Masonic Buildings - Hobart Masonic Centre Tasmania

From WBro Damien, Editor Devotion News, (& DC Lodge of Evolution 931)

 

In August 2017, the Lodge of Evolution 931 working under United Grand Lodge Victoria, traveled to Tasmania and, under its own warrant, conducted a double Third Degree for two of its members.

 

Lodge Devotion has long taken trips away, and we would like to think we encouraged Lodge Evolution in the custom. Always exciting and enjoyable, this particular expedition to Hobart was very moving. While trips away always give us a chance to spend some extended and relaxed time with other Freemasons and their families, we were drawn to Hobart for a special reason. In May 2016, we had initiated Brother C Young into Lodge Evolution at the Collingwood Masonic Centre. Bro Young’s Grandfather, WBro J Young, living in Tasmania and an octogenarian, had joined us at Gipps Street for that special night. Evolution had decided to fly down as a group and visit the senior Young and conduct his grandson’s third degree in his home state.

 

This is no common thing. The Lodge of a Grand Lodge cannot just meet in another Grand Lodge’s jurisdiction, so communications via Grand Secretaries occurred and permission obtained from two Grand Lodges, Victoria and Tasmania.

 

Lodge of Evolution is known for a high standard of Ceremonial and did a great job in Tasmania, but what made the trip particularly memorable was supporting the Brothers Young. At dinner, the Senior rose and spoke to the fine character of his grandson and how he was so happy to see him become a Master Mason. He’d thought he might be the last Freemason in the Young family and was very moved to see that’s not the case. The Younger Young rose to say what an honour it was to sit in lodge with his loved and respected grandfather as his Brother. The Senior Young then rose again to point out, that although “we might be brothers, I would point out I am the older brother”. A very amusing quip reflecting the fast wit of many older Freemasons who often have sharp minds in aged bodies, we think the disciple of Freemasonry helps facilitate the preservation of their mental faculties in their fullest energy. Certainly the shining eyes of the grandfather as he exchanged the secrets of the third degree with his grandson saw the years fall away as his heart filled with pride and emotion; it was a very special moment to witness.

 

Of course, another benefit of a trip away, is it gives the chance to see another, and often historic, Masonic Centre. Although an imposing two stories, the Hobart Masonic Centre may not look like much from outside, although it does overlook St David’s Park, which many will know as beside Hobart’s famous Salamanca Market. The building holds offices of the Grand Secretariat, a fair sized dining hall used by Lodge of Evolution on their visit and a well equipped kitchen, and two very attractive lodge rooms; the Rennie Room and the Cummins Room, the latter being quite large, with a choir loft and is obviously well looked after and cherished.  Evolution felt privileged to use the Cummins Room for its ceremonial, but the Rennie room sparked a bit of interest to the Freemason with a keen eye, several trap doors in the floor suggested a Chapter Crypt below, which indeed is the case.

Above, the Hobart Masonic Centre


 

As with most Masonic Buildings, the local history of Freemasonry is partly told both within the fabric of the building and the items adoring its cabinets and walls.

 

Hobart Masonic Centre Foundation  Stone
The external Foundation Stone of the Hobart Masonic Centre, fronting 3 Sandy Bay Road, records that the building was laid on 5 March 1938, and an additional plaque further informs that the building was dedicated on 15 Jan 1939, eight months before Australia found itself in World War Two. Like many other Masonic Buildings, many of the users would have found themselves absent for years fighting the war, and some would never return to their newly opened Masonic Centre, perhaps only having met their a handful of times before their departure.

 

A report on page 9 of The Mercury newspaper of Hobart dated 16 Jan 1939 described the building but gives the address as Harrington St where more than 400 Freemasons attended the dedication

 

Foundation Stone of Masonic Hall, Murray Street, Hobart
Within, the original Foundation Stone from an earlier building is incorporated into an internal wall, and an associated plaque says the stone was removed from “Masonic Hall, Murray Street, Hobart”. That building’s Foundation Stone records that the stone was laid by His Excellency, Brother Charles du Cane, Esquire, Governor, 20 March 1873. (Another new name for the Famous Freemasons list).

