History of Lodge of Fiji
Suva was proclaimed the new capital of Fiji in 1877. As preparations continued for the official move from Levuka in 1882, moves were afoot to establish a Masonic Lodge. On 12 July, 1881 the United Grand Lodge of England issued a warrant for the establishment of the Lodge of Fiji, No.1931 at ‘Suva Na Viti Levu in the Colony of Fiji’. The Warrant was signed and sealed by the Grand Master, M. W. Bro. Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.
The new Lodge met for the first time on 2nd of May, 1882, in the “Masonic Room” of Sturt’s Hotel, located on part of the site where the Morris Hedstrom main store was located. Twenty brethren attended this first meeting.
At the first meeting the by-laws of the Lodge St. John 1030 EC were adopted ‘for the time being’. The initiation fee was fixed at 10 Guineas (more than FJ$1000 in modern purchasing power).
The Lodge’s First Home
Bro. W. T. Sturt eventually felt the need to demolish his hotel and rebuild it. This necessitated that the lodge find a new meeting place at the Good Templar’s Hall in Loftus St.
This location had some disadvantages. Brethren had to walk some distance to the ‘town’ (then concentrated in the Toorak area); and the Good Templars, a temperance organisation, frowned on ‘some slight refreshments being taken during the intervals awaiting the preparation of candidates.
In 1890 a building fund was established, and in August 1891 the Lodge paid 125 pounds for a piece of land at the corner of Butt St. and Macarthur St.(the present day Merchant’s Club). On 24th June 1892 in the presence of 54 brethren, the Chief Justice of Fiji, W. Bro. Henry Berkeley, laid the foundation stone of the a Masonic Hall. The same brother dedicated the hall on 9 November 1894.
The Lodge’s new home stimulated attendance and also helped in the collection of outstanding dues, amounting at the time to 160 pounds. Even so with the building of extensions for the supper room in 1903 the lodge had to go into debt. This was ameliorated somewhat by letting out the supper room for outside functions (in 1908 it was used as Police Court).
Nonetheless, finances were tight and in 1909 it was decided to have no refreshments in the South, and replace the usual supper with biscuits and cheese.
In 1921 the lodge spent 134 pounds to provide electric lighting equipment, drawing power from the plant installed by the town council the previous year.
Building maintenance were heavy burden on the Lodge’s finances. In October 1920, timber piles had to be replaced and the total cost of repairs was 293 pounds.
In 1921, a mortgage of 750 pounds was raised and Bro. V. S. Hargrave took the initiative in proposing that brethren be invited to take debentures of one pound each. Another fund-raising measure introduced was a supper levy of two shillings and expense (approximately FJ $11 in modern purchasing power) for each meeting.
The financial situation gradually improved and in January 1925 it had become possible to consider paying of the outstanding debentures. This was done in March 1927 and the Treasurer was reported that there was in the bank account a credit balance of 17 pounds, the first such balance in more than 30 years.
The Lodge in War time
World War I had little direct on Fiji but the martial spirit in engendered in the members in the Lodge showed in resolution on 9 July, 1915 that no more German lager was to be bought.
World War II affected the lodge in a number of respects some of them far reaching.
With the mobilisation of men in the 1940s, stepped up after the Pearl Harbour attack of late 1941, almost all the members were in the armed forces or auxiliary services. This made regular meeting difficult. The imposition of curfews further limited meeting times.
In 1942, the Lodge supper room was requisitioned by the United States Army as a store and for two years the brethren met in the South in a narrow corridor between bales of mosquito nets, blankets and military clothing, piled to the ceiling.
The dislocation of the war years caused a heavy drop in the number of those seeking membership. In 1940 there were no initiates or joining members. In 1941 there were two initiates and in 1942 and 1943 there were three.
The Move from Butt St
As the years went by, the deterioration of the Butt St. building became increasingly apparent, and in 1930 a Building Reserve Fund was opened with the Government Savings Bank. Fifty pounds would be contributed annually for ordinary lodge funds, and money from hire of the supper hall would also be paid into the account.
While the original plan had been to rebuild on the same site, in 1947 W. Bro C. W. Pugh and others suggested that the Butt St. property could be sold and the Lodge could build elsewhere with the proceeds. In 1949 the Lodge purchased two lots in Gladstone Rd. from W. Bro. I. H. McIlwain, of Rewa Lodge of Viti, for the sum of 1200 Pounds.
In 1952 the Butt St. property was sold to the newly established Merchant’s Club, for the sum of 5450 Pounds, and the Lodge vacated the premises 15 months later.
The new building cost a total of 10,000 Pounds. Seven thousand pounds were available from the Building Reserve Fund and the proceeds of the sale of the Butt St. property. Lodge Polynesia loaned a further 2,500 Pounds at an annual interest rate of 4.5%
On 5th November 1953 the Lodge met for the last time in Butt St, exactly 59 years after the temple was dedicated by W. Bro. Berkeley. On 5th December, 1953 the new temple was dedicated by V. W. Munro, and W. Bro the Rev. S. G. Cowled, head of the Methodist Church in Fiji delivered the oration.
For the first half the life of the lodge the membership was almost exclusively European. Since independence many things have changed and the Lodge of Fiji has changed as well. To an increasing extent in the past few decades those seeking initiation have been locally born. All barriers whether overt or covert, arising from race or religion or national origin or from suspicion that Freemasonry is an exclusive, elite or a sinister secret organisation have vanished, and they will not reappear.
It goes forward, therefore, into its second century with confidence – a Lodge not only in, but of Fiji.