Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library

The first permanent European settlers in Tasmania arrived in 1803 when a small detachment, 49 in all, of soldiers, settlers and convicts arrived in the Derwent River under the command of Lieutenant Bowen.

In February 1804 another group of 226 persons arrived under the command of Lieut- Governor Collins and founded the current site of Hobart.

Australia had been formally taken over as a British colony by Governor Phillip in 1788 when a settlement was established at Sydney. Fearful of French intrusion, Governor King dispatched Lieut. Bowen to Tasmania in 1803 to prevent the French gaining a foothold and also to provide another avenue to place convicts. Complementary with the development of the Colony the British Government embarked on the wholesale deportation of convicts to the new colony in order to relieve the pressure of their containment at home.

As the number of convicts increased in the settlement so the need for military surveillance increased. It was the advent of the military regiments that brought about the introduction of Masonry into Tasmania as some regiments possessed travelling warrants in the main issued under the Irish Constitution.

Records of the early workings of Royal Arch Masonry in Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen's Land, are very scanty. However, a Royal Arch Certificate is extant issued to Bro Joseph Lester in 1828 by Thornton's Lodge No.284 IC attached to the 40th Regiment, 1st Battalion South Lancashire Regiment who were in the Colony from 1825 until 1830.

The first civilian Royal Arch Chapter was Pacific Chapter No.313 IC formed under a warrant issued by Ireland on July 27, 1832 and attached to Tasmania Lodge which had been sponsored by Thornton's Lodge.

This Warrant did not arrive in Van Diemen's Land until September 1835. The original Petition had been sent to Ireland in January 1832, a duplicate sent in March 1832 and, in July 1832, a further three applications were sent by three separate ships. This is some indication of the problems of communication in those days.

The Chapter commenced work in 1835 and seems to have ceased work about 1847 and the Charter was returned to Ireland in 1863.

In 1833 the 21 st Regiment Royal Scots Fusiliers arrived in Hobart. They had a Charter 33 IC granted in 1734 to which was attached a Royal Arch Chapter and an Encampment of Knights, Templars and Knights of Malta. The Royal Arch Chapter had last assembled in Barbados in 1821. Companion Henry Toone, who had preserved the seal and minute book, was the only surviving Royal Arch Mason on the arrival of the Regiment in Van Diemen's Land, when two previously exalted military members joined the lodge in 1837, Toone decided to re-open the Chapter under the original Warrant. This provoked an argument with Pacific Chapter as to the legality of the move that led to an application by Toone and his associates for a civilian charter. This was forwarded to Ireland on l0th August 1837 but seems to have been sent in error to the 21 st Regiment that by then was stationed in India. A further Warrant was received in Van Diemen's Land in the latter part of 1842. It should be noted that many of the soldiers attached to the 21 st Regiment, including all of the Lodge members, elected to stay in Van Diemen's Land when the regiment was ordered to India in 1837. The Chapter commenced work in 1843 and ceased work in the early 1850's. The warrant was returned to Dublin in 1864.

In 1844 a petition was sent to Ireland for a warrant for a Chapter to be attached to Tasmanian Operative LodgeNo.345 IC and this was issued on 31st March 1846. The Chapter opened in 1846 but ceased work in 1861 due to the death of the 3rd Principal and the Principal Sojourner, the illness of the 2nd Principal and the expulsion of the Scribe when it was discovered he was stealing Lodge funds. A dispensation was issued in 1863 by the Provincial Grand Superintendent for Royal Arch Masonry in Victoria, MEC T J Smith, for the Chapter to re-open and it appears to have operated again up to 1866.

In the meantime moves were being made to form a Chapter in the Northern part of the State and, as a result, St Johns RA Chapter No.346 IC commenced work on 12th October 1847. After a flourishing start the Chapter was hard hit by the almost desolation of the town by the male inhabitants in search of gold in Victoria and was in virtual abeyance between October 1854 and December 1861. The Scribe writes "Industry is abandoned, the high wages paid to working people (20/-, 30/- and even 40/- per day in some trades) gives them the means of rioting for five days from the proceeds of two". By 1867 the Chapter was dormant, however, in 1881 it re-opened but appears to have gone out of existence about 1890 on the formation of the Grand Lodge of Tasmania.

The first English Chapter in the State was formed in Hobart as the result of a petition prepared in 1848. Its start was marred by delays, the charter was signed in November 1850 and the postmark was dated November 4, 1852. The proposed 1st Principal, Sir H E Atkinson, did not call a meeting until December 1853 when he advised he was unable to carry on and many of the original petitioners had left the state. Another election was held and it was not until April 1855 that another meeting was held the Chapter was finally opened on 25th October 1855, some seven years after the preparation of the original petition. It was known as Tasmanian Union RAC No.781 EC attached to Tasmanian Union Lodge. It must have been a relief to the members that the next 14 months went well, however, a more serious problem was on the horizon.

A bitter argument developed over the appointment of Rev R K Ewing as the Provincial Grand Master and Provincial Grand Superintendent of Royal Arch Masons by the Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter of England. (Rev Ewing, was a member of Hope Chapter meeting in Launceston.)

Tasmanian Union Lodge and the Chapter complained they had not been consulted. The end result was that the Lodge Charter was recalled in May 1857 which automatically put the Chapter out of business. It was not until August 1862 that a new Charter was granted and the Chapter recommenced work. It continued to operate despite some ups and downs until the formation of the Grand Lodge of Tasmania in 1890.

When this took place Tasmanian Union Lodge surrendered their English Charter to join the Grand Lodge, thus leaving the Chapter without a valid Charter. The Chapter, therefore, resolved to join the other two Scottish Chapters in the State under the Provincial Grand Superintendent.

