CHAPTER 4: Struggles for Power, Privilege and Survival

Well into the 20th century ‘freemasonry’, ‘trade union’ and ‘friendly society’ were not the clearly demarcated terms they later became. Because of their common heritage, there remained a great deal of overlap in function and in form. Debates over Freemasonry’s uniqueness, and over whether colonial society imported ‘unionism’ or that it was ‘of natural origin’, have both missed the point.[cxlii] Freemasonry was assisted into a unique global position mainly by the politics of the period 1750-1850 but the essential simplicity of the guild’s central ideas, and their continued relevance and use in ‘modern’ Europe, made it inevitable the full fraternal range would re-appear in the colonies. Daniel Defoe’s late-17th century recommendation of ‘friendly societies’ is among the earliest known uses of this term.[cxliv] His definition, which roughly coincided with the term’s first known newspaper usages, was ‘a Number of People entring into a Mutual Compact to help one another, in case any Disaster or Distress fall upon them.’ This could apply equally to a traditional guild or to any of the variations then becoming visible, as his examples show, and could cover Freemasonry which he didn’t mention. He drew upon marsh-dwellers in Essex and Kent spreading the cost of sea barriers across their communities, horse regiments collectively funding the costs of remounts, and a Sailors’ ‘Chest’ or common purse at Chatham, on the Thames. That he used a term we today regard as very specific across such a broad sweep of locale and of occupation suggests that in his day ‘friendly society’ had taken over from ‘guild’ as a general catch-phrase, as ‘freemasonry’ did in the late-18th and early 19th centuries. Further, his account emphasised the mundane and made no mention of fraternal ‘trappings’ or of their secret activities. It projected a calm, practical demeanour, arguing the case for utility and efficiency. Many authors have followed this second lead and over time it has been generally assumed the ‘trappings’ had simply disappeared as modernity took shape. In 1889, an Austrian academic investigating voluntary working men’s associations in England made no mention of them though his conclusion was unusually insightful for the time: ‘[If I were to] consider the early history of English working men’s associations it would be indispensable to treat of Friendly Societies and Trade Unions simultaneously, since their origin and their growth are governed by the same economic and social conditions, and both classes of institutions are only different sides of the same historical process.’ [cxliii] His emphasis on ‘working men’s associations’ reflects the gaps, actual and conceptual, which had opened up between the fraternal strands. It was an approach less blighted than most by the period’s class-heavy rhetoric but its omission of other major ‘fraternals’ shows how much had already been lost in the scramble for modernity and how much remains to be restored to the record.

Power and Privilege Amongst Australian Freemasons

Harland-Jacobs assembled her major argument that Freemasonry was THE fraternal society of ‘the Empire’ around public events such as the Piper stone-laying of 1816. Her account puts parade appearances at its centre and highlights the speech-making of colonial administrators, in Canada and India in particular. Her resulting emphasis on respectability as the Masonic weapon of choice to create and maintain the structure of the Empire denies any role for individual motivations, especially those at the heart of the ‘turf wars’ which resulted in the imperial project. Her concentration on what could be seen or heard by ‘the public’ aligns with her era’s thinking that what was not public was unimportant. Consequently, lost from her account are, on the one hand, lodge rites and their significances and, on the other, covert Statecraft and diplomatic machinations. She was not concerned that where lodges originated was important, those of interest to her were just ‘British.’

The 1827 letter of John Stephen (above) from which Harland-Jacobs quoted to begin her account was only superficially about decorum. If manners and mores were the concerns, as she asserts, the disputation which continually sullied the Craft throughout the century would not have been so volatile, it would not have had as a principal focus English-born versus non-English born brethren, and the same issue would not also be apparent in non-Masonic settings. Stephen’s career shows he was not even a good example of the generalised virtue she had in mind. Few of his words can be taken at face-value underpinned as they are by assumptions about class, faith, race and gender which he, initiated in England, did not feel any need to put on paper. They amounted to a belief that ‘the English’ were superior to all other Britons, and that ‘English men’ were the peak of creation. Naturally, English Masons and GLE ‘knew’ that they were overseeing the only authentic Freemasonry, an assumption spelt out after the Union of 1812: ‘(One) of the results of the Union (of 1812) was that pressure began to be laid on military lodges to resign their Irish Warrants and accept English ones…The (GLI) records of the next dozen years are full of protests coming from Irish Lodges.’ One outcome was loss of an earlier form of ‘Provincial Grand Lodge’ in which the different constitutions had worked somewhat more harmoniously together.[cxlviii] Writing to London, not Dublin, in 1827 Stephen did not arouse contradiction when he intimated that Irish lodges were not adequate, indeed may not even have been regular by English standards. Coal River, NSW, later the major port and smoky industrial centre of Newcastle, stands out in this regard. First mapped before 1800 and occupied by Europeans as a penal settlement similar to Norfolk Island, it had quickly become a place where physical work predominated. In 1844, the editor of a Sydney newspaper reported that it was not yet ready: ‘We do not think Newcastle is in a position just now to support a lodge creditably and efficiently, owing to so few of the resident gentry feeling inclined to give their support to the craft.’ [cxlvii] The editor had only Freemasonry in mind, thus the reference to ‘gentry’. In the even more isolated and less populated Swan River Settlement (later Perth, Western Australia) military types were in charge of its establishment and a Freemasons’ parade occurred within 12 months of their arrival. Whether they were always ‘regular’ in their mode of conduct and in their accoutrements in what remained for some years a very difficult situation, is yet to be seen. Formally, the first civilian, Masonic lodge was ‘chartered’ in 1843, and the second in 1853, both of the English Constitution, leaving at least fourteen years of fraternal affairs un-recorded. Before South Australia was even proclaimed in 1836, founders of what became its first Masonic lodge, ‘South Australian Lodge of Friendship, EC, No 613’, had obtained a warrant and held a preliminary meeting in London.[cxlv] Of equal importance here however was that the second Masonic lodge attempted in this colonial outpost, ‘Adelaide St Johns Lodge’, was of the Scottish Constitution. Its founding members wrote the requisite letter to Edinburgh’s Grand Lodge and began in 1844 to ‘work’ in anticipation of a Charter arriving in due course. They were immediately bullied and intimidated by the executive of the English Lodge of Friendship which insisted that any authorisation must be requested through them and must receive their permission. ‘After a long and interesting discussion’ the aspirant Masons are said to have conceded.[cxlvi]

In Sydney:

The 46th Regiment of Foot, which arrived in 1814, had attached to it the ‘Lodge of Social and Military Virtues No. 227, Irish Constitution’. We have seen evidence of its parlous condition and its leader’s attitude towards its renewed form. The 48th Regiment with Lodge No. 218, also of the Irish Constitution, replaced this regiment in 1817. This Lodge then granted a dispensation to the first civilian Lodge in Sydney in 1820 when the total population of the colony was only 30,000. With just twelve foundation members, it was called the Australian Social Lodge and was issued with warrant No. 260 by the Grand Lodge of Ireland, feted as the first ‘properly chartered’ Masonic lodge in Australia in 1820.[lxxxiii] In 1821 the brethren of this lodge petitioned the GL of Ireland to be made a Provincial Grand Lodge with the authority to issue Warrants to sub-lodges. In 1824 the Leinster Masonic Committee, sitting in Sydney with the power but not the title, met and established the next lodge, the ‘Leinster Marine Lodge of Australia, No 266, IC’.[lxxxiv] The first lodge under the English Constitution, the ‘Lodge of Australia, No 820’, Stephen’s lodge’ opened in 1829, and the first ‘temple’ under the Scottish Constitution, ‘Australian Kilwinning, No 337,SC’ was opened in 1844 in Victoria. This implies remarkably slow progress, compared with the West Indies for example, and invites close inspection. Harland-Jacob’s public celebrations are especially inviting.

