Early History of Freemasonry in the Ballarat Area
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While all of the Lodges in our District have a unique history, many changes have occurred since the discovery of gold bought thousands of people from across the world to this area. Masonic membership has changed with the times with many Lodges having in excess of 600 members at the turn of last century. Many Lodges have since closed or amalgamated and the typical membership of a Lodge in the District is now between 20 to 80 men. There has also been a renewed increase of interest from men of all ages wishing to join Freemasonry in more recent years.
Freemasons were amongst the first free settlers in the colony of Victoria. The first Lodge meeting was held in Victoria in 1839. Initially Lodges worked under the separate constitutions of the Grand Lodges of England (EC), Scotland (SC) and Ireland (IC), but in 1889 the United Grand Lodge of Victoria (UGLV) finally brought the Lodges together. A special cooperative relationship was also established with Mark Master Masons and Holy Royal Arch Chapter.
Gold was discovered at Ballarat in 1851 and tens of thousands of men from across the world came to to the area seeking their fortunes and a better life. Undoubtedly there must have been untold numbers of Freemasons from numerous jurisdictions amongst them, as Freemasonry was very soon established on the goldfields.
An advertisement appeared in the ‘ 'Ballarat Times' newspaper summoning all Freemasons to attend a meeting at Bath’s Hotel (now Craig's Royal Hotel) on the evening of Sunday 3 December 1854.Unfortunately this was to be the same day that the Eureka 'Rebellion' took place at the Eureka Stockade. Reportedly 3 Brothers did manage to attend, despite the imposition of Martial Law. A month later on 4th January 1855, another meeting was held with Henry Harris as the Chairperson and eventually on the 28 September 1855, the Victoria Lodge of Ballarat was opened for the first time.
However this is not regarded as being the first Lodge on the Ballarat diggings. The earliest record of organised Freemasonry in Ballarat is of a French Lodge, established in 1853 by Jean-Marie Ballaguy called the 'Rameau d'Or d'Eleusis' (Branch of Gold of Eleusis or Golden Bough of Eleusis). This Lodge worked under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of the Rite of Memphis. Its first Worshipful Master was a Monsieur Fenton.
It's origin dates back to 1852 when a group of Frenchmen arrived to seek their fortune on the Ballarat goldfields, including Memphis Rite Freemasons Messieurs Jean-Marie Ballaguy and A.E. Collas.
A certificate was issued to a Jean-Marie Ballaguy on 28 August 1855 as Sovereign Grand Master and Founder of the Memphis Rite in Australia, under a Grand Lodge of Memphis constitution.
The Lodge reportedly met at the Ballaguay Hotel, or in a tent, at the foot of Black Hill, a site of vast gold mining in East Ballarat. Although various local sources have noted the hotel's location, no definite proof of its exact whereabouts has been discovered to date. However, the Ballarat 'Star' newspaper of July 25th 1857 lists a Frederick J. Croft as applying to be the Licensee of the hotel. Given that many of the structures in the early years of the 'rush' were constructed of or with canvas, it may be possible that the hotel was in fact a tent like structure for some or most of its early life.
Eugene von Guerard's famous painting, Old Ballarat as it was in the summer of 1853–4 shows a view of the area looking towards Black Hill and shows a large canvas structure which reportedly has a French flag flying from a mast.This Lodge operated between 1853 and 1859 and many prominent members of the Ballarat community joined. However, when the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Colonies issued a directive that as the 'Le Rameau d’Or d’Eleusis' Lodge worked under the Memphis Rite and was therefore not recognised, and ordered that the Lodge was not to be recognised by any Lodge in the colony of Victoria.
With members resigning and looking to join other recognised or 'regular' Lodges, Brethren of the Lodge wrote a petition to become a warranted Lodge under the English Constitution in January 1857. Due to a stroke of good luck, the Lodge obtained permission to re-form under the name of 'Ballarat Lodge' and was chartered by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Victoria (EC) with Bro. Dufour as the first Master.