 

There is an extensive report on the Dedication of the Murray St Building over two pages in Hobart’s “The Mercury” Newspaper of 27 August 1874, noting the building was fully funded with £4,000 by a Company consisting solely of Freemasons, naming it as the “Freemasons Hall Company”. This detailed report of the two story building, the entrance pediment supported by two Doric columns through which a visitor enters a spacious lobby leading to a 9’ wide hallway, and gives measurements and detail’s  of rooms and appointments including the basement with a large kitchen and hall-keeper accommodation. Ground floor consisted of "spacious lobby" leading to a hallway 9' wide to the banqueting hall (32'x24' and 14'6" ceiling), off which there was a library and reading room (20'x16'), committee room and lavatory. The 9' wide staircase led to the second story with robbing  room, anteroom (20'x16'), and "richly fitted up" lodge room with 20' ceiling (43' x24'9"). 130 Freemasons and 80 ladies joined the Governor for the opening with the lodge, tyling at 7 pm. The story has much detail, including words of the odes sung and included the Brother Builders address as well as that of His Excellency the Governor. The WM W H Burges declared "... in the name of the Supreme and Eternal God, the Great Architect of Heaven and Earth, to whom be all honour and glory, I solemnly dedicate this Hall to UNIVERSAL BENEVOLENCE”, following which the ceremony of corn, wine and oil followed. About 130 sat down for dinner and the party dispersed after midnight. The account is a very interesting document with direct quotes and would be essential to anyone looking to get a snap shot of Freemasonry in Hobart in 1874.


Murray St Masonic Building circa 1892

Murray St Masonic Building circa 1892. State Savings Bank is on its left
Murray St Masonic Building circa 1892. State Savings Bank is on its left

 

The “Tasmanian Freemasons Hall Company Limited” founded the current building, yet another plaque within its walls list the Directors and I note WBro HH Cummins PGD was Chair, and WBro W J Rennie PGP are listed, these being two men the lodge rooms were presumably named after. An additional  plaque below the first notes that the building was free from debt by 9 Sept 1962, Bros HH Cummins PGD and Chair in ’39, F H Johnston, L Tapping named on both, the two important events being 23 years apart.

 

I was surprised the building dated from 1939, expecting it to be older. It is reminiscent of the Art Deco style and the Australian Institute of Architects has a report on it, describing it as “Nationally significant 20th Century Architecture”;

 

“Constructed in light coloured brickwork, the symmetrical facade is vertically articulated into bays with classically proportioned openings & a central entrance. The brickwork is detailed with horizontal banding every ten courses & a corbelled tray of dentils to form a vestigial cornice. Ornament is kept to a minimum & used primarily to embellish openings seen in the carved sandstone vestigial columns & entablature to the entry. Characteristically Art Deco , with Egyptian motifs , the ornament relate s specifically to the origins of Freemasonry & was popular at the time, following the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922 . The architecture & the setting combine to provide a building that was at the time progressive yet with a conservative quality ...The Masonic Temple, Hobart, is an excellent example of the Stripped Classical style of architecture in Australia. The free-standing urban setting combined with symmetrical massing, creating a classical composition, & plain light coloured wall surfaces, with minimal applied non-historic Art Deco ornament, is typical of the style. “

 

The report from which the above is taken also notes the building was designed in 1936, I had suspected it may have been long planned and realised an earlier architectural vision born in the 1920’s when Art Deco was at its peak.

 

Gould’s “HISTORY OF FREEMASONRY THROUGHOUT THE WORLD”, published in 1898 always provides a good reference for Masonic History. VOLUME IV, CHAPTER IX covers Australasia and is always a good starting point for Masonic History prior to Federation. There is a copy of it on www.lodgedevotion.net but its readily available elsewhere on line.

 

Of Freemasonry in Tasmania, Gould tells us;

 

Lodges under the Grand Lodge of Ireland were established at Hobart Town in 1823, 1829, 1833, and 1834, but the three earliest of the series are now extinct. A fourth lodge under the same sanction was constituted at Launceston in 1843, and it was not until 1846 that English Masonry obtained a footing on the island. In that year Tasmanian Union, No. 781, was formed at Hobart Town, and a second English lodge - Hope - sprang up (in the first instance under a dispensation from Sydney) in 1852.

 

In the following year the Rev. R. K. Ewing became the Master of the latter, and in 1856 the lodges of Faith and Charity were carved out of it - Mr. Ewing then becoming, on their joint petition, Prov. G.M. The other English lodge - Tasmanian Union - objecting to these proceedings, as having been carried on clandestinely, was suspended by the Prov. G.M., and remained closed for nine months. The strife thus engendered nearly put an end to English Masonry in Launceston. Lodge faith became dormant, Charity was voluntarily wound up, and even in Hope the light almost went out. Soon, however, there was a revival, and in 1876 the Grand Lodge of Scotland also began to charter lodges on the island, where there are now four in existence under its jurisdiction. These are included in the Province of New South Wales. The Grand Lodges of England and Ireland have each a roll of seven lodges on the island, one under the former body, and four under the latter, having surrendered their charters.