It has gone un-noticed generally that these events had strategic significance within fraternal communities in addition to any effect they may have had externally, on ‘the natives.’ We have already seen that some Freemasons were in a better position than others to draw on the military’s long-standing use of marching about and were quick to exploit the power of ‘pomp and circumstance’ but not all soldiers saw such events as entirely positive. Even an expansion in the numbers of lodges could be seen as unwise if ‘the right people’ were not in charge. The first public procession recorded in the minutes of L260 was a joint affair with the regimental L218 on 27 December, 1820 ostensibly to celebrate the anniversary of St John the Evangelist: ‘It was then the custom…for the Brethren to march in procession, clothed in regalia to one of the churches, afterwards returning to the Lodge Room, close the Lodge in the usual manner, and then retire to a sumptuous banquet.’ (My emphasis) Newspaper records of such events are scarce. The Benevolent Society benefited on 24 June, 1824, St John the Baptist’s day, by way of a publicised donation from L260 of £10/6/-. The Sydney Gazette, however, also recorded that ‘the brethren sat down at 4.00pm to a most sumptuous dinner’ and did not get up again until ‘a late hour.’

Stephen, of course, had not invented white, English male assumptions of superiority. A letter from L 260 to GLI in November, 1821 included: ‘..(New immigrants) have in some measure kept aloof from us (as we suppose) on account of our Lodge being composed of some Brethren who had once the Misfortune of falling under the lash of the Law (and may) cause other brethren who intend Emigrating to bring with them Warrants from the Grand (Lodge) of Scotland and England (thereby impeding 260) from uniting in one strong chain the poor man and the rich man, as well as keeping all party distinctions from the Masonic walls in this our Infant..Colony.’ [clvii] In 1823 the same lodge requested assistance: ‘(The) difficulties we labour under are, that the brethren of our initiation [sic] in the country are very young in the order, and the old ones of the Mother Country much degenerated and of course very Lukewarm.’ [clviii] They enquired whether brethren in Van Diemens Land could receive a dispensation without their Lodge being regularly installed as it would cost at least ₤100 for a sufficient number of L 260 brethren to make the trip, and could illegitimate young men be admitted? They pointed out that their “Mother Lodge”, L 218, did not wish to assist as ‘they were not free born.’ In 1824, shortly after Lodge 266, ‘L Leinster Marine IC’, as the second civilian lodge, was established, a bye law was introduced into its regulations which excluded every person who had ever been imprisoned from becoming a member, sharply dividing the local brethren. Noted merchant, Robert Campbell, Jr, twice wrote to GLI in 1825 seeking assistance ‘in restoring order.’ He reported that the Leinster Committee were not following instructions from GLI but were appointing their own officers, that Br Bolton had the Committee’s Charter and, refusing to return it, had been expelled. He appended a letter from Clayton and others on the Committee expressing their concerns about L266 and their byelaws which were ‘pregnant with unmasonic matter.’[clix] Subsequently, a freed convict was found to have been admitted by 266, and after much heated discussion advice was formally sought from Irish Grand Lodge: ‘An answer was returned from the Grand Master, the Duke of Leinster, expressive of surprise and indignation at such bye-laws, and ordering that they be immediately expunged under the penalty of withdrawing their warrant.’ [clx] The Grand Master made clear that the Committee’s Charter was vested in the officers of L260 and that a man who had been ‘once under the law’ but had ‘recovered his character’ was preferred ‘above all others’ to be taken into ‘Masonic fellowship.’ He concluded: ‘(The) restoration of men from error was one of the behests of Heaven and to join and assist in such a duty was performing a Godlike action.’

Solomon Levey was another ‘common thief’ who had come to Sydney in chains. In 1826, just a dozen years later, he was able to return to London ‘on the deck of his own ship’ knowing that he left land titles and money worth ₤30,000 behind with his younger brother, Barnett. From England, ‘Solly’ urged the establishment of the Swan River Settlement in Western Australia and became its largest investor. But perhaps released from his brother’s close scrutiny, Barnett began ‘a huge and fantastic building project’ in George Street, Sydney. Combining a public house, flour mill and a 5-storey warehouse, one floor of which became the Theatre Royal, the complex included a lodge for Freemasons, a large supper room and kitchens. Overtopping its 200 feet long loft was to be a huge windmill. Its fraught construction brought down Governor Darling’s wrath, but was it because Barnett was an emancipist, because the building was an ‘unlicensed development’, because of his life-style, or because of his faith? Samuel Terry, a further Jewish transportee who ‘made good’ and commonly noted as the ‘Botany Bay Rothschild’, was said to be widely unpopular for his sly grogging and money-lending activities. Clayton was one who absented himself from Lodge 260 while he, Terry, was WM.[clxi] In his official capacity Terry laid the foundation stone for Barnett’s project in 1827, ‘amid loud cheers’ from his supporters. Within a comparatively short time, however, the venture had broken Barnett’s health and his fortunes, the Theatre Royal only achieving its position of pre-eminence in Australian professional theatre after Governor Darling had been replaced and Barnett had lost control of the property.[clxii]

Wentworth was also no longer poor. Chairing a dinner celebration of lawyers he triumphantly trilled: ‘Look at me, the father of the Australian Bar, yet here I stand with six bottles under my belt and none the worse. I feel for your degeneracy, my sons, but trust that practice will soon make you perfect..Next to wine, my brethren, devotion to the fair sex is the characteristic and pride of the English Barrister.’ [clv] What was also already clear is that many of the Masonic brethren who joined Stephen in establishing the first English Masonic lodge in Australia, No 820, in April, 1829, were directly involved in his campaign to keep Jane New away from her husband and off the gallows tree. Cramp and Mackaness list seven founding lodge officers and four other members.[cxlix] Of these: ‘three appear as signatories with Stephen on a petition supposedly written by Jane New to the Governor’s Executive Council, appealing for a remission of her sentence’ [cl] and eight appear as signatories, with Stephen, to a petition supposedly from James New, the husband, also pleading for a remission. Further to these worthies, the evidence shows that WC Wentworth, joined ‘Lodge of Australia’ in May, 1829, having already been a willing accomplice in his ‘brother’s’ illegal escapades.[cli] Dr Bland also joined at this time. A Masonic observer, concerned that ‘Masonry in the Colony…has been rather on the decline for some time’, wrote ‘(This) new Lodge is to be established entirely among the higher class of Colonists, and our [L 260] assistance in their Installation (of officers) has been dispensed with…’ [clii] The Lodge was probably bankrupted before its opening by Stephen’s insistence on purchasing large amounts of lodge material from London so whether the struggle for social ascendancy extended to a major robbery of Sydney’s prime bank in 1828 just after Stephen and Jane New first met,[cliii] is moot.  Between the robbery and her trial Jane New was approached by one of the bank-robbers, Kelly, who was anxious to ‘launder’ the stolen banknotes after the Bank’s directors began publicising serial numbers. She, apparently, confided in Stephen who kept the information from the authorities until it suited his, and her, case. As it happens, Kelly was well-known to all the major players in the drama since he was also a member of L 260. The major loss of banknotes fed into a bout of currency speculation late in 1829 which in turn led to disruptions of business and employment.[clvi] Its financial difficulties were such that it came to a halt soon after its opening and needed reviving in 1833, with a new number, 548 EC. The ‘observer’ quoted above reported that L 260 was ‘now considerably on the increase’ since Bro Stephen had left the Colony and ‘L of Australia’ [L 820] had ceased meeting.[cliv]

