Men with vision like M.W.Bro. Edgar O. Faber O.B.E., developed Masonic benevolence in New Zealand into the organised bodies we enjoy today.
The birth of the Otago Freemasons’ Charity was ignited by the foresight and drive of the Northern Masonic Association under the superintendence of M.W.Bro. Edgar O. Faber O.B.E., who acted as the midwife for the Roskill Masonic Village in Auckland and the Redwood Masonic Village in Rotorua; places of peace and security where aged Brethren and their wives could live out the remainder of their lives. The Freemasons of Otago were attracted to the concept of building a home for aged Masons in Dunedin, and shared their ideas with others in the Craft. Leading Freemasons in the south, such as J. W. Holley, W. C. Whitworth, and C. D. F. Bowie, sought to emulate the vision of their Brethren in the north by forming an Association in the South Island to care for their own aging friends.
The birth of The Southern Masonic Association
On Monday 26th May 1958, a meeting of representatives of the English, Irish, Scottish and New Zealand Masonic Constitutions was held in the Masonic Hall, Moray Place, Dunedin. That the resolve of these men was firm can be established by the number of Lodge Officers present, 200 being in attendance on the night.
Following some discussion, and an address on behalf of the Northern Masonic Association by W.Bro C. A. Rowe M.M., it was moved by V.Wor. Bro. I. L. Turnbull, “That this combined Masonic Association is of the unanimous opinion that a scheme should be launched by the Freemasons of Otago to provide a Masonic home, or homes, for the aged.”
The minutes are signed by R.W.Bro. J. W. Holley as Interim Chairman, and counter signed by V.W.Bro. W. C. Whitworth as Interim Secretary.
A second meeting moved unanimously that the organisation be called “The Southern Masonic Association” and set out the representation from the English, Irish, Scottish and New Zealand Constitutions. In the beginning, the sole object of The Southern Masonic Association (SMA) was to build a home for the aged, and indeed, the early meetings discussed a number of sites suggested for the new Home, whilst at the same time, the task of Incorporating the Association also went ahead.
By 1960 the coffers of the SMA were beginning to fill, while a bequest received from the estate of Bro. McKeeman gave a real boost to the Association’s resources.
In November 1961 therefore, a motion was put “That the purchase of the property adjoining Bridger Street, for the sum of ₤4250 be approved.” This was carried unanimously.
As so often happens in these cases, however, in 1964 the Government-of-the-day changed the rules regarding the subsidizing of Homes for the Aged, causing the whole project to be re-evaluated.
In the discussions that followed the Chairman reported on a meeting he had held with the Dunedin’s Mayor and Town Clerk. The latter two had suggested the Association hand over the site, and any cash the Association had raised, to the Council, and the Council would commission the building of the cottages. Further, they would still be known as a Masonic Home, but the Council would undertake to maintain them.
Several motions followed to the effect that the Association negotiate with the Council regarding cottages on the site at Bridger Street.
The next meeting received a report on a joint proposal to build 27 Cottages. The Mayor, Mr R J Calvert, had assured the committee that the identity of the land would be acknowledged and also suggested that, “Some thought be given to naming the short street that linked it with the Craft.” In answer to the Mayor’s suggestion the Southern Masonic Association met again on the 29 March 1966, where it was moved that “we submit the name of Acacia Avenue for the approach road.” And also “that the Flats be named the Maryhill Masonic Cottages.”
The complex was officially opened by the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand, M.W.Bro. John A. Redwood O.B.E., on 10 February 1968 at a function attended by the Mayor and many other dignitaries. The event was extensively covered by the press.
The total cost was $144,000, (now in NZ Dollars) of which the Association contributed $44,000. The SMA had also contributed a further $4000 to the purchase, and renovation (by the DCC), of a house at 13 Bridger Street. This was provided, rent free, to the Wardens appointed to look after the needs of the cottage residents, and to oversee the McKeeman Lounge.
For the next few years the SMA’s activities revolved mainly around the entertainment of the Maryhill Cottage residents, while considering the possibility of building a similar facility elsewhere in Otago. Meanwhile, funds continued to steadily increase.
