by BROTHER A. C. MABON, P.M.
Lodge Celtic is the fourth oldest Lodge in the New Zealand South Scottish District. It is situated in the city of Dunedin, the Edinburgh of the south, in the southern province of Otago.
The Lodge was registered on the Roll of the Grand Lodge of Scotland on 4th November 1867. It was only four years previously that Gabriel Read found payable gold in Gabriel’s Gully, near the town of Lawrence, which started a world-wide gold rush to Dunedin and Otago. This inrush of goldseekers brought with it people of all traditions who mixed with the predominantly Church of Scotland settlement.
Our early members were pioneers who served the Lodge and the community to the full extent of their capabilities. When we read the history of our province we find names of Celtic brethren to the forefront. It has become tradition to accept the story that our Lodge was formed for the express purpose of initiating Brother James Macandrew, the then Superintendent of the Province, as a bitter opponent had threatened to blackball him if he attempted to join Lodge Otago Kilwinning, No.417 S.C. It cannot be proved or disproved, because the Lodge records from l867-81 were destroyed in a fire at the Lodge rooms. But I think that it is important to remember that the two previous historians at the 50th and 75th celebrations both confirmed the same story.
Our first Master was Brother William Barron, an Independent Liberal who represented the Borough of Caversham in the House of Representatives from 1879-90. He was also a close friend of Brother Macandrew, our first initiate, and Brother Vincent Pyke, D.G.M., who was the Commissioner of the Goldfields. Another famous Liberal was Brother Thomas Bracken, Master in 1878, who was reputed to be the Poet Laureate of his time in New Zealand. He wrote the words of our present National Anthem, “God Defend New Zealand”. He also wrote among other things a poem called “Not Understood”, which has become famous in Lodge Celtic. He was said to have written it whilst Master of the Lodge when at this time his beliefs were somewhat being put to the test. He had at that period a great friend in Bishop Moran, the Roman Catholic educationalist, and Brother Bracken was one of the early editors of the Roman Catholic newspaper, “The Tablet”. These teachings apparently conflicted with his Lodge teachings. The City of Dunedin has named a lookout over the city after him, “Bracken View”, a fitting memorial to our Brother.
The present temple where we meet was purchased by a Masonic Hall Company in 1881. When alterations had to be made to the property financial problems arose. Brother J. Thompson, a Brother of Celtic, advanced the necessary capital to make the property freehold and clear the debt for the Lodges who were shareholders. Over the years Celtic Brethren have presented furniture and fittings to this temple and as we enter we pass between the two great pillars, presented by Brother Joseph Baxter, P.M. in 1883. Some of the chairs of the Officers, e.g. the Secretary’s and Treasurer’s, were presented by Celtic in memory of late Past Masters.
The regalia of the Lodge is the Stewart tartan which is proudly worn by the Brethren, and when we are gathered together we certainly add colour to any ceremony.
The Ritual which has been used for over a hundred years was finally printed into permanent books for members to purchase. The two interesting points which seem to attract attention from overseas visitors are that, firstly, during the Obligation of the Candidate the Charter is held above the head of the Initiate and is tapped by the R.W. Master at the words “Hereon and Hereunder”. The other point of interest is that the Third Degree T.B. has a supplementary board which is apparently quite unusual and is quite a lengthy charge.This has probably arisen with the mixing of the traditions of the early settlers and members.
An interesting happening in the Lodge is that every Past Master’s Night, which is an annual event, one of the Past Masters goes back into the Chair at the invitation of the R.W. Master and is acting Master for the night. In the refectory we “Address the Haggis” and a great Harmony is celebrated.
As Dunedin is a port and railway terminal for the hinterland, it follows that large numbers of our members have come from the stevedore and shipping companies, and the Government Railways Department. Latterly we have had some from the tramways and cableways companies and the printing trade in the city.
It was in the 1940s that Lodge Celtic started sending food parcels to Scotland for Grand Lodge to distribute to annuitants and distressed Brethren. The District Grand Lodge took this up and many hundreds of these parcels followed over the next few years.
In 1947 the Master of the Lodge, Brother George Payton, had his son christened in the Temple by the Very Rev. Dean Button of the Anglican Cathedral. The godparents were the W.S.W. and the W.J.W.
Lodge Celtic has a large Benevolent Fund and has supported Masonic charities for distressed Brethren and widows, and educational bursaries for Masons’ children. Each year the Lodge has a special charity collection from the Brethren for a local group. Charities which have benefited so far are Cancer Research, Diabetic Children’s Fund and Handicapped Children’s Society.
The last two Proxy Masters in Scotland have served us for over 60 years. The late Brother Carruthers of Lodge St John, No.788 S.C., served us well from 1927-46. Then our present Proxy Master took over and is still serving us well with over 30 years’ service.
At the regular meeting in November 1967 we saw Brother Cohn W. Rush installed in the Chair for the Centennial. For some weeks prior to the event our R.W. Master Elect was a patient in the Dunedin Public Hospital after a motor accident, and it was touch and go whether he would be fit enough to be installed. With the aid of a wheelchair and a pair of crutches Brother Rush became our Master. He was obligated on the original Bible of Lodge Celtic which was brought out of the bank vault for the occasion. It still has the charred edge on it, mute evidence of the fire which destroyed the rest of our records in the 1880s.
During its history Lodge Celtic has had two Brethren rise to the high office of District Grand Master. The first was Brother W. B. Steel, a great Freemason who unfortunately passed away suddenly a few months after his Installation in May 1941. The second is our present District Grand Master, Brother J. Gavin Mair, R.W.D.G.M., Hon. J.G.W., and I am sure he will make his mark on Scottish Freemasonry in this District, as he has in his Mother Lodge Celtic.
Recently we were honoured to welcome the Grand Master Mason, Brother Captain Robert Wolrige Gordon of Esslemont, and Mrs Gordon, and the Grand Secretary, Brother Stuart Falconer, to our shores. It is a great pleasure to be able to offer hospitality to such distinguished Brethren and over the period of the last 110 years many distinguished visitors have been received into our Lodge and refectory. Let me assure all Brethren that the welcome mat is there to receive any who wish to call and stay a while.