Freemasonry and Parliament in New Zealand
An Address given by VWBro Owen Brown,
GLec, at his
Installation as Master on 1st August 2005
This being a year of electioneering in national politics
I thought it appropriate to bring aspects of this to freemasonry.
Not so much politics as such, but individual parliamentarians
who were significant masons. How many of you can name three
New Zealand Prime Ministers who held Grand Lodge rank? I
will briefly outline the contribution of these men, together
with two Governors-General.
But first, an early Member of Parliament who did not become
a Prime Minister, but yet played a significant role both
in politics and exploration and had a great impact on Freemasonry
in New Zealand. When, many years ago, a student friend and
myself spent two nights in a Fiordland hut waiting for a
flooded river to go down, I had some knowledge of the man
whose name was given to the hut but not his place in Freemasonry.
This was Pyke Hut, where the Pyke River meets the Hollyford.
Vincent Pyke arrived in Dunedin in 1862 from Australia
where he had been a member of the Victorian Government with
experience in gold mining. For the next thirty years he
was a prominent figure in New Zealand's goldfields and was,
for seventeen years, the Member of Parliament for Wakatipu
(the area, today, is still called Vincent County). But Pyke
was also an enthusiastic Scottish Mason who took a significant
part in establishing Freemasonry in this country. In 1864
he was appointed the first Scottish Provincial Grand Master
for the whole of New Zealand and, during his ten years in
that position, eighteen lodges were established. As a politician
he took a leading part in the abolition of the Provincial
Governments in 1876.
At this time the country was very much over-governed with
Central Government plus nine Provincial Governments. Pyke
saw a parallel in the government of the Craft, where there
were nine Provincial and District Grand Lodges to control
the small Masonic population. These thoughts were placed
before a meeting of brethren in Wellington as early as 1876
and, although they received favourable comment, the idea
was not proceeded with. However, it established the thought
of a Grand Lodge of New Zealand.
Now, to the three Prime Ministers, who were Freemasons.
RICHARD JOHN SEDDON at the time had the title of
'Premier' but can be called New Zealand's first Prime Minister
and he was in that role for a record thirteen years.
I have a special personal interest in Seddon, as he was
a neighbour and friend of my grandfather, Walter Brown,
who was the manager of the Bank of New Zealand's branch
at Kumara when Seddon was Member of Parliament, then Prime
Minister, in 1895. Incidentally, both attended the same
lodge. Further, Lodge Westland Kilwinning No 467 SC (later
88 NZC) was the one my father joined in 1944 when my family
moved to Hokitika in my schooldays. Seddon was initiated
in 1870, became Master in 1895, and was Grand Master in
I do not intend to enumerate details of his political career,
but would pose the question: did Freemasonry have any influence
on his political life? After looking at his many achievements
I would like to think that our word relief stands high.
By this I mean he seems a caring leader. Even before he
entered the House he was a miner's advocate. Later, when
in power, he was responsible for notable improvements in
worker housing, teacher superannuation and the Old Age Pensions
Act (we can surely salute him for that alone). He held posts
in education, immigration and 'native affairs' (as it was
then known) and to these he would bring such relief as would
be within his power.
Well, you had all heard of Seddon, but how many know anything
about FRANCIS HENRY DILLON BELL? Unlike Seddon's long reign
as Prime Minister, Bell occupied the top seat for less than
one month, in 1925, but his place is still significant.
While a practising lawyer he became Mayor of Wellington
in 1891, and two years later a Member of Parliament. Earlier,
aged but 24, he had joined Freemasonry in Lodge Wellington
No 1521 EC. Pressures of both law and government caused
him to resign for a decade, when he then joined Lodge Waterloo
No 15 NZC. It was 1894 when he became Grand Master (by now
Seddon was Prime Minister and would be Master of his lodge
the next year). As Grand Master, Bell had one clear goal
- that of obtaining recognition in the United Kingdom for
the Grand Lodge of New Zealand. In 1896 he travelled to
Britain and secured an audience with the Prince of Wales,
then Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England.
It was his persuasive influence which resulted in the GLNZ
receiving that recognition. Formal recognition was finally
conveyed to the brethren by his successor, MWBro Richard
Seddon, at the 1899 Annual Communication in Hokitika.
How may Freemasonry be seen to have influenced, his political
life? Bell was not politically ambitious but his skills
and judgement were called upon by others. He drafted legislation
setting up the new government in Western Samoa and retained
an active interest in the well-being of that island nation.
He was acting Prime Minister while Massey was overseas on
several occasions and was ready to stand in when Massey
died and before the new leader, Gordon Coates, was brought
in as next Prime Minister. His alert mind and especially
his reliability were valued in the contribution he made
both to politics and to Freemasonry.
With KEITH HOLYOAKE we come to more modern times
and many of you brethren will remember him in person. I
still recall clearly the 1981 June meeting of Scinde Lodge
when, as Grand Patron, he was present at our installation
ceremony. As Senior Steward that year, I was responsible
for much of the catering for a very much enlarged attendance.
He was initiated into Lodge Motueka in 1931. Later in 1948,
having moved to the North Island, he joined the Rawhiti
Lodge No 66. His busy life precluded him from taking many
offices but his Masonic service was unbroken and he received
his Fifty Years' Service Badge in 1981. The same year that
he joined Freemasonry, 1931, saw him elected to Parliament,
and at age twenty-eight he was the youngest MP in the House.
Later, following his twelve years as Prime Minister, he
went on to become Governor General. When he was awarded
the rare appointment of the Order of the Garter, mention
was made of his service outside politics, particularly Freemasonry.
Now let me refer to two other names in the vice-regal arena
-Plunket and Bledisloe.
LORD PLUNKET held the position of Governor of New
Zealand 1904-1910. During his time as Governor he was Grand
Master and here in Hawke's Bay he attended the Fifty Year
Jubilee of Scinde Lodge in October 1908 (I have the programme
in my possession). In 1907 he visited Lodge Abercorn in
Gisborne. He was a popular Governor with special interest
in Widows and Orphans and the Aged Masons Funds and, of
course, his name is perpetuated in the Plunket Society.
What better expression of the relief tenet of Freemasonry.
LORD BLEDISLOE served as New Zealand's Governor
General 1930-35. His name should be remembered by us for
more than the rugby cup we battle for each year. He became
a Freemason in England and when he came to New Zealand,
he joined New Zealand Pacific Lodge No 2, being installed
the same year as the Grand Master of GLNZ. We should particularly
note here that he consecrated the Hawke's Bay Research Lodge
No 305 at its opening in 1933. I read that he gave inspiration
to the Craft with the quality of his leadership and the
brilliance of his addresses. On his return to England he
still devoted much time to Freemasonry and regularly corresponded
with his NZ Masonic friends.
Brethren, I know that we all easily become cynical and
dismissive about politicians and those in high places, but
those who have gone the extra mile, to join the Craft and
regularly display those great qualities of brotherly love,
relief and truth, deserve our attention.