Before emigrating Stephens had shown he was already an unruly and feckless young man, protected by his family’s influence and position and unwilling to accept responsibility for the consequences of his often mis-guided actions. Though one of his brothers was later to become Lieutenant-Governor of the State, and the Stephen family included other ‘men of distinction in the legal and political history of the British Empire’, it was probably in 1829 that its influence peaked, given the size of the population and the number of positions he and his relatives held in the legal structure. Much of the family’s collective ‘powerful force’, according to Baxter, was directed into ridiculing and undermining Governor Darling xxx dates xxx, the very representative of legitimate authority which all ‘regular’ Freemasons swear to support through thick and thin. Whether and to what extent the more successful members of his family were directly involved in his Masonic entanglements is still to be determined.

In 1835, GLI received further complaint from L 260 that Barnett had followed other brethren in joining ‘Lodge of Australia’, without leave and without clearing his debts, and had appeared at a brother’s funeral in regalia and on a horse, all instances of irregular and improper behaviour.[clxiii] Whatever Barnett’s state of mind, the defections were part of a renewed campaign ‘by Lodge 820 [by then 546] take precedence of all other Lodges’ simply because it was the first ‘English’ lodge in the colony. Other letters at the time from L 260 to GLI complained that the members of a new ‘Irish’ lodge at Parramatta had been induced to accept tutelage from L 820 after having begun correspondence with 260, while the newly-formed Operative Lodge in Hobart was being similarly pressured to accept an ‘English’ dispensation.[clxiv]

In Van Diemen’s Land:

Without mentioning Freemasonry, charges and counter-charges have long swirled around the governorship of Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania] by Governor Arthur, 1824 to 1835. Mackaness in the 20th century supported those called ‘the Colonists’, essentially the nouveau riche, against the Governor without once disclosing his own Masonic allegiance or that of one of the main anti-Arthur protagonists, an ex-soldier named Robert Lathrop Murray. This has been despite Murray’s regular styling within Freemasonry as the ‘father and the founder of the (Masonic) Order in Van Diemens Land’ and ‘of nearly every lodge in Tasmania’. Another anti-Arthur protagonist with Masonic connections was the afore-mentioned and also re-located Anthony Fenn Kemp, to be later revered in certain circles as the ‘father of Tasmania’. Involved with these two, for at least a few years, was the same John Stephen who, having gone ‘home’ to London ‘to argue his case’ in 1829, had returned to Sydney but then spent the second half of the 1830’s as a journalist in Hobart.[clxvii]

As a strict Calvinist, Arthur’s lack of interest in Murray’s very public Freemasonry was far from being the only point of difference. [clxv] A pro-Arthur account written in the 1950’s has: ‘Murray – a well-educated, proud, and very sensitive man; angry because he had been exposed ‘as a most nefarious land-jobber’, partly goaded by his merchant and landowning associates, partly resenting ostracism by the official set, who shunned him as a ‘transported bigamist, a notorious bank-swindler and a practicing con-cubinary’ – (wrote) under the pseudonym ‘A Colonist’, a series of galling attacks on the Administration.’ [clxvi] Having done his duty in the Peninsular Wars and elsewhere, Murray had been transported for bigamy in 1815. He worked for D’Arcy Wentworth as clerk in 1816 in Sydney where influence obtained him an early pardon. He sensed opportunities in Hobart, moved there in 1821, was granted land and began one of its first newspapers. Murray wrote to GLI in Dublin in 1841, the year that Stephen relocated once more, to Port Philip [Melbourne]: ‘I need not remind you that I founded the whole of the Lodges in this Island commencing with a dispensation from the Military Lodge in the 40th Regt (284) from which I formed the Lodge 313. When the members became too numerous for convenience, I found from them Lodge 326, and again from them Lodge 345.’ This claim, which has become the official version, glossed over the inevitable consequences of the imposition of military and Masonic disciplines on a penal outpost.

His regimental lodge, L No 33, IC, arrived with the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1832. It became ‘stationary’ in 1837 when the regiment was transferred to India and many of the soldiers remained and continued to work as ‘No.33, Fusilier Lodge’ the Warrant for which did not arrive till 1841.[clxviii] ‘The Tasmanian Lodge’ was chartered by the GL of Ireland as No 313 in 1829 on a request by the 40th Foot Regiment, its lodge being No 284, IC. The GLI Librarian, Rowan, wrote in 1990: ‘The Warrant did not reach Hobart until early in 1831. RL Murray seems to have been one of the Masters in the period before the Warrant was received.’ [clxix] The ‘Union Lodge’, No 326 IC, followed in 1832, the dispensation coming from Leinster Marine in Sydney. Then came ‘The Operative’, No 345 IC, in 1834. Having perused the surviving material Rowan concluded: ‘In December 1833, before the Warrant [for L 326] had arrived, Lester and eleven other members, unhappy about irregularities in the election of the Master and ‘the constant consumption of the Lodge funds in suppers’ applied to Grand Lodge for a Warrant to form ..the Tasmanian Operative Lodge.’ [clxx] Murray, as PM, was one of the signatories on the relevant correspondence but I suspect he was more ‘the old man’ called in for the strictness of his ritual guidance and to act as WM of new lodges rather than as the only energising, driving force. A letter signed by the officers of L 326 to L 260 in Sydney thanking it for the Dispensation explained that it had been sought ‘because of irregular behaviour of 326 in overturning unanimous election of Lodge officers and electing as WM (the) owner or member of staff of the tavern in which Lodge was held and because of ‘constant consumption of the Lodge funds in suppers’. [clxxi]

It is unclear just who were the officers of L 326 at this time, no returns have survived, perhaps none were sent. An earlier letter from the WM of L. 33 had explained that because of the scattered nature of the regiment ‘Lodge has not met since 17 July, 1832, “consequently no election of Office bearers took place during that period; indeed the few brethren that remain were apprehensive..that we should be obliged to return the Warrant.’ [clxxii] Rules in the Constitution supported Murray’s predilections which are clear from his letters: ‘Lodge 33 has by my influence been rigidly kept to the Military men. I consider from long experience in Military Masonry in my own regiment, the Royals, that the two cloths, the plain coat and the red coat are better kept distinct and separate.’ [clxxiii] However, Murray told GLI in 1837 that L 33 had suffered such a down turn in numbers that the brethren ‘were forced to seek the assistance of a civil Brother to enable them to open, with the proper numbers, their Lodge, their Chapter and their Encampment.’ [clxxiv] As in the Piper case, above, these last terms, ‘Chapter’ and ‘Encampment’, refer to the related branches of Freemasonry, a Royal Arch Chapter [RAC] and a Knights Templar Encampment [KntsTE]. The general malaise was being blamed on GL, complaints probably led by Stephen who appears to have been the ‘civil brother.’

