Link to Takver's Initiatives Link to Benefit Societies Index

IN THE 1840'S and 1850's.

Dr Bob James.
January, 2001.


See this and other items on Friendly Society, Freemason and Trade Union history...INCLUDING:

All on





The GUOOF 1948 Centenary book, 100 Grand United Years, contains a 'Foreword' by the Prime Minister of Ausralia, Mr JB Chifley, and a message from the then Premier of New South Wales, Mr James McGirr.

The Prime Minister congratulated the Grand United on a 'century of useful and successsful endeavour' assuring his audience that such an event was 'of great importance to its members and to the nation.'1 Mr McGirr wrote:

The GUOOF creation of a Community Settlement embracing homes for aged members, which is already so far developed as to house 13 aged couples in comfort in the eventide of their lives constitutes a distinct advance in conception of social responsibility.. 2

The Premier went on:

..while the War Memorial Hospital, projected primarily for the accommodation of aged, infirm and bedridden members, is a most worthy and graceful tribute to the memory of over 700 members of the Order who paid the supreme sacrifice in World Wars I and II.

Recent research has provided material to up date the basic claim on which that Centenary Celebration was built. The book claims the first Australian lodge, 'Travellers' Home', for the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was founded in October, 1848. 3

It implies that the Sydney Sub-Committee of Management [SCoM] was established in the same month, by referring to a letter from Sydney dated 3 October, 1848. 4

Thirdly, permission to open a 'Grand Masters' Council'5 was supposedly given to the Sydney SCoM on 19/10/1848, the date shown on the relevant document. The authors of the 1948 book realised something was amiss with these dates but did not examine them further. They do express pleasure that the 1948 Centenary General Meeting was held on 19 October, and that it was held in the David Jones Staff Room, supposedly 'the actual site where the Society was established 100 years ago.'6


it's simply not possible to have a 'Grand Masters' Council' until at least two persons have served a term as 'Noble Grand' of a lodge,

since there must have been a 'Sub-Committee of Management' to send the letter of request which was allegedly acceded to in the UK on 19 October, 1848,

since one would think there would be no need for a 'Sub-Committee of Management' until there was at least a District to administer,

since any District would have required more than one lodge, and

since letters between Sydney and the UK took at least 5 months,

the claimed date for the establishment of 'Travellers' Home' must be wrong.

It turns out that in 1908 Grand Secretary Herron and the Committee of Management determined that 1848 was the year to celebrate from that time on - why? GS Herron says because that was the year a dispensation was granted to form a SCM and therefore it was not until that year that the Society 'could claim to have been established in Australia.'7 Perhaps this explains the vague way in which the early history is dealt with in the 1908 Diamond Jubilee Booklet, and how that seems to have led, only 40 years later, to the 1948 book claiming that the first lodge was established in 1848.

Other 'problems' with the 'official' founding story concern the acknowledged founder, 'James Reid', who is said to have emigrated to NSW in 1844. 8

The 1948 book says there is no local evidence for GUOOF before 1851 raising the question of where the information used by authors Smedley and Ridley came from.

The date of the 1st lodge's founding has to be much earlier, possibly 1844 and probably 1846 (perhaps both! see below) and the date of establishment for the SCM has to be at least early in 1847 when there were at least 2 GUOOF lodges in Sydney.


Thornley's History of GUOOF quotes UK Directories showing that Travellers' Home, No 731, had 100 members in 1845. 'Reid' had been given a Dispensation in 1844 to take out to Australia with him and it is possible that Head Office was just filling in a blank with a hopeful guess and a round number. However, Thornley also refers to an 1844-45 account against 'a NSW Lodge No 731' for 1/2/6. 9

The 1845 Committee of Management Reports (UK) show operating Lodge numbers in Britain at that time to have passed '731' the number which fell to 'Travellers Home'. The 1845 Directory also shows Sydney as 'District 62'.

