Hawke's Bay Research Lodge No. 305

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 1898.

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.


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WBro Nigel Friggens

Hawkes Bay Research Lodge meets in the Masonic Centre, Jervois Street, Hastings

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VWBro.Colin Heyward

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