degrees, the modes of recognition observed amongst members, the legend associated with the Third Degree Ceremony, the necessity of Masons to congregate in lodges, the government of a craft lodge by its Master and Wardens, the government of the fraternity by a Grand Master, and a number of others.8


Freemasonry arrived on Australian shores soon after the original settlement of Sydney as a penal colony. There is evidence of a Masonic meeting in Sydney in May 1803, but it was not viewed kindly by the Governor who ordered the temporary arrest of its participants. The first lodge to meet in Australia was the Lodge of Social and Military Virtues No. 227 IC. This military lodge was stationed in Sydney in 1813, and was responsible for sponsoring the first stationary lodge in Australia -The Australian Social Lodge No. 260 IC, in 1820. This lodge is now Antiquity Lodge No. 1 NSWC. Masonry grew rapidly in the colony of New South Wales, enabling an English Provincial (later District) Grand Lodge to be formed in 1839. Provincial Grand Lodges followed to govern the Irish and Scottish lodges. When New South Wales received self-government in 1855, a groundswell of Masonic sentiment arose for a local sovereign Grand Lodge. There were early differences of opinion in this regard, and these led to the separate erection of a Grand Lodge of New South Wales in 1877. It was initially composed of thirteen lodges, most of which were previously chartered from Ireland. However, it failed to achieve recognition from the three 'home' Grand Lodges in Britain. It was not until 1888 that complete harmony was gained. In that year virtually all lodges in New South Wales amicably joined to form the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales with the then Governor, Lord Carrington, as its First Grand Master.


While New South Wales can boast the first lodge chartered in Australia, its early Masonic disharmony robbed it of the premier Australian Grand Lodge. That title went to South Australia, where Freemasonry had a unique beginning. Its first lodge was, in fact, formed in London in 1834 -- two years before the colony was actually founded! This was the South Australian Lodge of Friendship No. 613 EC, which is today Lodge of Friendship No. 1 SAC. It met in Adelaide for the first time in 1838.


A number of other lodges quickly sprang up, variously holding English, Irish, or Scottish charters. In April 1884 the South Australian Lodges, with only one exception, managed to agree on unity and erected the Grand Lodge of South Australia. The exception was the Duke of Leinster Lodge No. 363 IC, which still works happily in Adelaide.9


The history of Masonry in Victoria holds a number of parallels with that of New South Wales. The first lodge chartered in Victoria was the Lodge of Australia Felix No. 697 EC, in 1834. This lodge remains the premier lodge in Victoria, as No. 1 VC. Scottish and Irish lodges followed, in the same pattern as the other Australian colonies. Victoria was greatly populated by the gold rushes of the 1850s, and a large number of lodges resulted from this period. As with New South Wales, early Masonic harmony proved elusive. After two early unsuccessful attempts by a number of Masons, a Grand Lodge of Victoria was separately formed in 1883. This new body had some success, commencing with six lodges and finishing with nineteen. It was nonetheless a minority organisation. A further five years of disharmony ensued before unity was found on the erection of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria in 1889. One English craft lodge, Combermere No. 752 EC (dating from 1858), still works in Melbourne, the last reminder of the turbulent Masonic days in Victoria of just on a century ago.10


The island colony of Tasmania was the next area to attain a Grand Lodge. Tasmania was blessed with tranquil Masonic development, its premier lodge being Tasmanian Operative Lodge No. 345 IC, erected in Hobart in 1834, and now No. 1 TC. It was preceded by several lodges, the earliest of which was operating in 1825, and was Lodge No. 286 IC, attached to the 40th Regiment. A civilian lodge, the Tasmanian Lodge No. 313 IC, was erected in 1827 before the 40th Regiment left the colony, and a second - the Lodge of the Brotherly Union No. 313 IC - was founded in 1832. No. 313 granted a dispensation to form No. 345 IC, and No. 346 IC (now No. 2 TC) which was founded in the north. After twelve years operating under the Grand Lodge of Ireland this latter lodge, in an attempt to overcome the long delays in communication it was suffering with Dublin, gained a dispensation from the English Provincial Grand Master in Sydney to change its allegiance. It thereafter became Tasmanian Union Lodge No. 781 EC (how No. 3 TC) in 1844. Lodge No. 313 IC, and Lodge No. 326 IC both ceased working about this time.