Given the time taken by letters, I have to assume that if this information is accurately recorded in the UK, that GUOOF began in Australia in 1844.

UK Grand Master Terry claimed at the 1847 AGM that other Dispensations had been requested that year by 'the Lodge in Sydney'. To the 1848 gathering he claimed that two 'NSW' lodges had been opened in 1848. 10 If true, these must have been early in that year, so that correspondence could be sent from Australia and received before the end of the year. If all this is accurate GUOOF had at least 3 lodges by the end of 1848.

George Brown, acclaimed in the 20th century as 'Father of Grand United in Australia', made a number of statements about 'the first lodge' including that it was established in Sydney in 1845. 11

The NSW Manchester Unity Oddfellows Magazine for 14 March, 1900 in an article of early lodge history says that

The year 1844 saw the Grand United Order of Oddfellows introduced into the colony by the opening of the Travellers' Home Lodge in Sydney. 12

A 1908 book by Curtis claims a GUOOF lodge in South Australia in 1847. 13

In evidence before a Commission of Inquiry in 1881, A L Smith, the then GUOOF Secretary, was asked how old GUOOF was in NSW. He answered:

I am not aware of the exact date on which the first Lodge or Branch was founded in the Society, but I am aware that our Society was registered in 1848. But there were Branches in existence some years before that. 14

He gave no references. I have read the whole 400 pages of the evidence to this Royal Commission but there is nothing further.

The records of the Sydney-based Registrar of Societies show that the Sydney District of GUOOF was registered on 7 June, 1848.

And in 1848, and still well before GUOOF supposedly existed at all, Bro Thomas Threlfall, PM, [NB the title] travelled to Melbourne and opened 'The Felix Lodge' at 'the house' [ie pub] of Brother Charles Ollis, at 'the sign of the Apollo, corner of Russel Street and Flinders-Lane,' as No 923, GUO. Threlfall's dramatic announcement in the Melbourne Argus claimed:

that GUOOF was the only Order of Odd Fellows in the British Dominions which had been granted a Royal Charter;

this Royal Charter had been granted by George III;


that the decision to establish lodges in the District of Port Phillip, ie, Victoria, had been made by the Sydney Committee of Management in 1847 after permission to do so had been granted by the UK CoM. 15

Reading back from Threlfall's announcement again tells the reader that a request from Sydney to establish lodges in Victoria was probably made in 1844-5.

UK 1848 records show a 'Lodge No 922' at Canterbury, Victoria. The 1948 book does not mention this Lodge or No 923 but does show 'Lodge No 932' at Melbourne, which suggests a transposition of figures. Only the first of these numbers is within the range of 6 Dispensation numbers despatched to Sydney in 1847-48, Nos 922-927. A further 6 numbers, 981-986, are known to have been despatched in 1847-48, which suggests that at least six lodges were being or were already established by the end of 1848. 16 Correspondence from 'Melbourne GUOOF' received in the UK on or before 3/8/1853 claimed 14 Lodges 'around Melbourne'. 17 The 1948 book is able to name only 3 in Victoria by that time.

George III is supposed to have been 'ga ga' at various times, but if he had granted a Royal Charter to GUOOF, it would have been before 1820 which is when he died, a time when both MUIOOF and IOOF were still 'illegal societies'.

The strong possibility is that a first lodge was established in 1844/45 by 'Reid' but did not achieve sufficient strength, indeed had collapsed, was inactive for a period and had to be re-formed after letters had gone to the UK informing Head Office of the initial development. Thus, a new Travellers' Home, a SubCM, a Sydney Council's Chapter and 'Reid's' appointment as Grand Master all perhaps occurred in 1848 within a few weeks or months of one another. The fact that ads for the 5th anniversary celebrations for 'Travellers Home' appears in 1851, thus pointing to 1846 as the beginning date, may indicate that year as the re-formation date.

But the evidence so far also strongly suggests that there was quite a lot of lodge-building going on, but that because of local circumstances many of them did not 'take'. The detailed story of the ructions in Sydney and Melbourne at the time which probably had a lot to do with GUOOF failures is told elsewhere.

