Australia Felix No. 1 Our History

This page gives a good history of the lodge and I have taken it here to make sure it is preserved. If you are the author, please contact me.

I will follow up with Terry Webster mentioned below...

Australia Felix No. 1  Our History

A LOOK BACK IN HISTORY (Added to website 2 May 2006)

The following newspaper article was published in the "Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser" Thursday, 28th July 1842 just seven years after the founding of Melbourne. It was provided to the Editor of the Lodge of Australia Felix Website by Wor Bro Terry Webster a Past Master of the same Lodge. The source is not known to me however the following acknowledgement appeared at the foot of the original article.

Brethren I would like to acknowledge the assistance given to me by V. Wor. Bro. Bill Wilkinson of the Bi-Centennial Lodge who gave me a reprint of the newspaper article to read and Rt. Wor Bro. Peter Thornton, the Grand Librarian who gave permission to use information from his book: "A Century of Union". The book is out of print but if you can get your hands on a copy have a read, it is a history of the craft in Victoria and contains many details of people and places in early Melbourne.

Ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the first courthouse in Australia Felix

Monday last will long be remembered by the inhabitants of Melbourne. The Ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the new Courthouse, which had been postponed from the previous Friday on account of the inclemency of the weather, was announced to take place on that day, and the weather proving favourable, at an early hour expectation was on the tiptoe in anticipation of a spectacle never before witnessed in the province, and never before by the majority of the inhabitants of our good town.

At a quarter to eleven o'clock the Freemasons were to start from their Lodge-Room at The Royal Exchange Hotel, Collins Street; but long before that the street was crowded with vast numbers of men, women and children, in the most breathless anticipation of their appearance.

At the promised hour public expectation was gratified by the appearance of the Masonic body, about two hundred in number, who walked in procession to the temporary courthouse in King Street where they were joined by the Independent Order of Odd-fellows.

The procession being formed proceeded in the following order:

1. The Ranger on Horseback

2. Mounted Police

3. The School Children

4. The Independent Order of Odd-fellows in the following order:

o The Guardian with Sword

o The Band

o The Conductors in their Surplices

5. Brethren two by two

6. The Warden with his axe

7. The Secretary with his roll

8. The Vice Grandmaster carrying the bible and hour glass

9. A Past Grandmaster carrying the emblems of mortality

10. Past Grandmasters two by two

11. The Grandmaster of the lodge and the Grandmaster of the District

12. Past Grandmaster with the dispensation

13. Followed by the Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons in the following order:

o Tyler

o The banner of faith

o Masters of ceremonies

o Terrestrial & Celestial Globes

o Entered Apprentices

o Fellow Crafts

o Junior Masters

o Deacons with wands

o Secretary with roll

o Treasurer with bag

o Six Masters

o The Corinthian Light

o Junior Warden

o Six Masters

o The Doric Light

o Senior Warden

o Banner Of Hope

o The Members of the Lodge

o Four Masters bearing Cornucopia, Pitcher with Wine and Pitcher with Oil

o The Organist and Choir

o Stewards

o Architect and Builder

o Bible, Square and Compasses

o The Banner of Charity

o Chaplain

o Clergy of all denominations

o Royal Arch

o Knights Templar

o The Past Master

o Worshipful Master

o Inner Guard

14. Followed by

o Civil Officers of Government

o Chief Constable on Horseback

o Magistrates of the Territory Two by Two

o Tipstaff

o Police Magistrate

o Solicitors and Members of the Bar

o The Resident Judge and Members of his Court

o Metropolitan Police

The procession moved along King Street, along Little Collins Street and down Queens Street to Collins Street, left into Elizabeth Street and right into Lonsdale Street, turning left into Russell Street and arriving at the site of the new Courthouse near the new goal. Some idea of the length of the procession can be gathered by the fact that when the procession reached Elizabeth Street the rear had not reached Queen Street. The appearance of the procession was imposing.

The Odd-fellows though few in number attracted considerable attention from the variety of hues which distinguished their clothing and which on the whole had a very pleasing effect.