This proved difficult as the ceremonial under the English Constitution differed from the Scottish and in any case the members had not done the Degrees of MMM and EM. Further the Grand Scribe in Scotland ruled that all the Chapter members would be required to affiliate "in absentia" with a Chapter in Scotland. This was eventually achieved and Tasmanian Union Royal Arch Chapter still operates in Tasmanian as 238 SC. Meanwhile moves were taking place to form an English Chapter in Launceston attached to Hope Lodge No.901 EC. In April 1854 a request was forwarded to the Grand Chapter in England that a Charter be issued for a Royal Arch Chapter to be attached to Hope Lodge, this was duly received and the Chapter opened in Launceston in February 1855. It is interesting to note that during the first four years of its operation the Rev R K Ewing took a prominent role and was 1st Principal twice.. "He as also at ,the. heart of the argument with Tasmanian Union Chapter as mentioned earlier. It is also co-incidental that, during the time of the dispute, Hope Chapter went into decline. So much so that a special committee was appointed in 1860 to endeavour to promote its welfare. Also during this period some pages have been cut out of the minute book. The Chapter had a varied career and never really got on its feet. A fire destroyed their Lodge room in 1884 adding to their woes and in the late 80's the Chapter ceased to exist.

The first Chapter to operate under the Scottish Constitution in Tasmania was St Andrew No.179 SC. Unlike their English and Irish counterparts it was not necessary for them to be attached to a Craft Lodge. On 13th July 1879 application was made to Scotland for a Charter for a Royal Arch Chapter. Early in 1880 Scotland replied that a charter was being forwarded and in the meantime gave authority to work the Mark Degree. It is interesting to note that George Talmage, who later became the Grand Superintendent, was the first presiding officer. A series of Mark and Excellent Masters Degrees were carried out and the Chapter was inaugurated on 22nd July 1880. The early days proved very difficult, however, the Chapter has survived and still works today. In 1908 it was instrumental in hosting the formation of the District Grand Royal Arch Chapter in Tasmania.

A second Scottish Chapter, Devon No.202 SC was formed under the patronage of St Andrew Chapter at a meeting held on September 5, 1885 at Hamilton-on-Forth in the NW part of the State. The original application had been made in September 1.884 but for reasons unknown it languished in Mauritius for some time. The minutes of the first meeting makes very interesting reading, ‘commencing at 12 noon the Chapter was consecrated and constituted, followed by the Installation, after which the three degrees were worked, the officers elected and subsequently invested.’

Despite many ups and downs, the Chapter is still working today at Latrobe where it re- established in 1891.

In June 1890 a significant event took place in Masonry in Tasmania with the formation of the Grand Lodge of Tasmania. Prior to this date Craft Lodges had operated either under an English, Scottish or Irish Constitution. To form the Grand Lodge of Tasmania it was necessary for all Craft Lodges to surrender their Charters and take up new ones under the Grand Lodge of Tasmania. As it was necessary for any English or Irish Chapter to be attached to a Lodge working under those Constitutions, it was necessary for them to decide their future course. However, as St Johns 346 IC and Hope 816 EC had virtually ceased, work at this time, they closed, but Tasmanian Union No.536 EC chose to continue and to do so took out a Scottish Charter No.238 SC. Tasmanian Union together with the then existing Scottish Chapters of St Andrew and Devon became the sole Chapters inTasmania and formed the nucleus of the current Scottish District Grand Chapter which was formed in 1908.

A Chapter known as Zeehan Royal Arch Chapter No.12 NSW was formed in 1891 at Zeehan on the West Coast of Tasmania working under the New South Wales Constitution, however, it ceased to operate in 1895 and little is known of its activity.

In April 1904 a petition was signed by a number of Masons on the West Coast of Tasmania to form a Royal Arch Chapter. This was forwarded to the District Grand Superintendent for the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland, MEC Barrett, who issued a working order for Mt Lyell Royal Arch Chapter to commence work. The Charter No.313 SC eventually arrived in March 1905. To those who know Tasmania it would be realised what a daunting task setting up a Chapter in such an isolated community would be, given the transport problems that existed at the time.

However, the proceedings commenced on Wednesday 31st August 1904 at 11.00 am. After the ceremony of Consecration and Dedication, the Office- Bearers were-Obligated and Installed. Those officers who did not have the Mark or EM Degrees were then given the relevant degrees. The session concluded at 1pm. The Chapter was then resumed and a number of Brethren who had passed a ballot were accepted into the Mark Degree. The installed Mark Degree was also carried out. The Lodge closed at 6 pm.

On the following day the Chapter performed the EM degree and RA degree on 14 members. By the end of the year 24 candidates had been admitted.

Mt Lyell Chapter has survived the problems of a moving population in a mining community and still operates to this day. The District Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Tasmania was formed with a full complement of officers at the Masonic Temple Launceston on July 10, 1908. Prior to this date three District Grand Superintendents had operated, MEC George Talmage 1883-1886, MEC Peter Barrett 1886-1906 and MEC J H Room 1906- 1908. MEC J H Room became the. first Grand Superintendent to preside over a District Grand Chapter in 1908. The four founding Chapters were St Andrew 179 SC, Devon 202 SC, Tasmanian Union 238 SC and Mt Lyell 313 SC. The District of Tasmania has remained under the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland and no other Chapters of another constitution have set up.

Underlying the above outlines are many fascinating stories of power struggles, personalities, incidents both amusing and serious which are hard to fit into Freemasonry as we know it. However, we must remember the background against which they were played, a pioneering period, and a large convict population and in the early part of the 19th century a population with a large proportion illiterate.

MEC M G Linton -P G Superintendent for Tasmania , Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter or Scotland