The distinct impression is that over its time Grand United has cared too little for its own history and has particularly neglected the memory of its pioneers. It would seem logical to conclude that Grand United can't blame anyone else for its visibility problem amongst the public, or for the fact that Governments since 1948 have treated it rather carelessly.


GUOOF Organisation at 'Home':

Thornley is quite scathing about the 'stupid and illegal' methods being employed by GUOOF Head Office in Leeds during the 1840's and 1850's. He calls that bodies' treatment of Sydney brethren, with regard to the precise question of the powers of the SubCM, as 'a tissue of insolent abuse and ignorant bombast.' Thornley concludes from available evidence that the Sydney SCM was not approved in the required manner, and when Melbourne brethren asked for local autonomy in the early 1850's, Sydney was not consulted nor its competence examined.

Sydney District, which at the time was claiming to be the 'Grand Lodge of New South Wales', did complain that on the 28th of March, 1849, 'head office' had stated:

The Sub-Committee of Management, Sydney, is the head of the Society in that part of the Globe, and nothing will be done by the Committee of Management, England, without reference to and approval of the Committee of Management of Sydney. 18

Thornley is apparently unaware that a 'Grand Masters' Council' had been established in Sydney, so it would seem that this authorisation was not made 'in the approved manner', either. His account of the origins of Grand United in the USA and in India during the same years of 1844-45 indicates that the pioneer brothers in those places were dealt with in exactly the same way and may very well have proceeded 'in their own way' as well.

In general, Thornley says of this critical period in GUOOF history:

From 1839 to 1853-4, the power of choosing the members to form the [GUOOF] CM was delegated by the meetings to the Leeds District, and with this foolish, illegal and retrograde movement, a period of twenty years mismanagement commenced, such as no present day member can have any conception of. 19 [My emphasis]

This twenty years is the period of the Grand Mastership of George Terry, the very man who made some of the references to the 1844 existence of 'the Sydney lodge' (above) meaning that those claims rest upon the credibility of a rather doubtful character. On the other hand, why would he lie? To strengthen his position?

The symbol on the 1848 'Grand Masters' Council' Charter is different to that on an individual 'Council Masters' Certificate shown in the 1948 book and dated 1854. 20 At first glance, one might think the 1848-dated item to be the older and that this explains its look which is certainly reminiscent of older types of engraving. But Thornley explains that the Charter dated 1848 was actually created after 1854, probably in 1859. He spends a lot of time showing that new Dispensations printed in 1857-58 had different wording, and that they listed the whole of the CoM which the earlier, the 1854 version did not.

These new Charters were not originally intended to replace the old, but (UK) GM Terry insisted that already-established lodges destroy their original Dispensations after copying the relevant information onto the new form. Thus, the Sydney 'Council Masters'' Charter has all the names of the English CoM in the one handwriting. All of which means it was filled in in Sydney, probably in 1859, and that the date of 19 October, 1848, is the date the activating resolution was passed at an AGM in England and has no relevance to anything happening in Australia.

Thornley points out that personnel on the UK CoM changed continuously, so it may be possible to determine the date this Charter was actually 'filled in' by close scrutiny of UK records. Terry was GM for the whole of the relevant period up to 1859 so that doesn't help, but GS Holroyd, whose name appears on the document, died in 1854. 21


Sydney Pubs and Newspapers:

Whatever one thinks of the detail of this, it would be fair to assume that Sydney GUOOF must have been less than impressed by their dealings with 'Head office' and that this must have had local consequences.

While some other Orders in Sydney and Melbourne were very public about their meetings and celebrations, GUOOF at the time either could not afford any public notices of its doings or was taking its need for secrecy very seriously. No Sydney Morning Herald [SMH] notice of GUOOF appears before the mid-1850's, apart from one funeral notice, interestingly dated 20 October, 1848.