 

The English Prov. Grand Lodge died a natural death on the removal of Mr. Ewing to Victoria, but a new one was established under Mr. W.S. Hammond in 1875. The Irish lodges were constituted into a Province in 1884.”

 

Gould’s account, especially in relation to dates,  does not quite tally with than on Grand Lodge Tasmania’s web site, but one would think the later is more reliable. What is clear is that Freemasonry in Tasmania began as an Irish affair, and we can particularly note the use of Travelling Warrants (an Irish Innovation) on the Island. The first publicly recorded presence of Freemasons was at the laying of the foundation stone of the Officers' Mess at Anglesea Barracks, Hobart, in 1814. They would probably have been members of the garrison or Norfolk Island settlers who came to Hobart in 1807–08. Freemasons had met on Norfolk Island but there are no records of the Norfolk Islanders holding regular meetings in Hobart.

 

As many will know, Tasmania was originally called Van Diemen’s Land. Gould’s History, written in 1890 was after the name change of 1 January 1856. The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman is credited as the first European to land on the shores of Tasmania in 1642. Tasman named the island Anthoonij van Diemenslandt, in honour of Anthony van Diemen, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, who had sent Tasman on his voyage of discovery. Between 1772 and 1798, only the south-eastern portion of the island was visited. Tasmania was not known to be an island until Matthew Flinders and George Bass circumnavigated it in the Norfolk in 1798–99.

 

Those who had opposed the transportation of convicts to Van Dieman’s Land wanted to go further in closing the door on the past. In 1854 the Legislative Council wrote to Queen Victoria requesting that the name of the colony be changed to Tasmania. For at least the previous thirty years the colonists had been using this name, in obvious recognition of Abel Tasman, the first European to have discovered the island some 200 years earlier. On 1 January 1856 the change of name to Tasmania was formalised

 

Sometime after March 1827 Tasmanian Lodge was the first stationary lodge to be formed, followed by the Lodge of Brotherly Union in 1832. In 1834 Tasmanian Operative Lodge was sanctioned by the Grand Lodge of Ireland. It prospered and in 1890 became lodge #1 on the roll of the Grand Lodge of Tasmania. Freemasons could now provide social and educational activities for members and organise charitable services for the needy.

 

Lodges were also established in Launceston and other centres. Some of the warrants were transferred as populations changed because of the volatility of the economy, particularly the mining industry. Lodges at Lefroy, Ringarooma, Evandale and Hamilton-on-Forth were short-lived.

 

The first lodges were all Irish. The first English lodge, the Tasmanian Union Lodge, was formed in Hobart in 1844. Scottish lodges were formed in the north: St Andrew's Lodge, Launceston, 1877; Lodge of Perfect Unanimity, Launceston, 1881; Concord Lodge, Latrobe, 1882; Dorset Lodge, Scottsdale, 1885; Robert Burns Lodge, Beaconsfield, 1886.

 

In June 1890 there were 7 English, 7 Irish and 5 Scottish Lodges in the Territory and representatives of these lodges met in the Hobart Town Hall on Thursday the 26th of June and formed The Grand Lodge Of Tasmania by passing the a resolution which formed the basis of Union. Our own Grand Lodge in Victoria having been formed the year prior by similar resolution.

The main South has a wonderful chart in the form of a Tree recording Lodges and their daughter lodges of Tasmanian Union Lodge
The main South has a wonderful chart in the form of a Tree recording Lodges and their daughter lodges of Tasmanian Union Lodge


Select Sources, several heavily drawn upon;

 

Freemasonry in Tasmania : Short History & News
http://freemasonry-cg.com/freemasonry-in-tasmania-short-history-news/ &

Freemasonry.
http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/F/Freemasonry.htm

1869 'RECEPTION OF HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR.', The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), 16 January, p. 2. , viewed 29 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8856694

1874 'DEDICATING THE FREEMASONS' HALL.', The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), 27 August, p. 2. , viewed 29 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8931899

1877 'THE MERCURY.', The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), 14 March, p. 2. , viewed 29 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8951804

1890 'HISTORY OF TASMANIAN FREEMASONRY.', Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899), 27 June, p. 3. , viewed 29 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article39550995

1935 'FOUNDED 1834', Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 - 1954), 23 February, p. 11. (DAILY), viewed 29 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51921185

1938 'New Masonic Temple At Hobart', Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 - 1954), 7 March, p. 7. , viewed 29 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article68410693

1939 'GRAND MASTER PERFORMS DEDICATION CEREMONY OF NEW HOME OF FREEMASONRY IN HOBART', The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), 16 January, p. 9. , viewed 29 Sep 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article25580867

The History of Freemasonry in Tasmania
https://www.freemasonrytasmania.org/freemastas/index.php/about/history-of-freemasony