Rt.W.Bro. C. A. Rowe was the first officer from the Northern Masonic Association to address the Brethren of the forerunner of the Otago Freemasons’ Charity in 1958.
It is of note that Bro. Rowe received the Military Medal for bravery during World War II.
Grand Master of the NZ Constitution, M.W.Bro. John A. Redwood O.B.E., presided at the opening of the Maryhill complex, in the present of the Mayor, Mr R. J. Calvert.
The birth of the Otago Masonic Charitable Trust
The Association continued a very close co-operation with the Cottages, arranging entertainment and other activities. In 1971 a request was received to assist the Home for the Aged ‘Ranui’ in Alexandra, and a fundraising project was organized. This was the seed of other requests that gradually widened to include not just the elderly, but all manner of charitable projects and causes throughout Otago. As a result it was felt that Association should change its name to make it more clear to researchers what the ‘Association’ actually stood for. Thus, at a Special General Meeting on 29 April 1975, the Board adopted the motion changing the name of the ‘Southern Masonic Association’ to the ‘Otago Masonic Charitable Trust.’ This name remained in force until, on 15 August 2016, it was shorted to the Otago Freemasons’ Charity.
Scott Legacy boosts finances
During the 1975-76 financial year the Trust received a major boost to its finances from a legacy from the Estate of Bro AMA Scott, a member of the Lodge of Waitaki No. 11. While the settlement of the Estate took more than 18 months to complete, this was effectively the start of the Trust’s Investment Portfolio. Minutes now regularly included a record of discussions on investments. This was the commencement of the General Investment Fund.
In 1990 a new procedure for the handling of Grant requests was proposed and adopted. Up till this time requests for financial assistance were considered by the Board at the next meeting after receipt, and these were awarded on merit and in light of the funds available in that financial year. The Board, however, had been concerned for a considerable time that the modus operandi for allocation of such grants (which had been operating for some years) was somewhat haphazard and in need of change, not only to ensure even-handedness in our decisions, but to enable the Trust to obtain applications from all over the province.” As a result Applications were called for, and these were considered at the Board of Trustees’ meeting in June 1990 – the Applications having already been prioritized by sub-district committees. In general terms, this is the process that is still followed today.
The development of the fee structure
The first mention of members’ fees had the Life Membership at ₤100 (pounds), individual Lodges at ₤5 and annual individual’s membership at ₤5. By 1970 this had translated into Life Member $200 (NZ Dollars), Lodges – $50, Annual member – $10. In 1980 this was: Life member $200, Lodge $25, Individual member $5. In 1980 members of the Trust totalled 4544 brethren. At the 1991 AGM new fees were set: Life Member $250, Lodge $30, and individual’s membership: $12. In 2016 these are: Life Member – $300, Lodges – $30, and individual membership – $20.
The Boock Estate Fund
In early 1992 the amount of $306,000, was received from the Grand Lodge of New Zealand, being the accumulated funds of a bequest from the will of W.Bro. H. L (Harry) Boock, PGO. These funds had been held in abeyance, by the Grand Lodge Treasurer for many years due to a concern about the interpretation of the terms of the bequest. Due to accruing interest, the original amount had increased many fold over the long period. Agreement had been reached between the Trust and the Grand Lodge of NZ regarding the administration and use of funds. In keeping with Bro. Boock’s wishes, the funds were to be used to assist elderly masons and their widows to remain in their own homes. This fund is administered separately and today assists elderly Brethren and Masonic widows to maintain their ‘Quality of Life’ in their own homes.
The birth of the Otago Freemasons’ Charity
The name the Otago Masonic Charitable Trust had been in force for 41 years, but times change and it became clear that researchers did not understand that the OMCT was actually and ‘active’ charity. So on 15 August 2016, our name became the Otago Freemasons’ Charity. The suggestion had been made earlier in May, by W.Bro. Brian Coutts, mainly to reflect how the Trust was now perceived in the new millennia. The name of the Otago Masonic Charitable Trust, however, has been retained for posterity as the charity’s trading name.