In 1838 ‘general dissatisfaction among Tasmanian masons’ was being expressed at the ‘total silence preserved towards them by the (Irish) Grand Lodge.’ Stephen, then WM of 313, proposed that allegiance to GLI be repudiated and a ‘Supreme Authority for the Government of the Craft be set up here’. Murray’s name was subsequently put forward for the compromise position of ‘Provincial Grand Master’ [PGM]. The Irish Grand Master was reluctant: ‘I am decidedly of opinion that it would be better for us not to appoint Provincial Grand Masters out of Ireland & leave that to the Grand Lodge of England who are better able to control their lodges than we are. I fear if we grant such to Foreign Lodges it will only create schisms.’ [clxxv] Local opinion, which was being pressured to assist a number of ‘aged and decayed masons’, did not support the alternative of a ‘standing committee’ as had occurred in Sydney in the 1820’s. Stephen’s attitudes are clear in a letter he wrote in 1837 to the ‘Grand Principals of Grand RA Chapter’ in Ireland concerning the ‘much to be regretted fracas’ in RAC 313: ‘(My) near connection to the Attorney-General here (my brother) and to the Under Secretary of State in England, it is supposed will lend some weight to my representations..Companion Maurice Smith [a newspaperman]…is deservedly esteemed, but the Chapter being indebted to him in all the costs and charges of its establishment, he has assumed a species of perpetual dictatorship. The Bye Laws seem to be but secondary to his will and pleasure. (Respectable candidates have been excluded while others) of very doubtful character, some even under assumed names (have been exalted).’ [His emphasis][clxxvi] Reiterating English horror at certain emancipists being admitted to lodge, he was working to have allegiances and thus power shifted to the GLE in London. Murray revelled in the company of ‘old military men’ and was a snob but he wanted no shift away from GLI. He sought unsuccessfully GLI’s help in preventing processions amongst Hobart’s Masons: ‘(In) colonies such as these they are calculated to do much mischief. They tend also…to bring the Order into contempt for a Procession, unless it is both numerous and well got up, is at the best a mawkish concern. I have had hard work to keep the lodges here from following the bad example of those at Sydney, where processions take place on both St John’s Days and on every other occasion.’ [clxxvii]

His 1841 letter had continued:

‘Masonry does not advance much in numbers..we are so extremely nice in admitting any persons to those orders that I have only initiated one since I last wrote to can form no idea of the care which is a society composed as this is where riches do not form respectability. 313 and 326 are rather low in numbers; 345 being composed of a different description of persons (masons in humble life) is by much the most numerous.’

He asked whether GLI would sanction discontinuation of the use of veils in the RA Chapter, since: ‘In the Craft lodges I have exploded all the old annoying ceremonies. So also in the Chapter, I have softened down the asperities of the rugged road. And in the Encampment relieved the weight of the scrip and wallet.’ In response GLI agreed and indicated that it had got rid, in Murray’s words, of ‘all the vulgarities and rudenesses which have so long been a blemish on the Craft’, [ie the Blue Lodges]: ‘In the Blue, cart wheels, chairs, coffins – in the RA, the pullings and Hawlings – in the Encampment, the Pilgrim loadings, rugged roads, etc..I really think that it will be a great benefit to masonry when the costume of a gentleman with the proper jewels and aprons is alone requisite, free from all puppet show mummery.’ [clxxviii]

Having come from lowly beginnings, Murray was now keen to move in the highest circles and to appear to be within the Masonic loop where he could claim to be privy to socially and politically-sensitive information. A certain Thomas Welsh, appointed Attorney-General for Van Diemens Land in 1841 was dismissed in 1844 by the Governor, ostensibly for duelling. The previous year, Murray had observed to Fowler, GS at GLI: ‘(Mr Welsh) is exactly here what Mr Wright describes him to me, as having been in Dublin. If possible worse in the women way, and very low.’ [clxxix] [His emphasis] He pushed for possible preferment as ‘the authorised medium of communication’ between Hobart and GLI in 1843: ‘(I trust GS has received ) my several communications, enclosing the Address to his Grace on the death of the Duke of Sussex, the correspondence & spurious warrant from the Attorney-General Mr Welsh, and the correspondence relative to the unfortunate difference between Lodge 326 and 345.’ [clxxx] He advised that his mail could be sent by the Surgeon Superintendent of any convict ship sailing from Dublin for Hobart, especially ‘if addressed to the care of the Controller General of Convicts (Capt Foster) who is my particular friend.’

In 1844-45, GLI had again ‘to make friendly application to the Grand Lodge of England’ not to interfere with the Irish Lodges in Australia, specifically after ‘The Union’ Lodge was induced to adopt an English Constitution and become ‘Tasmanian Union L, EC’. In continuing his 1990 introduction to the very sparse records for L 326, ‘the Union Lodge’, Rowan summarised what he believed had happened in this case: ‘In 1842 the young and zealous Charles Toby was elected to the Chair (of L 326). (Apparently at his instigation in) 1844 the members of 326 applied to GR Nichols, Deputy PGM (EC) in Sydney for a (Dispensation) under the English Constitution which was duly granted. Although the Lodge seems to have hoped to be able to work under both (Constitutions) simultaneously, this was not a situation which Murray felt should be permitted to continue.’ By the end of 1844 Murray regarded L 326 as ‘virtually defunct’. It had, among other things, lost its then Master in a banking scandal. In December, having imported ‘paraphernalia’ and printed new Rules, Toby told Nichols, PGM of the EC in Sydney, that he wanted a Grand Lodge Charter to: ‘..uphold the dignity of the order, and preserve Freemasonry in this lodge from sinking into that apathy and, I may add, disunion, which so much characterises the Craft in this colony..(Until) we possess the same privileges as the Irish lodges, we shall not be able to complete our arrangements, nor can we expect that accession of strength which is most desirable.’ [clxxxi] In the following year GLI called on L 326 to choose between the two Constitutions. It chose to become L 781 (EC). Rowan again: ‘Early in 1843 application (had been) made to Grand Chapter (Ireland) for a Warrant for a (RA) Chapter attached to 326. In spite of Murray’s (opposition), the request was granted, but by the time the Warrant reached Hobart at the end of 1844, Murray, to whom it had been sent, felt that the status of 326 had become too irregular to permit him to hand it over. In a letter to [Irish] Grand Lodge, Toby gave Murray’s withholding of the (RA) Warrant as one of the reasons why the (Craft) Lodge (No 326) opted to stay with the English Constitution and requested that an investigation into Murray’s conduct be instituted.’ [clxxxii] GLI appointed a local judge, Thomas Thorne, to conduct the enquiry to whom Murray complained about having to explain his Masonic behaviour. No report appears to have resulted and no determination made. The reason may be that Thorne was, at the time, WM of L 313, but more importantly, he was Murray’s friend, something which GLI probably knew.

Back in Sydney

In Sydney in the 1840’s, fraternal ambitions and conflict were beginning a four-decade period where they centred on the rise to prominence of Englishman John Williams in both Freemasonry and the newly-established Odd Fellow Orders. He was neither of the military nor from a wealthy family with Royal connections.

