Freemasonry was present in Ballarat from its earliest years. A French Lodge, ‘Rameau d’Or d’Eleusis’ met at the Ballinguy hotel at Black Hill Flat around 1853. This, however, was not recognised by Freemasons in England, who celebrated instead the foundation of the Victoria Lodge of Ballarat on 28 September 1855.
Another branch, the Yarrowee Freemasonic Lodge of Ballarat East, met for the first time on 22 April 1857. Present at the first meeting were Richard O’Cock, a solicitor, Alexander Dimant, James Stewart a doctor, J. Daly, Bernard Smith, T. Cope, Robert Walsh, a solicitor, Walter L. Richardson, a doctor, Robert Holmes, R. Fenton and W. Robinson. Members of the Yarrowee Lodge, many of whom were also Anglo-Irish, moved quickly into philanthropy, establishing a Board of Benevolence and a Board of General Purposes with contributions paid into the funds from initiation fees, joining fees and from each member’s annual subscription.
The Freemasons laid many of the foundation stones of the early charities and other institutions. Through this public display they helped to establish the fraternity and their status as worthy citizens in the fledgling community. An example of their love of ceremony is illustrated in a report about the laying of the foundation stone at the Ballarat Benevolent Asylum in 1859, when, incidentally, the first Grand Lodge was established in Ballarat.
On 16th March, 1859, Rt. Wor. Bro. Francis Thomas Gell, the Prov. Grand Master, visited the Yarrowee Lodge, and requested the Master, officers and brethren of all Lodges to attend at St. Paul’s Hall the next morning at 11 a.m., when he, with Rt. Wor. Prov. S. G. W. (Bro. Lowry), the Rt. Wor. Prov. Grand Secretary (Bro. Levick), and the Rt. Wor. Prov. Grand Chaplain (Rev. C. P. M. Bardin) would form the first Grand Lodge in Ballarat, to which all Freemasons would be invited. The Prov. Grand Master, Grand Officers and all brethren formed a procession, and, clothed in full regalia, carrying banners and working tools, marched from St. Paul’s to the intended site, and with due ritual and ceremony, well and truly laid the foundation stone at the Ballarat Benevolent Asylum (now the Queen Elizabeth Benevolent Home). Their labours being ended, they returned and closed the Grand Lodge in due form.
As citizens of some standing, many had been involved in the establishment of the municipalities of Ballarat and Ballarat East, and later, ventured into parliamentary office. Freemasons dominated all Ballarat’s charitable committees, creating powerful alliances, and thus the rapid development of charity in Ballarat was made possible by existing networks and bonds amongst these influential men of the town’s two municipalities.
If you have any information or photographs of Ballarat’s early Freemasons please contact me. Your help is much appreciated.