Our latest Significance Assessment – for the fascinating Freemasons Victoria collection – has opened our eyes to the tradition, ritual, ceremony and symbolism of the organisation. Freemasonry in Victoria is almost as old as Melbourne itself, with the first meeting to propose forming a lodge held in 1839, just four years after the settlement was founded. However, its origins date much earlier. Most commonly traced to medieval English stonemasons’ guilds, modern Freemasonry was officially established in London in 1717, and from the formation of the Grand Lodge of England it spread first across Europe and then around the globe.
The Freemasons Victoria collection is particularly rich in material relating to the development of the fraternal organisation in Victoria, documenting the earliest meetings to create the Lodge of Australia Felix and the growth of subsequent lodges, the consolidation of the English, Irish and Scottish Constitutions, and the successful formation of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria. It also holds important early European material – from bibles to Masonic regalia (the collar, jewel, apron and gauntlets [cuffs] worn by Freemasons) – that enable investigation into the adaption of Masonic traditions in Australia alongside its spread from Europe to the new British colonies.
Many objects intrigued us, revealing as they did the centuries-long use of symbolism from the stonemason’s square and compass – the symbol of Freemasonry worldwide – to the architectural motifs and natural elements (stars, clouds, the sun and the moon) found on a variety of objects and regalia. Others surprised us, such as the collection of Masonic philately depicting members of lodges around the world. On others still we admired artistic skill, including the beautifully-worked ceremonial trowels, jewels (the badges worn by office bearers) and hand-painted Masonic aprons. It’s a collection that will continue to surprise and delight, but also to reveal knowledge, ideas, stories and memories central to Freemasonry.