Why is it called the "United” Grand Lodge of Victoria ?

From WBro Damien of Devotion

A friend and reader from America recently asked me why we have the “United” Grand Lodge of Victoria rather than just Grand Lodge Victoria. The answer lays in our history....

Melbourne was founded in 1835 as an agricultural city and port, but flourished during the Gold Rushes of the 1850's. By the 1860's Melbourne was Australia's largest and wealthiest city - indeed the first Federal Parliament (1901) was held in Melbourne. Likewise, Freemasonry flourished in the State and its cities and towns.

In the 1800’s there were three regular Constitutions under which Masonic Lodges in Victoria worked. These three regular Grand Lodges were those of England, Ireland and Scotland – each having a District Grand Master in Victoria. There were also a noticeable number of irregular Freemasons working under a French Grand Lodge but that’s outside the scope of this short article.

Just as Masons have all over the world, local Freemasons decided they wanted self determination and decided to move away from geographically distant Grand Lodges by founding their own.

The first native Grand Lodge in Victoria was formed under a member of the Irish Constitution; George Selth Coppin (1819-1906), a theatre entrepreneur, comic actor and politician (MLA & MLC). Coppin formed Grand Lodge Victoria (GLV) in 1883. Of the three Constitutions working here the English by far had the largest number of Warrants and Freemasons. Coppin failed to attract the English Lodges to his new Grand Lodge - but despite that, there was a lot of inter-visiting; indeed Freemasons that were excluded in one of the European Constitutions would just visit or join the other Constitutions - it was all very loose. Once GLV was founded, Coppin could not get the number of Lodges he wanted, it was basically the Irish who supported GLV - but we do have warrants on the walls from GLV signed by Coppin; it was not a tin pot show but a legitimate Grand Lodge. Critically, despite requests for amity, GLV was not recognised by the three European Constitutions working here. It is reported that of the 121 regular lodges in Victoria when GLV was founded only 16 Lodges became members of that Grand Lodge.

Towards the end of 1887 the Earl of Carnarvon visited Victoria. He was Pro Grand Master for England and it is generally reported he encouraged a local Grand Lodge, just as in a wider sense he encouraged Australia’s Federation during his visit... and there was just the local leader to form that Grand Lodge.

Sir William John Clarke (1831-1897), was a hugely wealthy and well known Victorian businessman, philanthropist, politician (MLA) and community leader. The Australian Dictionary of Biography records "William was also a prominent Victorian Freemason and was elected Provincial Grand Master of the Irish Constitution in 1881 and District Grand Master of both the Scottish and English Constitutions in 1884, a unique record at that time....In 1885 he had largely financed the building of the Freemasons' Hall in Collins Street... . In 1889 he became the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria..." Clarke used his unique position as a District Grand Master of the three major Grand Lodges working here, and, cutting a long story short, he was able to united all of four Constitutions (UGLE, Grand Lodge of Scotland, Grand Lodge of Ireland, Grand Lodge Victoria) into one - critical in that was attracting the English Lodges – and hence - we became United Grand Lodge of Victoria (UGLV) under Clarke. About 6,000 Freemasons attended the celebrations. Clarke was not just an impressive Freemason, but businessmen and his stamp was left in many ways - including World Test Cricket – for it was on his property in Sunbury (now an outer suburb of Melbourne) that the Ashes were born (it is a cricket thing.) Coppin was also an impressive individual and also worth reading about – he left us with some great legacies and even played a role in establishing Torrens Titles in Victoria (it’s a lawyer thing but affects us all).

A total of 136 Lodges, being made up of 92 EC 16 IC, 12 SC. and 16 GLV all joined UGLV. Three Lodges under the English Constitution declined to join; Meridian Lodge of St. John No. 729, The Prince of Wales Lodge No. 1058 (both of which joined the UGLV a few months later) and the Combermere Lodge, No. 752 E.C. One cool thing to note is that Lodge Combermere remains in operation in Melbourne to this day under UGLE. Likewise, Victoria Mark Lodge No 47 is the oldest operating Mark Lodge in the Southern Hemisphere, and the second oldest working outside England. It was originally formed on 25 May 1859. When the Mark Grand Lodge of Victoria was formed 1899, Victoria Mark Lodge chose to remain under the English Constitution (EC), and today remains the only EC Mark lodge still working in Australia. It’s great to go and visit a foreign lodge in your own city - much cheaper than an air-fare !

The unification of Lodges working under the Irish, English, Scottish and Victorian Grand Lodges is why we became the “United Victorian Grand of Lodge” in 1889.

The Combermere Lodge (EC) meets on the 3rd Tuesday in February, April, June, August, October & December. Installation June.


You might also be interested in the EC Mark and Chapter Lodges still meeting in Victoria:

Victoria Mark Lodge No 47 (EC) and Combermere Royal Arch Chapter No. 752 (EC)

Coat Of Arms - UGLV

Coat of Arms United Grand Lodge Victoria

The Coat of Arms of UGLV. Images within the quadrants represent the IC, EC, SC & VC which all united in the “United Grand Lodge of Victoria”

Formation of The U.G.L.V.

Reprinted from Gould’s History of Freemasonry, Vol.5, p.180-1.

(It is worth noting some of the membership & lodge numbers below & also the average lodge size was of 50 men)

The idea of forming an independent Grand Lodge of Victoria appears to have first been mooted in 1863 and was debated at the Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge of England on March 2, 1864, when it met with strenuous opposition on the part of the Earl of Zetland, Grand Master. Grand Lodge passed a resolution expressing its strong disapprobation of the contemplated secession. The agitation was renewed in 1876, though, apparently, only feebly and it was not revived until 1883, when, on April 27, the Masonic Union of Victoria was formed. At that time there were seventy English, fifteen Irish and ten Scottish Lodges in Victoria, but of this number, only eighteen Lodges, twelve Irish, five Scottish, and one English – gave their adherence to the movement and, of that number, two – the only English Lodge and another – immediately withdrew.

However, at a Convention held on June 19, 1883, it was resolved “that the date of founding the Grand Lodge of Victoria should be July 2, 1883”. The opposition of the Grand Lodges of the Motherland will readily be understood when it is realized that sixteen Lodges, with an estimated aggregate membership of 840, assumed the position of a governing body of the territory, which possessed ninety-five Lodges, with an aggregate membership of five thousand. A satisfactory solution of the difficulty was arrived at in 1888, when with the assistance of the Earl of Carnarvon then Pro Grand Master of England, the United Grand Lodge of Victoria was formed, all the Lodges in the colony, with the exception of Lodge Combermere, No 752, which still remains under the English Constitution, enrolling under the Victorian Constitution.

According to the Articles of Union, it was agreed that the United Grand Lodge adopt the Book of Constitutions and the mode of procedure of the Grand Lodge of England, as far as the same may be applicable, until otherwise decided. The United Grand Lodge of Victoria became an accomplished fact on March 20, 1889, when Sir William J Clarke, Bart., was unanimously elected the first Grand Master and was formally installed by Lord Carrington, Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales, assisted by Chief Justice Way, Grand Master of South Australia. Thus, within fifty years of the opening of the first Lodge in Melbourne, the Sovereign Jurisdiction was established in the Melbourne Town Hall, in the presence of upwards of 3,000 Freemasons.

The United Grand Lodge started its existence with 140 Lodges and a membership of approximately 7,000, while it was estimated that there were also more than 10,000 unattached Freemasons in the colony. Already Masonic almshouses had been erected on a piece of land liberally granted by the Government and the contributions to Masonic Charities had exceeded 20,000 English Pounds Sterling.