The procession of the Masons infinitely excelled any singular procession we have ever witnessed in the Australian Colonies, the decorations and appointments being far superior to those exhibited by the Freemasons of either Sydney or Van Diemans Land. This was, however, in great measure, owing to the arrival of the sailing ship "Platina" on the very day the procession was postponed. The "Platina" arrived with a large assortment of Masonic paraphernalia ordered from London last year, which, by the polite attention of Capt Wycherley, the brethren were able to take possession of before the procession started.

The appointments of the lodge and many of the brethren were remarkably good, but those which claimed particular attention were Brothers Stephen, Ross and Hind who took part in the procession as Royal Arch Masons, and of Brothers Campbell and Broderick who took their station as Knights Templar.

Brother Moor who took his place as an attorney of the Supreme Court but wore his insignia as Sovereign Prince of the Knights Templar also attracted attention from the number of his orders and the great value of his Jewels, several of which, we understand were presented to him by His Royal Highness, the Duke of Sussex, the Grandmaster of The United Grand Lodge of Freemasons of England.

The procession having arrived at the site of the new Courthouse halted, and formed into double column. The Judge and the Masonic Officers who were to take part in the ceremony of laying the foundation stone passing up the centre towards the excavation. The Judge, the Architect and the various Masonic Brethren required to take part in the ceremony having taken their places in the excavation, the Rev. Mr. Thomson offered up a prayer. The stone was then lowered by three successive halts until fixed in position. The Plummet was then handed by the J.W. to the P.M. and by him to the W.M. who applied it to the stone to ascertain its perfect adjustment. The same ceremonial was gone through with the Level, and then the Square and Maul were handed to the Judge who gave three knocks on the stone, which were repeated by the W.M.

In the evening the Masonic Fraternity gave a grand banquet in their Lodge Room in the Royal Exchange Hotel at which they entertained the Deputy Sheriff, the Registrar of the Supreme Court, the Police Magistrates, the newspaper editors, the principal officers of the Odd-fellows and several other gentlemen. The evening passed over with the utmost hilarity.

�NOTES: The courthouse stood on the comer of Russell and Latrobe streets until the early 1900s when it was demolished to make way for the sandstone building that currently occupies the site - most of us probably know it as the Magistrates Court.

The events of the day were the responsibility of Lodge Australia Felix, the first Masonic Lodge in Melbourne. You will remember from our history that Australia Felix was the name Sir Thomas Mitchell gave to that part of New South Wales south of the Hume River - we now know the Hume River as the Murray River. The Lodge was consecrated on 25 Mar 1840 under the English Constitution and came under the Provincial Grand-master in Sydney. In the first 12 months of its existence they had 50 Candidates and 30 joining members, certainly different to today's situation.

The parade is significant in Australian history that it was the first parade or procession in the history of the Australian colonies that did not have a military presence. The Commanding Officer of the troops did not receive the invitation because he was on leave and the 2/IC, who was commanding the company of troops, wanted a personal invite from the Judge and when the invite from the judge did not arrive the pleas of the masons went unheard and the military stayed in their barracks.

A later issue of the newspaper had an article which claimed that the Lodge Australia Felix members, at their latest meeting, voiced their disgust with the inaction of Capt. Lewis and intended to complain to his Commanding Officer and the Commander-in-Chief, and as both these gentlemen were members of Freemasonry it was felt that Capt. Lewis may have a much shorter military career than he had hoped for.

If I may now go back a bit farther to 23 December 1839, for it was on this day that 21 Freemasons met and drew up a petition to form a Lodge; the Lodge was to be called Lodge Australia Felix and to come under the authority of the United Grand Lodge of England. The 1st Worshipful Master of Lodge Australia Felix was George Brunswick Smythe, who was initiated into St. Mary's Lodge, No. 76 in London in 1835. Smythe was installed as the Worshipful Master of Lodge Australia Felix and 'hen resigned after the conclusion of the consecration ceremony - he never attended another Lodge meeting. He felt that as he was the Police Magistrate there could be a conflict of interest - there must have been some shady characters at the consecration. It is interesting to note that Brunswick Street, Fitzroy was named after him. The Senior Warden of the Lodge was William Meek, the first lawyer to settle in Melbourne, he was initiated in Restoration Lodge, no. 128 on 31 July 1834 in Harlington, England. William Meek was the foundation secretary of the Melbourne Club: the Junior Warden was Isaac Hind who was initiated into the Tasmanian Lodge, No. 313 in Hobart.