Brother John Williams

A cooper turned marine surveyor, Williams, newly-arrived but a Mason of some years standing, was Junior Warden in L260 in May, 1842,[clxxxiii] when a lodge meeting in the Masonic Hall, York St, blackballed Isaac Moses, and refused him admission. Brother Pashley, who was alleged to have previously said that he would blackball any Jew proposed for 260 was subsequently expelled and another brother suspended. Recriminations continued, a number of meetings were held, one at least described as a ‘scene of uproar, irregularity and unbrotherly feeling’, and a flood of charges and counter charges flowed to GLI in Dublin.[clxxxiv]

One, signed by 42 members of L260, 5 members of L548 (EC) and 5 members of L266, alleged that the suspended brother was only one of a number of brethren across all Sydney lodges ‘who had conspired together’ to deny admission to all Hebrews. These petitioners described George Nichols, appointed PGM by GLE in 1839, as ‘an attorney…in embarrassed circumstances, at present..insolvent’, and detailed a general meeting of Masons in July which he chaired though it had been called by the expelled brother, Pashley, and his supporters Macdermott and Watt. This gathering had voted to bring eleven charges against L260 and to demand that all the colonial lodges be placed ‘under the direction’ of the GLE. These petitioners expressed complete confidence in GLI but offered no support for the executive of L260.

Pashley also wrote, alleging that he had blackballed Isaac Moses because he was an ‘improper character’ who had ‘some years since kept a house of ill fame in this Town’ and because ‘there are very strong reasons’ for believing that Jews were trying to get L260 ‘exclusively into their own hands.’ Nichols wrote asserting that all of Sydney’s lodges except L260 were composed ‘of Gentlemen and tradesmen of respectability’: ‘(L260) has lately degenerated by initiating persons..whose habits of life and standing in society are not calculated to raise masonry in the estimation of the public.’ [clxxxv] He further recommended that the Charter for L260 be withdrawn from its current officers and placed with Henry Macdermott and others. This Macdermott, described as a merchant and an English Freemason, was another excluded by L260. The literary outpourings over this matter include one from ‘John McDermott, merchant’ claiming that ‘Henry Macdermott (is) a man of depraved, vitious and immoral conduct’ whose name is not Macdermott and whose alleged father said that ‘he did not even know this person’s mother’.

The officers of L260, Williams among them, hastened to answer the charges. Their first missive contended that the cause of Sydney’s Masonic problems was that ‘many Masons wishing to open lodges under the English Constitution’ [my emphasis] were standing off in disapproval of Nichols. Although Sydney ‘could boast’ hundreds of Masons, only 42 attended the protest meeting and many of those were only there because they had been misled. In a second letter they asserted that

The whole of the charges originate in the one single cause, with the exception of the first charge, viz making an example of those who had conspired against a Religion, and because the (authority) of the Lodge had passed out of the hands of that Class, who in the words of the notorious Barrington ‘Left their country for their country’s good..[ie, were convicts]

Each of us, they claimed, ‘came free to this colony and have always remained so’:

We cannot say so much for the accusers as Br Watt [the brother suspended] came as a 1811 Sentence for life, Offence robbing the Belfast Bank, thrice transported for various offences to Coal River and now under a conditional pardon;

The DPGM [GR Nichols] although an Attorney is the son of an old convict and his mother an abandoned character of the same kind; he himself being a profligate and at present an Insolvent;

Br Kelly, P Master of an old convict..and was compelled to retire from 260 on account of his drunken conduct..he was transported for the term of 14 years, Crime forgery, and during the time he was a member of 260 he was tried for theft [the Bank robbery, above];

The PM of 548 [Macdermott] is indebted to Br Watt a large sum of money;

Br Ford is also an old convict and a resident of Br Watt’s house;

Br Pashley is also the son of convict parents;

[The letter has similar descriptions of others opposed to these 5 officers of 206]…We have received some of these particulars from the Convicts Office.

After deliberations GLI accepted the recommendations of its Board of General Purposes that the Charter for L260 be withdrawn from October 1843, that Pashley and Watt be reprimanded, then reinstated, but that the five officers, including Williams, be immediately removed and their Masonic status suspended indefinitely. The Board especially deplored the attacks made by the five on the characters of their opponents.

Some participants later argued that these five Lodge officers had been attempting to destroy L260 by wasting its funds ‘in lavish entertainment in the South’.[clxxxvi] As newly-elected ‘Grand Master’ in 1842 of the Odd Fellows’ ‘Australian Grand Lodge’, Williams had displayed what loyalty plus ‘lavish entertainment in the South’ could mean. At its Annual Dinner that year, he proposed nine loyal toasts.


Survival – Passion and Conviviality vs Efficiency

Fraternalism’s safeguarding of insider information for the benefit of initiated members of a trade was clearly in mind when Sydney’s Atlas newspaper in July, 1845 announced the establishment of the Woolstaplers [woolsorters] Society, ‘the principal object (of which was) the protection of the woolgrower against the imposition of pretenders.’ The fact that skills and the ‘sacred knowledge’ of a trade could now be passed on in ways unknown to mediaeval artisans, had intensified the need for recognisable tests of duly ‘made’ craftsmen. In this case ‘a Certificate, graced with a characteristic engraving’ was to be supplied to every member of the Society as ‘a credential, both of their right to the trade, and of their ability to discharge the duties connected therewith.’

Similarly, formal ‘Houses of Call’, which begin to appear in Sydney in the 1830’s and 40’s, reflected very old practices. These ‘Houses’ were usually taverns whose ‘hosts’ kept information about local work possibilities and about the next staging post. This helps to explain why it can be misleading to assume Freemasonry was always a refuge for a region’s elite. The Freemasons’ ‘Lodge of Harmony of South Australia, No 743’ was ‘one of those well known in England as Mechanics and Tradesmens’ Lodges’:

The various expences (sic) are fixed at the lowest rates allowed by the Rules of the Order, and will be exclusively devoted to Masonic purposes.[clxxxvii]

The 1827 letter of Police Magistrate Stephen, already quoted, pointed out that many emigrants were becoming Masons as personal insurance, that is, for legitimate purposes, but not for ones we would today understand as Masonic:

Our population at present is supposed to amount to nearly one hundred thousand souls, and emigration is adding almost daily to the number. The quarter part of the free community have been admitted Masons in England from the prevailing notion of the necessity of being so on becoming travellers. [His emphasis]

Masonic scholar Oliver in the UK was well aware of both the principle and its possible abuse when in 1849 he expounded ‘On the Government of Lodge’ in his Lectures on Freemasonry:

‘(The) fraternity of Masons being everywhere distinguished by their kind reception and friendly assistance of strange brethren on journies or, on their arrival to settle among them, gives rise to another abuse, teeming with evil affects. A man on the point of removing to a distant country, recollects that the certificate of being a Mason, will be a convenient general letter of recommendation. He accordingly gets himself proposed through a second, third or fourth hand, and must be hurried through all the degrees in one evening, because he is to set off early the next morning. Thus, by trusting to a vague recommendation, a lodge prostitutes the institution for a paltry fee; vests an utter stranger with a character he knows nothing of, and furnishes him with a credential, empowering him, should he be basely disposed, to abuse the generous confidence of the brethren wherever he goes, to the injury of worthy men who may afterwards travel the same road.’ [clxxxviii]

It was opportunistic therefore, but quite legitimate in a Masonic sense for Dundee stonemason, Daniel McClaren, to accept password and ‘travelling certificate’ from the executive officers of his Masonic lodge, ‘Camperdown Lodge, Dundee, No 317’ on 18 March, 1837, just 7 days before he and his family sailed on their free passage to New South Wales. The wording was altered to suit the circumstances from that on a similar certificate which he might have used to look for work inside Scotland. Specifically directed ‘to the notice and protection of all regular lodges and worthy brethren round the globe’, it was intended to secure him a job as soon as he arrived in the colony. Simultaneously, it validated his character and his work skills to other Freemasons and to a potential employer by asserting that

  1. he was who he said he was;
  2. he had undergone the necessary tests; and
  3. had proved his reliability under pressure.