Sydney District minutes, which are available from 1851, are unusual in not showing any interest among the membership in annual celebrations. However, an 1851 newspaper advertisement does show that a procession on the '5th Ann of the Order' took place that year, in May, strongly suggesting May 1846 as GUOOF's founding, or re-founding, date. It also suggests that celebrations and expenditure of funds on conviviality were not universally popular within the Order, or that there was another set of minutes kept for certain purposes such as annual celebrations. There does seem to have been plenty of funds, at least by 1851, the SubCoM minutes for 5/2/1851 saying that 625 was remitted by Sydney to the UK Board of Management.

Other sources indicate pressure to get meetings out of hotels. As Cyril Pearl has made clear:

The Sydney of the eighteen-fifties..was a dirty, intimate, hard-drinking, evil-smelling town... 22

In the Sydney police district there were 400 pubs, about one to every 112 inhabitants, men, women and children. Sussex Street had 29, Pitt Street 30 and George Street, from Church Hill to the Haymarket, 90. Just for the flavour, there was one house, 6-roomed, at 142 George Street, officially counted as 'accommodating' 323 Chinese.

It may not be important to note that the relevant pub for the 'Grand Masters Council', the 'Currency Lass' (cnr Hunter and Pitt Streets), is not the pub where 'Travellers Home' was supposedly opened, which was the Star Inn. My work so far on all the Orders in Sydney in the 1840's indicates a lot of instability and suggests that hotel-owners were engaged in what would be called today 'competitive tendering', if not outright graft and corruption. The complete story of this concerns MUIOOF, IOOF, the Australian Grand Lodge [Odd Fellows] established in 1836 and the Freemasons. But the main reason GUOOF doesn't feature in that account is only because of a lack of records.

There were certainly plenty of GUOOF ructions in the 1850's. Threlfall was expelled from 'Travellers Home' in 1851, and on the basis of a report from Melbourne District he was unceremoniously booted out of GUOOF altogether, on 17 July.

Grand Treasurer Richardson was another not coming up to expectations, the minutes of 5/11/1851 recording that he was to be asked to hand over the cash and his books to the newly-installed 'temporary' Treasurer, Deputy Grand Master Bro Tucker. Unrecorded in the list of Grand Masters, Bro White was elected to that top job in February 1852 but lasted only a month, being replaced by the re-called 'James Reid' in March. 23

Melbourne District was still opening lodges in 1853. A Charter for them was to be written in Sydney by the Grand Secretary in that year. John Shipway, Grand Secretary in 1855, who appears briefly in the story of the turbulent 1840's, but in another Order, was shown the door by GUOOF in 1855. Trouble seems to have concerned a box of goods recently received from England addressed to the Sub-Committee of Management but for which 'no account has been received.' It was decided that 'should no satisfactory answers be given by Bro Shipway to an appointed delegation, legal proceedings were to be taken immediately.'

A further Treasurer was asked to return all books in 1859 and to please explain a deficiency. 24 Not long after, the Order was requesting a loan of 100 from 'Home', ie, England, and having to expel the Sons of Perseverance Lodge, which was perhaps a first for GUOOF in Australia. 25


George Brown and Problems with the 1948 story of 'James Reid':

In the 1948 book it is claimed that James Reid 'emigrated to Australia' in 1844, that he established Travellers Home Branch, No 731, in October, 1848, and that he was Grand Master from that date to 1853 when ill-health forced his retirement 'from that office and from his means of livelihood.' According to this report, GUOOF subsequently paid him a pension until his death in 1872. I have been unable to find any 'office' reference to a pension.

His state of health perhaps derived from wounds received at the Battle of Waterloo where he was sabred across the face and had a metal plate placed in his skull. The accompanying photo shows him wearing British regalia, which might mean that he was already quite old when he came to NSW, or that he wore his UK regalia in Sydney and that this photo was taken not long before his death. Where is the original of this photo?