When Smythe resigned, his duties were taken over by John Stephen who was born in America in 1798, of English parents. Stephen who eventually became the 2nd Worshipful Master was employed by "The Port Phillip Patriot" as a freelance journalist and may be the author of the newspaper article. He was initiated into Lodge of Regularity, No. 259 in England on 25 March 1824 and was appointed Grand Steward in 1826, well before the usual time. In 1827 he arrived in Sydney and was appointed Registrar of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, he was eventually removed from this position. During his time in Sydney he served as Master of a Lodge and First Principal of a Chapter. He arrived in Melbourne two weeks before the original meeting to sign the petition to form Lodge Australia Felix. He served a number of terms as a Town Councilor. As Stephen and Smythe were the only past masters in the colony and Smythe was to be the first Master, it fell to Stephen to consecrate the Lodge and install the first master. Evidence suggests that he was the driving force behind the formation of Lodge Australia Felix. He also had a street named after him - Stephen Street, which became Exhibition Street, when the Royal Exhibition building was opened in 1869.

The 3rd Master William Kerr was the editor of the "The Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser", and he also had a street named after him - Kerr Street, Fitzroy. He was at one stage the Provincial Grand Master of the Orangemen of Victoria, the first secretary of the St. Andrews Society and Chairman of the Burns Society. Rt. Wor. Bro. Peter Thomton in his book "A Century of Union" states,� nothing is known of Kerr's previous Masonic background�.

The 4 master was John Thomas Smith. Smith was probably the best known of the early Masonic leaders, among his achievements were:

1. He opened the first theatre in Melbourne,

2. He was elected a town councilor in 1842,

3. He was mayor in 1852 and on six other occasions

4. And he also had a street named after him. Smith Street that divides the cities of Fitzroy and Collingwood.

Smith was initiated into Lodge Australia Felix on the 12th April 1840; the first meeting after the consecration and with three others holds the distinction of being one of the first brethren initiated into freemasonry in the colony. In 1856 John Thomas Smith was appointed Provincial Grand Master of the Irish Constitution in Victoria, a position he held until his death in 1879. As a point of trivia: Smith's sister was the Great-grandmother of the famous Gregory cricketing brothers who represented Australia at the highest level.

Back in those days the intrigues of Freemasonry must have appeared very curious to the non-initiated - and I am not talking about the Secrets or the Ritual. Kerr, the 3rd Master fell out with the 2nd master, John Stephen and was suspended, he and several members of Lodge Australia Felix then formed the Australasian Kilwinning Lodge which came under the Scottish constitution and recently amalgamated with the Letchworth Lodge and became the Letchworth Kilwinning Lodge which meets in the Brunswick North Masonic Centre. It should be noted that the 4th master of Lodge Australia Felix, John Thomas Smith was the brother that consecrated the Australasian Kilwinning Lodge on 13 May 1844. He, and John Thomas Smith, eventually fell out with both Stephen and Kerr and formed the Australia Felix Lodge of Hiram, which of course came under the Irish constitution.

By 1844 Melbourne had 4 lodges - the fourth being the Lodge of Australasia but times were tough and a lot of the population had moved out on to the land. The membership of Lodge Australia Felix had dwindled to just 10, and by 1849 Lodge of Australasia had gone into abeyance and in June of 1851 Australia Felix Lodge of Hiram went into abeyance.

In December 1851 Lodge Australia Felix installed a new Master and the Lodge did not meet of 13 months - the Master would not hand in the warrant as he wanted to achieve the rank of past master, and the only way he could do this was by being a W.M. for 12 months.