His ‘Travelling Certificate’ asserted that he, Daniel McClaren, ‘properly recommended to us, was regularly entered Apprentice, passed that of a Fellowcraft and after having sustained with strength courage and firmness under the most painfull works and wonderful (trials) we have given him a recompence…the sublime degree of Master.’ [clxxxix] The minutes of the first NSW Masonic lodge outside Sydney, Maitland’s ‘Lodge of Unity’, show that in the 1840’s it regularly provided travelling Masons with bed, breakfast and five shillings to continue ‘proceeding up country’ in their search for work. On one occasion, it also covered the legal and other costs of an ill-treated apprentice in a case against his employer.[cxc] The first Friendly Societies in NSW reflect the same approach in their lodge names, viz, the Odd Fellow’s ‘Travellers’ Home’ and ‘Strangers’ Refuge’. Thus, the long-standing secret rites, signs, passwords and regalia continued their centuries-old role as protection against bogus claims on a group’s funds. Over time, in a stable lodge, they were the generator of an inward-looking solidarity defending all on the inside from assaults by those on the outside. ‘A safe place’, into which entry is qualified, in theory allowed ‘insiders’, to speak openly and to collectively achieve decisions. Out of a need to defend the secrets came a sense of familiarity, of belonging and a recognition of the value of rules establishing rights and responsibilities. A sense of common purpose and respect for ‘the Rules’ is then available to spread and strengthen the whole of the surrounding community, where variations on the theme may develop.

The famous but mis-understood 1834 trial of ‘the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ was of Friendly Society members who swore a non-public oath of allegiance to an organisation choosing secrecy over public disclosure. Transportation did not result from their being members of a combination, but from the authorities being concerned about invisible allegiances across distance by way of networks of ‘clubs’ they could not control precisely because they involved insider secrets. Concern about single, stand-alone workers’ combinations was low. The secrecy which had proved itself in long-standing fraternal practice became the basis of ‘modern’ democratic practice. Rites, costume & ceremonial, including the use of masks, swords and particular texts declined over time as fashions and methods of manufacture changed, but the linkages between the principle of ‘a safe place’ and the practicality of hidden, collective decision-making remained. Lodge secrecy, specifically, was only rendered unnecessary in the 19th and 20th centuries by global changes shifting the balance of power away from the local site towards ‘Head Office’ and thereby breaking the nexus between the performance of ritual and decision-making power.

In the process the long-standing emotional attachment to the sharing of secret rites as the heart of fraternalism has been lost and, by later generations, forgotten. As the secrecy, the conviviality, the religious bedrock, and the neighbourhood control have been dismantled by centralising administrations so have the feelings previously essential to the whole. Not all the emotions were positive, in the case of the secret rites they were likely to have included fear and anxiety, but they amounted to a shared experience. In arguing for legal, financial and administrative efficiency, ‘modernism’ has based many of its assertions on the need for cool, emotionless objectivity. It is the erosion, sometimes straight denial, of a brother’s emotional attachment to the reality of what were once called ‘the arts and misteries’, which explains the ultimate decline of individual fraternal societies and fraternalism in general. Australia’s peculiar approach to the idea of mateship is a relic only of that emotional response.

Just before the 1834 trial a Scottish operative printer, Alex Campbell, published an unstamped newspaper The Tradesman, in which was an article entitled ‘Revolution, Equality and Secret Oaths’. At his trial in 1835, he read this piece into the defence record claiming that it showed his strong deprecation of ‘the system of secret oaths’ and that his recommendation that ‘trades unionists’ be open in everything they did had had the effect of

preventing a goodly number from taking oaths, while others who had been previously initiated, have so far changed their proceedings as to dispense with the oath altogether.

His commentary is an early articulation of the need for ‘trade unionists’ to be noble, big-hearted and above all, honourable ‘men’, ie, open and ‘in the light’:

Let the Unions, however, be cautious in their movements, and act like men seeking their rights, and who are determined to have them; let no childish means be resorted to by them – no secret oaths – no paraphernalia of lodges, or passwords be used, but let all their movements be open and honourable.[cxci]

His most telling point was that ‘secrecy’ made ‘combinations’ vulnerable to government action, but he chose not to write of his own fear and anger at the authorities. He used an abstract idea involving passion to achieve a passionless outcome by portraying the rites negatively.

The acknowledged leader of a wool combers’ strike at Bradford in 1829 published letters in 1834 expressing his disillusion with the ‘profuse expenditure and wanton waste, and worse than beastly gluttony’ of ‘Trade Union’ officials:

Of two hundred pounds paid as entrance-money into the Trades’ Union nearly two years ago, I calculated that L.60 were spent in regalia; L.100 in eating, drinking and wages for the Union’s committees; leaving only L.40 for the purposes originally contemplated by the members.

The writer, John Tester, was clearly exercised by the amount spent on lodge ‘furniture’:

Perhaps someone, wiser than myself, will explain to you in what way your condition in life can be improved by the joint possession of swords, death-scenes, gowns, banners, battle-axes, and large empty boxes, like military chests, with a number of devices, of which no-one knows the meaning.

He chided waste, he sought efficient use of lodge funds. Half a world away, there is no reason to suppose that members of the local trade-oriented combinations were any less likely to have ‘secret work’ than their northerly ‘brothers’, nor that the same conflict between passion and efficiency was absent.

The first NSW association known as a ‘friendly society’ was the charitable, but not fraternal ‘Female Friendly Society’, set up in Sydney under vice-regal patronage in 1826. The ‘United Friends Benefit Society’, commonly known as ‘the Shipwrights Club’ was established in 1829.[cxcii] Its Rules, compiled in that year and registered in 1831, make clear that ‘no-one who is not a Shipwright or a Boat Builder will be admitted’, ie it was trade-specific. The Rules begin:

Rules, Orders and Regulations for the Due Government of the United Friends Society, instituted the fourteenth day of December, 1829 at the St Patrick Sydney for the purpose of raising, from time to time, by subscription of the several members, or by voluntary contributions, a stock or fund, for the mutual relief and maintenance of all and every the members thereof, in old age, sickness and infirmity, and for the relief of the widows of deceased members, by virtue, and in pursuance of the directions, powers and authorities contained in a certain Act of Parliament made and passed in the thirty third year of the reign of George the Third entitled an Act for the Relief and Encouragement of Friendly Societies.[cxciii]

Reasonable in tone and law-abiding, the content is very reminiscent of fraternal ‘Orders’ known from mediaeval times. The Preamble to the 18 detailed and well-drafted ‘Articles of Agreement’ making up the bulk of the Rules begins:

That this Society have no other view or intention than raising a stock amongst themselves for succouring, helping and maintaining each other during the continuance of sickness, lameness, blindness, or any other misfortune, casualty or inability of labour…

There are Rules for meeting times, locations and number of members, setting out responsibilities of all members and of each office bearer, and for how ‘beer money’ is to be allocated and accounted for. Trustees and Stewards have the most tasks allotted to them, and there is also a Book Keeper. Separate arrangements are available for members living within five miles of the ‘club house’ who claim benefits and for those further out. There was provision for involvement of a nurse and doctor:

If afflicted so as not to be able to comply with this [meeting attendance requirement], the nurse or some other person must make —- oath to the same purpose; this affidavit must be sent, enclosed in a letter, when he declares on the box, and every fortnight a letter must be sent to the club house, to acquaint the Stewards with the condition of his disorder signed by the Doctor who attends him,..