Other English and Scottish lodges followed, with attendant Provincial Grand Lodges. On 26 June 1890 all twenty-two lodges then working in Tasmania met and unanimously created the Grand Lodge of Tasmania. Indeed, Tasmania was the only Australian Grand Lodge to be founded with every then available lodge exchanging its charter.11


Freemasonry in Western Australia formally commenced on the chartering of the Lodge of St John No. 485 EC (now No. 1 WAC), in 1843. However, it was to be ten years before a second lodge - Freemantle No. 1033 EC - was formed in 1853. A Scottish lodge was chartered in 1896, and within four years thirty lodges were operating in Western Australia under Scottish allegiance. This phenomenal expansion gave Scottish Masonry the ascendancy in Western Australia. Only two Irish lodges were formed in the colony. Attempts were made in 1894 and 1899 to form a Grand Lodge, but consensus proved elusive. In the eastern Australian colonies where disharmony took hold, it was often the English lodges which provided the main difficulties, but in Western Australia it was the ascendant Scottish lodges. Its Grand Lodge was formed in 1900, but nearly half of the Scottish lodges then working, together with a few English lodges, stood aloof. Two Scottish District Grand Lodges, controlling fifteen lodges between them, still work in Western Australia today -- but long since in complete harmony with lodges of the Western Australian Constitution.12


Queensland was the last Australian state to obtain an enduring Grand Lodge, largely because disharmony lasted longer in Queensland than elsewhere. Its first lodge was North Australian No.796 EC (now No. 1 QC), chartered at Brisbane in 1859. Further English, Irish and Scottish lodges followed. Early efforts to form a sovereign Grand Lodge were made in 1887 and 1897, but without success. However, in 1904 a convention of delegates brought together twenty-five Irish lodges and fourteen Scottish lodges to establish the Grand Lodge of Queensland (GLQ). Only one-third of Scottish lodges then operating in Queensland joined the new body, while only one Irish lodge declined to join. However, no English lodge could be persuaded to exchange its charter.


As a result of this event, Queensland Masonry remained divided for several years, and it was not until 1918 that positive steps were finally made to unite all lodges in the state. In 1920, as a prelude to unity, sixty-three of the English lodges then working in Queensland, together with the remaining Scottish lodges, formed the Queensland Grand Lodge (QGL). In 1921 the two Grand Lodges merged into the United Grand Lodge of Queensland - finally bringing about Masonic unity. A few English lodges did stand out of the union nonetheless, of which two still work in Queensland today.


Of particular interest in Queensland is its decentralised Masonic Government. Alone among the Australian states, Queensland has a widely dispersed population. As a result the state is divided into three parts for Masonic purposes. All lodges between the cities of Townsville and Cairns come under the District Grand Lodge of North Queensland. Lodges from Cairns to the far north come under the District Grand Lodge of Carpentaria, while lodges south of Townsville are under the direct control of the Grand Lodge.13


The Queensland system of District Grand Lodges is based on the decentralised Masonic Government long since employed by the English, Irish and Scottish Grand Lodges. Under England and Scotland, lodges inside their geographical jurisdictions are placed in 'provinces', while lodges overseas are placed in 'districts'. For Ireland, the term 'province' is used whether the administrative unit is inside or outside Ireland. A Provincial, or District, Grand Lodge has reasonably wide administrative powers within its own area, together with some judicial powers. However, questions of policy invariably remain within the ambit of the Grand Lodge itself.14



1 Pick, F.L. & Knight, G.N., The Freemasons' Pocket Reference Book, 3rd Edition (Frederick Muller, London, 1983), p.37; pp.224 et seq.

2 Hamill, John, The Craft (Aquarian Press, England, 1985), p.41.

3 Op. cit., p.42.

4 Henderson, K.W., Masonic World Guide (A. Lewis, London, 1985), p.129.

5 Ibid.

6 Op. cit., p.26

7 Carr, Harry, The Freemasons at Work (A. Lewis, London, 1976), p.263.

8 Coil, H.W., Coil's Masonic Encyclopaedia (Macoy, USA, 1961), p.335 et seq.

9 Henderson, K.W., op. cit., p.319.

10 Op. cit., p.342.

11 Op. cit., p.338.

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