The first lodge in Geelong, The Geelong Lodge of Unity and Prudence was formed in 1847 and the first lodge in Portland, the Portland Lodge in Victoria for the Queen, was formed in 1849.

In 1839 when Lodge Australia Felix was consecrated the population of Melbourne was just over 6000, by the year 1851 the population was over 20,000.


Taken from A Century of Union Peter Thornton

The beginning

On 23 December 1839, some four and a half years after colonization began in the area which was to expand into the city of Melbourne, 21 Freemasons (presumably called together by word of mouth) met and drew up a petition to form a lodge. It was to be called the Lodge of Australia Felix under the authority of the United Grand Lodge of England.

The small town was in the Port Phillip District of the Colony of New South Wales and, masonically, under the control of a Provincial Grand Master resident in Sydney. He approved the petition and duly forwarded it to London. For the meantime he granted the brethren a dispensation warrant which allowed them to work until the actual warrant arrived.

It is recorded that the master-designate brought the dispensation warrant from Sydney on horseback so that the lodge could commence its work as soon as possible. It is now in the possession of our Grand Lodge.

On 25 March 1840, the lodge was constituted and consecrated, the master-designate was installed and his nominated officers were invested. The actual warrant, reportedly entrusted to an individual for delivery to the lodge, did not arrive and the lodge was to receive a warrant of confirmation.

Although Melbourne was little more than a primitive, straggling village, with unmade streets which alternated between muddy and dusty and possessed neither drainage nor sewerage, there is no doubt that a small proportion of its 6 000 odd inhabitants were ready and eager for the introduction of Freemasonry at the end of 1839.

The Lodge of Australia Felix grew rapidly with 50 candidates and 30 joining members in the first 12 months.

During the 1860s the original warrant was discovered by the Grand Secretary in London among the papers of his predecessor.

Our first leaders.

George Brunswick Smythe, the first master and the horseback rider who delivered the dispensation warrant, was initiated in St Mary's Lodge No. 76 in London in 1835. He gave an oration at the consecration but his position as a magistrate for the territory prevented him from attending any further meetings. Smythe resigned from the lodge during 1840, and by 1843 had returned to England for a period. He eventually settled in Fitzroy and his memory is perpetuated in Melbourne by Brunswick Street.

William Meek, the inaugural senior warden and the first attorney to settle in the town, was initiated in Restoration Lodge No. 128 in Harlington on 31 July 1834. After serving as secretary for nine months, he resigned in September 1836 as he was emigrating. In 1838 he was the foundation secretary of the Melbourne Club.

Isaac Bade Hind, the first junior warden, was a merchant and a member of Tasmanian Lodge No. 313 in Hobart.

None of the three, however, was to play a prominent part in the future affairs of the lodge and Smythe, as mentioned, attended only the consecration meeting.

The man who rose quickly to prominence, and acted as master in Smythe's absence, was John Stephen. History has not recorded the individual who was initially to the forefront in congregating the original 21 who petitioned for the local lodge, but one is forced to conclude that it was not Smythe. Official duties notwithstanding, he would surely have managed to attend some of the meetings which were being held at the rate of about two a month.

John Stephen was undoubtedly a fascinating person he was a member of a famous family connected with the law but appears to have preferred to expend his energy in journalism although he occasionally visited the courts where, to the chagrin of the professional and full-time lawyers, he acquitted himself more than creditably.

Born in America in 1798 his mother had traveled there for health reasons - Stephen was initiated in England in the Lodge of Regularity No. 259 on 25 March 1824. This was one of the "red apron" lodges from whose members the 19 Grand Stewards of the year were always chosen. Each lodge nominated one Grand Steward, but the office was very different from the one we know in Victoria and required the incumbent to be reasonably wealthy.

The office and honor were keenly sought and, as if in evidence of his growing ability to obtain his own ends, Stephen was nominated as a Grand Steward in 1826, well before he would normally have been considered.

The source of the above is here