The term ‘free’ is used to describe a member ‘good on the books’ after 12 months:

Three members who are free of this Society shall be chosen to conduct the business as Stewards, one to be chosen every quarterly night by seniority as they stand on the book to serve instead of the senior one, who goes out, and every member so refusing shall forfeit as in Rule 15…

One would not expect these Rules to include ‘Secret Work’ nor any reference to ritual in use ‘behind the scenes.’[cxciv] In his work on this issue Prescott has referred to a schizophrenia which developed among scholars of ‘fraternal associations’ in England before the Webbs wrote about Trade Unionism in 1890, eg Carlisle and Holyoake in the 1830’s and 1840’s:

Carlisle, following Paine, saw in freemasonry forgotten remnants of ancient truths, whose true meaning he was destined to teach to the world. By contrast,…he strongly denounced similar rituals in trade unions and friendly societies. This kind of schizophrenia was to remain a distinctive feature of English radical thought, a tendency summed up perhaps in the figure of Annie Besant.[cxcv]

Carlisle’s newspaper, The Gauntlet of 1833-34, is useful in that while he opposed ‘trade union’ ritual, he provided chapter and verse for it, including cartoons mocking it.[cxcvi] ‘Benefit Societies’ were apparently being differentiated at the time from ‘Trades Unions’, for example in ‘An Address to All the Benefit Societies in Britain and Ireland’, but the problem is that there weren’t any societies which actually named themselves ‘Trade Union’. The societies to which the collective label ‘Trade Union’ was attached were either ‘Friendly Society of…’ or ‘The Order of…’ as in the huge protest march from Copenhagen Fields in April, 1834. Despite views held by ‘Labour Historians’ later, the title of ‘friendly society’ was not here being adopted as a disguise, nor did the 1834 trial and deportation result in rites and regalia being hurriedly cast off by ‘trade-oriented’ societies. Among others he has researched, Durr pointed out in 1986:

(Both) the Journeymen Steam Engine Makers and the Friendly Society of Operative Masons, and others still maintained their ritual long after 1834..The boilermakers ritual, first written in 1839..was revised in 1852..The blacksmiths introduced a new ‘Initiatory Address’ in 1909. In 1963 the (boilermakers, blacksmiths and shipwrights) issued a new ritual book which is still in use today. From Scotland to the West Country a boilermaker in the shipyards will use the secret sign of placing his left hand on the third button of his coat to show that he is a society man.[cxcvii]

Thus, what Carlisle, the Webbs and later scholars refer to as ‘trade unions’ I call ‘trade-oriented fraternal societies.’ The fundamental changes were that autonomous ‘lodges’ moved towards consolidation into ‘Affiliated Orders’ and towards greater formalisation.[cxcviii] The Tolpuddle transportees were, of course, members of the ‘Agricultural Labourers Friendly Society.’ Its published Rules indicate a local ‘Grand Lodge’ was to be established at Dorchester because at that time a ‘Grand Lodge’ was not necessarily a central authority.

Immediately after the London trial, a circular went to UK Masonic Lodges asking that a return of the name, employment or profession and place of residence of all members be sent to the Clerk of the Peace immediately, ‘in default of which (you) will be declared a secret society.’ But whether agitated UK Freemasons were in danger of being hanged or transported or not, they were safe in the colonies. And as the six Tolpuddle conspirators were being tried, Sydney’s Gazette and the Australian newspapers expressed support for ‘combinations’ intended to ‘cement society, promote the interests of trade and…afford relief…’

In April, 1834 the Gazette enthused that the Carpenters and Joiners were meeting to establish ‘amongst the members of their Trade, a Benefit Society’. The editor advocated ‘Unions’ amongst all trades, especially amongst the poorer labourers:

(If) the different Trades should be found sufficiently numerous to effect an advantageous Union of that description, and if other Trades will ‘go and do likewise’ there will be no harm done; but we fear that that which requires general and extensive combinations will fail under present circumstances from paucity of means and members.

However, the same paper’s excited notice of ‘the Tolpuddle Affair’ in September, 1834, displayed a changed view:

We now just mention an event which will be seen to have produced very serious consequences. The whole of the working classes of all Britain have now formed themselves into what they call Trades Unions. They correspond with each other by means of Delegates holding ‘Lodges’. The whole ‘United Unions’ were stated in Parliament to amount to 7,000,000 of men, all between the ages of fifteen and fifty. It appears that six members of one of the Dorsetshire Unions had been tried for administering the Union oath, and sentenced to be transported for seven years.[cxcix]

The Gazette’s closing comment was that the Government had done the right thing, as

were such proceedings not checked in the beginning, a struggle must be the result, and whichever side was successful, a dreadful and lamentable slaughter must be the consequence.

The incongruity of checking ‘such proceedings’ by sentencing six men out of 7,000,000, and those 6 in Dorset may be left. It seems clear, nevertheless, that the six were instantly seen by some as representing the onset of a new form of militant organisation with a new name, viz ‘Trades Unionism.’

While liberalisation by 19th century governments of the commercial environment involved accepting the right of artisans to bargain with employers, the pre-eminent position of employers was entrenched by a stream of increasingly complex legislation, defining among other things, what various kinds of ‘combinations’ could and could not do. The (UK) Combination Laws Repeal Act of 1824, had removed statutory illegality and the likelihood of common law conspiracy charges against workmen’s ‘combinations’, but, as Sullivan points out, in 1825 an amending Combination of Workman Act circumscribed their range of legal activity:

(All) combinations wider than that of workers actually attending a meeting, or any attempt to deal with matters other than wages, prices and hours, were criminal conspiracies.[cc]

From 1828 this Act applied in NSW, in effect making illegal many activities normally associated with benefit societies. It was rarely if ever applied, possibly because ‘Friendly Societies’ had been singled out from 1793 for positive legislative acknowledgement. The ‘Rose Act ‘protected and encouraged Friendly Societies’ which it defined as

(societies) securing, by voluntary subscription of the members thereof, separate funds for the mutual relief and maintenance of the said members, in sickness, old age and infirmity..

Australian legislation followed the UK Acts closely, and thus until the 1870’s it was possible for ‘servants’ to be threatened with death if their masters believed their demands outrageous, and for the threat to go unpunished. The weight of articulated public opinion remained likely to be racially-inspired, ‘bog trotters’ being a common description of difficult labourers. Treating combinations of employers and employees differently became entrenched:

Whereas the master who broke his contract was only liable in a civil action for damages or wages owing, the servant who broke his contract was punished as a criminal with imprisonment and hard labour for up to three months.[cci]

It was not till 1871 in the UK that an Act specified that ‘trade union’ aims ‘were not analogous’ with those of ‘friendly societies’. No legislative attempts were ever made to define ‘acceptable’ rites, while a complete governmental answer to the problem of secrecy remained elusive. Well before that time, governments had accepted that ‘friendly societies’ were significant and that, therefore, their regulation was required.


In mid-1848, the following Sydney societies were shown to have proffered their Rules for approval under legislation introduced in 1844:

The Scottish Society.

St John’s Lodge, Parramatta, No 668 (Masonic).

Australian Rose, Shamrock & Thistle Friendly Sick Society.

Parramatta Union Benefit Society.