Throughout the Trust’s history there have only been four Secretaries: Bro. W. C. Whitworth, Bro. D. B. Mayfield (Hon Life – 2000), Bro. A. E. Knight, and presently Bro. Grant R. Watson. Likewise there have only been two treasurers Bro. R. J. Cook (Hon Life – 1979) and Bro. L. A. Green. Only two Honorary Solicitors, Bro. T. E. M. Barton and Bro. N. S. Marquet. This has to be some sort of a record in itself.
Grants from the Otago Freemasons’ Charity
It would be a considerable list if every recipient of a grant from the Trust was recorded. The total amount from a small Trust is enormous.
Starting with the Maryhill Masonic Cottages, then the Ranui Home for the Aged, and on to cover every part of Otago, with amounts ranging in scope from 100 dollars up to many thousands. Notable recipients though include Ross Home, the Otago Hospice, Taieri Court, Tapanui Hospital and the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Other worthy recipients include, schools, early learning centres, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, foodbanks, sports clubs, the Air Training Corps, outward bound organizations, the list is considerable and varied. The Trust has also purchased and loaned mobility scooters for the use of disabled Brethren.
In 2005, the Otago Masonic Charitable Trust also took over the administration of the Port Chalmers Marine Lodge Bursary Trust that, annually, assists a student from the Port Chalmers area toward the cost of tertiary education. Therefore the Trust administers several other entities.
The Youth Development Programme
The Otago Freemasons’ Charity also promotes a Youth Development Programme which is centred around sending young people from the Otago region, on a Personal Development course. At present this is via a Course management provider called ‘Elwing Discoveries’ who provide a one-week Outdoor Adventure and Personal Development Course based at Stewart Island on-board a yacht the “Elwing”. The programme caters for 10 participants. Associated with this the participants also sit two NZ Coastguard Certificate courses.
The Boock Estate Fund
The Trust operates a separate fund, which was established from a bequest by W.Bro. Harry Boock. This Fund is administered by the Trust via a separate sub-committee, and has separate Guidelines. Grants are made at any time during the year. Grants are to elderly Brethren, their wives, widows and family, to help maintain their ‘Quality of Life’ in their own homes or residences. Grants are administered by the Lodge who makes the Application for Boock Estate funding.
Port Chalmers Marine Lodge Bursary Trust
The Port Chalmers Marine Lodge, English Constitution, ceased to meet in Otago in 2005, but its members wished the name to be preserved and to provide assistance to the youth of the Port Chalmers District. A separate trust was established with the objective of providing a Bursary towards higher education. The funds are administered by the Otago Masonic Charitable Trust, under a separate set of Rules and Guidelines. A selection committee appointed by the OMCT administers the awarding of the Bursary.
Fred Staub Open Art:
In 2013 V.W.Bro Fred Staub left as part of his Will, a bequest to the OMCT for Educational purposes. Because of his long association with the teaching of art in Dunedin, including being a Head of School, at the Dunedin School of Art, the OMCT initiated an association with the Otago Polytechnic / Dunedin School of Art. After some discussion it was agreed that this would take the form of biannual donations to support the Schools annual programme of seminars, exhibitions and ‘Artists in Residence’. This expanded programme is now called “Fred Staub open Art”. The majority of these events are open to the public, but also add to the students opportunities for interacting with ‘out of Dunedin’ artists and art experts in a number of fields.
The Otago Freemasons’ Charity continues to evolve, both in its operations to meet the needs of the community and in practical action encompassing the Masonic tenets of Benevolence and Charity. Working as part of the Otago Masonic charitable avenues, in association with individual Lodges, and Grand Lodge schemes, the Otago Freemasons’ Charity will, God willing, have a continuing long and useful future.
- D. Munro, G. R. Watson, J. L. Wren-Potter
If you would like to learn more about the history of the Otago Freemasons’ Charity, there is an excellent whitepaper available, authored by W.Bro. Reverend G. D. Munro (and now in book form). Bro. Munro presented this to the OMCT who, to allow better availability to everyone, has donated it to the Research Lodge of Otago Library, housed in the Dunedin Masonic Centre, 43 Manor Place, Market Reserve, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand.
Where it all started – Dunedin’s Maryhill Masonic Cottages were opened with great ceremony on 10 February 1968.