The stroke of luck arose from the then Grand Master of England, His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex being a member of the Memphis Rite, even though it was not recognised by the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE). To avoid any problems, the newly formed Provincial Grand Lodge of Victoria (E.C.) issued a dispensation for this Memphis Lodge to become warranted under the UGLE in April 1857 and therefore became a 'regular' Lodge.
Thus Ballarat Lodge No. 1019 (EC) was formed in July 1857 and the members of the French Lodge were re-admitted into this new Lodge. Apart from a change of name, it was all but in effect still basically the 'Le Rameau d’Or d’Eleusis' Lodge, and possibly may have continued with some mixture of ritual from both Constitutions for a time. The Ballarat Lodge eventually amalgamated with the Yarrowee Lodge and still exists today as the Ballarat-Yarrowee Lodge, being No. 10 on the register of Victorian Lodges.
Lane's Masonic Record for this Lodge can be seen here.
The Victorian Lodge of Instruction (EC), also variously known as the 'Victoria Lodge' or the 'Lodge of Victoria', was the first recognised Freemasons Lodge on the Ballarat goldfields, but was primarily established to train and prepare members to form new Lodges.
The Victorian Lodge of Instruction is recorded as commencing on the 25 June 1854 with the first mentioned meeting place being Bath’s Hotel (now 'Craig’s Royal Hotel), located at 10 Lydiard Street South. In September 1855 the Victoria Lodge was formed under the English Constitution, Number 956 on the register of the United Grand Lodge of England. The Charter was eventually received on 12 June 1856 and he Lodge started with 10 members but by the end of 1856, 157 additional members had joined.
It was customary for these Lodge of Instructions to only exist for a brief period and once their training was completed they closed or merged with other Lodges. The VLOI continued until it amalgamated with the Yarrowee Lodge in April 1867. At the date of amalgamation, the membership was 280.
Lane's Masonic Record for this Lodge can be seen here.
By April 1867, there were four English Constitution Lodges in Ballarat (Victoria Lodge, Yarrowee Lodge, United Tradesmen’s Lodge and the Ballarat Lodge). The Geelong Lodge of Unity and Prudence No. 545 often acted as the sponsoring Lodge for some of the newly forming Lodges in Ballarat at the time and this Lodge is still operating today. Two of the more unique characteristics of Lodges on the Ballarat diggings was the mixture of Constitutions represented and the tendency in the first 20 years following the discovery of gold for Brethren to move between Lodges, often starting new ones.
A case in point is the Buninyong Lodge who expressly requested to be established under an Irish Constitution, which was granted. Members of this Lodge later formed the Sebastopol Lodge, also under an Irish Constitution. However, English Constitution Lodges were far greater in number and were predominant on the goldfields. It is interesting to note that the emblem of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria formed in 1889 contains a shield with the English, Irish and Scottish Constitutions represented.
St Johns No.36: 1862 (IC)
Prince of Wales: (Smythesdale) No. 40: 1862 (IC)
North Star: 1863 - Amalgamated with St Johns 1868 - (IC) (closed)
Orion No 53: 1864 (IC) (now Guiding Star Lodge No 922. Lane's Masonic Record for this Lodge can be seen here.)
Sebastopol No 63: 1869 (IC) (now Guiding Star Lodge No 922)
St Johns & Prince of Wales are still working under their original names.
Orion, Sebastopol and Hope Lodges combined in 1999 to form Guiding Star No 922.
Ballarat: 1886 (SC)
Daylesford Lodge of St. George: 1887 (EC). Lane's Masonic Record for this Lodge can be seen here.
Fiery Creek: (Beaufort) 1890 (Victorian Constitution) (closed)
Saint Sidwells: (Wallace) 1891 (Victorian Constitution) (closed)
Learmonth No. 177: 1894 (Victorian Constitution)
Hope No. 274: 1920 (now Guiding Star Lodge No. 922 UGLV)
Wendouree: 1924 (closed)
Sturt: 1927 (now Sturt Buninyong United Lodge No. 23 UGLV)
Peniel: 1947 (closed)
Eureka Daylight No. 881: (Ballarat) 1985 (UGLV).
