Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 51, September 2007

(Abridged from an address given by Very Worshipful Master Brother Syd Bax, Past District Grand Master, to the anniversary ceremony, June 2004.)

With some 40 unattached members of the Masonic Lodge movement living the Paeroa District in 1896 Messrs C. Rhodes and W. Forrest convened a meeting at Mr Edwin Edwards snr., home on May 2 that year and it was decided to form lodge to serve the members needs—Lodge Ohinemuri No. 107.

The Sir Walter Scott Lodge No. 15, Thames, advised Grand Lodge of the advisability of forming a lodge in Paeroa and that would it give every assistance in furthering the proposal.

Early in June there were 33 members of the lodge with a further 30 proposed as candidates. The Thames lodge recommended the petition to Grand Lodge for the formation of Lodge Ohinemuri.

Two of the foundation members were Messrs W. Forrest and W. McWatters and today they are represented in the lodge. Mr W. McWatters, was an uncle of Phil McWatters and Mr Forrest a grandfather of Phil's wife Adeline.

At a meeting held in June, 1896, a Lodge of Instruction was formed with Bro Rhodes as Worshipful Master-elect and at the same meeting the charter list was closed. As can be imagined a lot of work was to be done to prepare for the Consecration and Installation, often in very trying circumstances owing to weather and the very poor state of the roads.

Lodge Ohinemuri NZC No. 107 was opened on Thursday, July 23, 1896, with some 150 Masons from throughout the Auckland Province present in the Criterion Theatre. The meeting went from 7.30 p.m. to 11 p.m. and the banquet from 12 midnight to 4 a.m. Friday morning.

There were 37 charter members and 70 prospective members. Bro Rhodes was installed as the first Master.

There were as many as five candidates for membership dealt with at each meeting. As time went by there were many demits requested for and granted as members left the district.

By December, 1896, with enthusiasm among the increasing membership, an urgent need emerged for a building of its own. A building committee was elected, an architect engaged to draw-up plans for a two-storeyed building in Normanby Road.

Debentures were issued at one pound each bearing 6 per cent interest.

On December 19, 1896, a tender for 973 pounds was accepted from Messrs Heron and McWilliams. They started on January 23, 1897, and completed the structure in May the same year.

The building had a 42ft frontage onto Normanby Road. The ground floor had a main entrance hall 7ft by wide, with two shops 12ft by 16.6ft and 14 by 16ft 6inson each side. There were six offices at the back of the shops, five 9ft 6in by 13ft and one 10ft by 16ft 6ins. The second floor had a lodge room 25ft by 40ft, a candidate's room 19ft by 8ft, anti-room 19ft by 8ft and a committee room 41ft by 14ft. The building was constructed from hill-grown heart rimu.

There were over 200 present at the consecration of this well-appointed hall and it was a magnificent ceremonial occasion for the Grand Lodge. Consecrating Officer was Bro A. Bartlett RWSS and Bro S. D. Hanna, PSGD, was Master of Ceremonies. Bro Charles Rhodes, WM Lodge Ohinemuri welcomed the gathering and the Grand Masonic Ball was held at the conclusion of the ceremony.

Many generous gifts of furniture and emblems were made to the Lodge over the next few years by various Brethren and Members.

In February, 1898, Masonic brethren of Waihi requested to have a Lodge of Instruction under the Lodge Ohinemuri No. 107 charter. The Grand Lodge was petitioned and the Waihi lodge was opened in June of that year.

Over the next decade and a half the Lodge Ohinemuri flourished. The Royal Arch Chapter No. 17 lodge was formed on May 30, 1901.

The First World War started in 1914 and in March 15, 1915, Lodge Ohinemuri established a special benevolent fund for the relief of Freemasons who became casualties of the conflict. On April 4, 1917, Bro J. A. Reid, DC, and Bro G. Chappel, left for active service. They both returned unscathed. Bro Reid was elected to the office WM for 1922-23.

Disaster struck on the morning of August 3, 1918, when the Lodge's fine building was totally destroyed by a fierce blaze. Such were the massive flames it was impossible to save any of the Lodge's regalia, furnishings and records, the Royal Arch Chapter lost all its possessions, and the ground-floor tenants sustained heavy losses.

As the Charter was lost the Grand Secretary gave special dispensation to hold meetings in the Criterion Theatre to ensure the Lodge was kept operational. A meeting was to be called on August 22 in the theatre but it was totally destroyed by an early morning blaze on August 18.

The only suitable hall available was the St Paul's Church of England Parish Hall and the Grand secretary's permission was received to hold meetings in this venue.

The only item to escape the fire, and it is used today, is the D.C. baton, presented by W. Bro. Harris in 1907. It had been taken to Waihi to be used at that lodge's installation.

In September, 1918, a committee of five members was established to consider another new building or additions to the Parish Hall, which had been made available if it could be modified to meet the needs of the lodge. After much discussion it was resolved not to pursue the proposal.

Bro Gillman, a local architect, was requested to submit plans for a new building approximately 48ft by 32ft. Owing to the limited financial resources it would be necessary to avoid anything elaborate. It was recommended that the Public Trustee be approached for a 1500 pounds loan.

Inside the first Masonic Lodge building.

Inside the first Masonic Lodge building.

Lodge Ohinemuri NZC No. 107, Paeroa
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 51, September 2007
Inside the first Masonic Lodge building.

The plans and the cost of 2100 pounds for the new building to be placed on the corner of Willoughby Street and Arney Street were considered by the special committee. The section could have been owned by the Church of England as its manse, in Arney Street, adjoins the section and the church is behind in Willoughby Street.

While there had been contact been made by the Public Trust office, on November 5, 1918, tenders were opened and ranged from 2196 pounds to 2247 pounds. The committee accepted the lowest tender, that of W. Marshall for 2196 pounds, who was satisfied with the financial position of the lodge. There was an old cottage on the section for which the contractor paid 30 pounds.

Construction commenced in February, 1919, but then came some changes. First the supper room was too small and because of the nature of the building, future alterations would be costly. Again the ceiling was raised by 2ft to 16ft and the external finish was changed from roughcast to "white Portland cement". The extra cost was 80 pounds.

In September the same year, six leaks were found in the south-west corner of the building. The final cost of the building was around 2387 pounds. It appears that final payment involved loans from the Public Trust, sale of the mortgage on the Normanby Road property and the insurance payout from that build, plus the members fees were raised by one pound per year.

On reflection the men who started Freemasonry in Paeroa were very dedicated Freemasons, when you consider the trying conditions they endured in those early days. A good number resided at Waikino and Karangahake, the roads were rough and in the winter very muddy. They built a new lodge room only to see it burnt down a few years later, but they bounced back and rebuilt.

They have been through good times with good membership and lean times with declining membership, and now hopefully the Lodge is now making some progress with increasing numbers and candidates.