Parramatta Friendly Society.

Australian Union Benefit Society.

Friendly Operative Society of Carpenters & Joiners of Sydney.

Sydney Total Abstinence Society.

Operative Plasterers Benefit Society.

United Watermen’s Birmingham Benefit Society.

St Patrick’s Total Abstinence Benefit Society.

Friendly Brothers Benefit Society.

Brickmakers Friendly Society.

Australian Clerks Provident Society.

Order of Philanthropy No 1 Lodge.

United Friends Society.

Sydney Millwrights & Engineers Benevolent Society.

Sydney Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners.

Sydney District, Grand United Order of Odd Fellows.

Wesleyan Union Benefit Society.

This list shows only two of what have become known as the Affiliated Orders of Friendly Societies, ultimately the largest and longest running of fraternal, benefit societies, viz, the Free Gardeners and the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. Absentees from the list of registrants but known to be in Sydney at the time include:

* the ‘Independent Order of Odd Fellows’ [IOOF] which came ashore in 1836,

* the ‘Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Manchester Unity’ [IOOF,MU] 1840[ccii],

* the ‘Australasian Holy Catholic Guild’ [AHCG] 1845,

* the ‘Ancient Order of Foresters’ [AOF] in 1844,

* the ‘Ancient Order of Royal Foresters’ [AORF] 1845, and

* the ‘Independent Order of Rechabites’ [IOR] 1842.

The first attempts to establish lodges of what became the ‘United and Ancient Order of Druids’[UAOD] were also made at this time. In the 6 months after the first list was published, a different approach to the making of social capital appeared, as the following were registered:

Aust Benefit Investment and Building Society.

Aust Mutual Provident Society

Maitland Union Benefit Society.

Melbourne Sawyers Friendly Society.

Melbourne Benefit Building Society.

Australia Felix Benefit, Investment & Building Society.

Victoria Benefit Land & Building Society.[cciii]

Investment, provident and building societies were not fraternal societies but owed their existence to the same heritage. The ‘Australian Mutual Provident Society’ (AMP), begun in 1848-9 to maintain clergy and their families, was registered as a Friendly Society but restrictions on the amounts payable under a new Act in the 1850’s were considered to be an impediment to Company expansion, and it de-registered.

The same pattern was repeated throughout the continent. In Van Dieman’s Land, for example, sawyers, ‘a hardy, useful race’, established a benefit society in 1839, which broadened its admissions policy in 1843 to cover ‘any operatives’. Its 1846 Rules included:

The object of this Society shall be to grant out of the funds hereinafter provided for certain means of relief to Members in case of sickness, except such sickness shall have been brought on by their own misconduct; and for the decent interment of the dead.[cciv]

Outposts of the Affiliated Friendly Societies did not reach the west until the 1858 ‘City of Perth, Lodge No 4702, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Manchester Unity (IOOFMU)’, and the 1864 ‘Swan Lodge’.[ccv] But local variations preceded them. The ‘Sons of Australia Benefit Society’ was established in Perth in 1837 – its principal object being to relieve any members ‘labouring under sickness or infirmity.’ Proposed members were required to be ‘natural born subjects of Great Britain or her Colonies, of good character, of a Mechanical or handicraft trade..’ Article V read:

This Society shall be provided with a box with three locks and keys, the keys different, not to pass each other, for the depositing therein Cash Books and other material of this Society. The three Stewards for the time being hold one key each..[ccvi]

By 1840 it had imported a banner for its annual parades from tavern to church service and back, and had funds enough for a ‘substantial repast’. The trappings attracted general notice and the participation of Governor Hutt: [ccvii]

The whole past off with much decorum, and the emblem of the new banner lately imported from England, was fully realised – ‘a hand touching a heart’ – implying their hands and hearts went together in the promotion of this mutual benefit society.

Governor Hutt’s vice-regal predecessor Sir James Stirling had earlier allotted land to ‘the Sons’ for their own ‘lodge’ room. According to Editor McFaull of the Perth Gazette, the ‘first Club House erected in the colony’ of Swan River was built by the Temperance Benefit Society in 1849, ‘the Sons’ not achieving rooms before 1864. It only expired in the 1890’s.

A less-successful WA example than ‘the Sons’ was the ‘Benefit and Philanthropic Society of Forty Friends’ which advertised its Lodge No 1 in 1837,[ccviii] while the ‘Shepherds Club and Mutual Protection Society’ was established in 1842-43. A Gazette account of the origins of this trade-oriented friendly society read in part:

Many shepherds in this colony will view with feelings of intense anxiety and alarm, the dangerous powers conferred on Magistrates by a late Act of the Legislative Council respecting contracts between masters and servants.

It has therefore been proposed and agreed on, shepherds in the York, Toodyay and Northam districts, to form a Society under the above title for the due protection of their rights, and the mutual benefit of each member, if attacked by sickness, and other casualties; or where dismissed from service by caprice.[ccix]

A different way to look at fraternalism was spelt out by WA Duncan when he introduced himself as editor of a new Sydney paper, The Chronicle in 1839:

…notwithstanding the great number of newspapers published in Sydney, by far the greater part are strongly fettered by party influence, while not one has appeared, expressive of the wishes, or devoted to the interests of the Catholic population.[ccx]

For ‘party interest’ read ‘pro-Protestant/anti-Catholic bias’. Further on in the same ‘Prospectus’:

We will, therefore, oppose the attempts of a party, which under the pretence of a purer descent, would create a perpetual distinction between two classes of settlers.

In its first editorial:

A sufficient proof of the necessity of establishing in this Colony a vehicle for Catholic sentiment is furnished by the fact, that, while we are engaged in getting up our first number, the Editor of one of the Sydney Journals is calling upon his readers to beware of “dealing with Roman Catholic tradesmen, or employing Roman Catholic servants”.

The Protestant journal’s argument had been that the principles of the RC religion asserted that Catholics were at liberty to rob their employers with impunity. That is, because under Roman Catholicism, a theft from an employer may be a venial sin, guilt for which can be expunged by confession to a priest and the saying of a prayer, an illegal act could go unpunished if the perpetrator told, in secret, his or her confessor.

Spurs to Catholic action actually included an attempt by the Right Reverend Bishop of Australia, WG Broughton, to exclude anyone who might dispute his view of ‘deserving poor’ from the executive of the ‘Sydney Association for the Relief of the Poor’ set up at a supposedly public meeting in August, 1839. Broughton was a well-established Protestant warrior. In 1836, he had in the furore over schools for the colony, and against the Governor’s stated preference,

shouted that Protestantism rested upon the principle that holy scripture contained all things necessary to salvation…(and) that if they yielded to an interdict upon the use of the scriptures in one place, the same power might one day prohibit the free use of them at any time and in all places.[ccxi]

The Chronicle’s opening editorial in August, referred to a ‘rumoured secret petition’ and ‘other secret proceedings…commenced by the Protestant Bishop.’ It later surfaced that the petition was a request to Government that one seventh of the continent be given over to the Church of England as the State religion. Duncan, commented:

(We) ought not to conceal our opinion that it is high time that the sense of the Colony should be taken, whether Australia shall become the scene of Orange ascendancy…or an example to all nations of the blessings that flow from just and equal laws, justly and equitably administered.

No direct involvement by Bishop Broughton with Orange activities has yet been established.

Mid-19th century ‘Foresters Fete’.
Mid-19th century ‘Foresters Fete’.