Freemasons have made remarkable contributions to Ballarat and its citizens, with a legacy that continues to this day through high levels of charity, benevolence, service, leadership and support to the local community.
Freemasons in the gold era were prominent in many charities and civic organisations and laid many of the foundation stones, both literally and financially, of the early charities and other institutions. They saw a truly 'golden' future for Ballarat and planned to create a city of world renown, equal to the great cities of the time, out of the haphazardness that characterised so many 'frontier' rush towns. A drive down Sturt Street, Ballarat's carefully planned 'main street' and the many grand buildings that surround the central area, belies the fact that this was formerly just a muddy wasteland dotted with gold mines, small and large.
A local Freemason and authority on this period points to the many social, civic and charitable institutions that included Freemasons as their driving force, which provided Ballarat with an enviable cultural, social and architectural heritage.
An interesting case in point is the life and work of architect and prominent Royal Arch Mason Freemason and churchman, Henry Richards Caselli (1816-1885). Caselli was born in Cornwall and was the son of Italian parents. His father was a gentleman and naval architect. Caselli arrived in Australia in 1852, too seeking his fortune on the diggings. He worked for Lloyd’s Surveyor in Geelong until 1854 before trying his luck on the Ballarat Goldfields. After minor success digging for gold he returned to architecture and was all or in part responsible for designing the following fine structures in Ballarat, many of which remain today:
Alfred Hall, Grenville Street (demolished) Ballarat City Fire Station Ballarat Fire Station Tower (Ballarat East) Ballarat School of Mines Gauge Tower (demolished) Ballarat Town Hall interior Ballarat Woollen Mill Church of Trinity (Carngham) Ebenezer Presbyterian Church Mitchell’s Building, Sturt Street Ballarat (now Myers) Ballarat College Ballarat Orphan Asylum Congregational Church St Alipius Church (Ballarat East) St James (Little Bendigo) Ebenezer, Holy Trinity Church(Sebastopol) Second Congregational Church (Dawson Street) Ballarat Female Refuge (Scott's Parade, Ballarat East
It is claimed that elements of Masonic principles can be seen in the design and decoration of these and other buildings in Ballarat dating from the 1870s-1890s especially and into the early 1900s.
It would be remiss not to raise the important role women have also played in the history and development of Freemasonry in the area, as elsewhere. With out the support of wives and partners and their families, many men could not particpate in Freemasonry. In fact a man cannot join Freemasonry today without his family being consulted first and it is unquestionably held in the Craft that 'family and work must come first'.
A.A.W Steane wrote a monograph in 1957 titled, 'Ballarat Freemasonic Records 1854-1957'. It is no longer in print but copies are available for loan from the National Library of Australia.
Dorothy Wickham, a Ballarat based historian, has written an historical account of Freemasonry on the Goldfields, called "Freemasons on the Goldfields: Ballarat and District 1853- 2013", published by Ballarat Heritage Services in 2013.
Historical Walking Tour of Ballarat - http://www.ballarat.com/walkheritage.htm
Many of Ballarat's Heritage buildings in particular show Masonic influences in their design as a result of several prominent architects being Freemasons.
Former Ballarat Masonic Complex: 20 Peel Street North, Bakery Hill - http://www.ballaratbuildings.com/ballarat-masonic-complex-20-peel-street-nth-bakery-hill/
Freemasons Victoria website: http://www.freemasonsvic.net.au/
Freemasonry Victoria, Issue 126, Autumn 2011 pp. 18-19
Freemasonry Victoria, Issue 129, Summer 2011 pp. 13-14
'Ballarat Freemasonic Records 1854-1957'; A.A.W Steane (1957)
Discovery of Gold - A Brief History: http://www.ballarat.com/discovery_of_gold.htm
'Through the Key Hole' - www.rosecroix.org.au/gen-148.pdf
Disclaimer: This information is presented in good faith and has been based on a variety of sources.
It does not represent the views or opinions of the Central Highlands District Freemasons, Freemasons Victoria or any other organisation.