According to 'Shipping Arrivals' no 'James Reid' (or Read/Reed/Rede/Reede) arrived in Sydney in 1844 - the only possible arrival, as 'Assisted Migrant or Unassisted' is 'Capt AW Reed, 99th Regiment' and he came from Norfolk Island where he had been Consul General. 26 Army Pay books for the 99th show Capt Reed (NB spelling) left the Regt during May, 1844. 27

The 1908 Souvenir book also claims that 'James Reid' died in 1872. An entry in the Sydney Council Masters' Sacred Scroll records the death of our 'James Reid' in 1864. Again, these dates can't both be right. As it happens both are wrong.

There are no references to 'James Reid' in the printed Reports of GUOOF Quarterly and Biennial Meetings until 1884 when at a 'Grand Masters Council' Annual Banquet, there was a

toast to the memory of the late PGM Bro Read [NB spelling], whose history in the craft as its founder in New South Wales (was) reviewed with suitable feeling. 28

Why that year for a memorial, if not because that was when he died? Again, the official death records show no 'James Reid' (or 'Read') dying in 1884, anywhere.

It turns out that the correct spelling of the name of the man we're looking for is 'James Read' and that he died on 14 April, 1869, aged 75. This means he was born around 1794, which would make him just 21 when he entered the Waterloo battle field, and was struck down by a French Hussar. The death notice in the newspaper is brief:



So, the 1848 establishment date is wrong, various GUOOF sources are wrong in fundamental ways, including when this man died, and even how he spelt his name, so perhaps no credibility can be placed on any of the claimed biography. Where did the notes in the 1948 book come from?

It seems to me that the 'Reid' notes came to Brothers Smedley and Ridley and thus into the 1948 book by way of Brother George Brown. It's noticeable that he is given special treatment:

In 1865 one of the Society's most picturesque figures in Brother George Brown appears for the first time in the records having been elected a member of a Committee commissioned to draft a set of by-laws for the Braidwood District. Brother Brown was to have so remarkable and long a career as to rightly entitle him to be called "The Father of the Grand United in New South Wales." 29

As I've already said Brother George Brown actually joined Grand United in 1853, the 11 of July, to be exact, and he joined Travellers' Home. A full biography was printed on the front page of The Oddfellow at his death in July, 1923 and shows this and numerous other details. 30



He certainly lived at Braidwood for some time and later moved to Ashfield where he was Mayor in 1908. More importantly, the obituary also says that in 1840 when he was 13 or so, his family moved to Norfolk Island because his father had been appointed in charge of the convicts, and that they returned to Sydney in 1845.

Thus, we must think again about 'Captain AW Reed' of the 99th Regiment who was 'Consul-General' on Norfolk Island some time before 1844. The military background fits, and it was the 99th Regiment Band which was used at a lot of 1840's lodge gatherings in Sydney. It's not impossible that the 'Read/Reid/Reed' is the same person, but perhaps 'our' 'James Reid' was part of 'Captain AW Reed''s family and came to Sydney in 1844 specifically to meet up with his relatives. The 1844 'emigration' date might actually refer to his arrival in Sydney from his Pacific posting - a disabled veteran could have been posted to a sinecure like Consul-General at Norfolk Island. There must be relevant Island records, somewhere. It does not easily explain, though, why when he died he is shown as 'labourer'.

Brown was an adolescent on Norfolk Island and perhaps taking an interest in military matters. When he joined at age 21 the GUOOF membership was only 300. He and Read could hardly have missed one another, and they were both members of 'Travellers' Home.' When James Read was buried, at Canterbury Cemetery31 it was George Brown who officiated at the service. What a pity no-one thought to interview Brown (or Read for that matter) and solve some of the mysteries about the origins of Grand United.




DividerGoto Page Top

How to contact Dr Bob James
Snail mail: P.O. Box 1078, Brunswick M.D.C., Victoria, 3056, Australia
This Page is linked from:
Last modified: February 12, 2001