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Early Days of Fremantle:

The first Good Templar lodges

J.K. Hitchcock

Hitchcock, J.K. 1921, 'The first Good Templar lodges', Fremantle Times, Friday 14 January 1921: 2.

"Dropt from its zenith like a falling star ' the once powerful Order of Good Templary seems to have spent its force, for we hear little of it nowadays. Originating in New York in 1851 it soon established itself in all parts of the world, spreading in due course to Australia where it reached its meridian in the mid seventies.

Fifty years ago there was ample scope for its activities, for hard drinking amongst all classes was then much more prevalent than it is now. In those days no social function wedding, christening or even funeral would be considered "comme il faut" unless an ample supply of liquid refreshment was provided for the occasion, and no business deal of any moment would be concluded with out the contracting parties clinking their glasses at the nearest pub.

Such were the conditions when Good Templary made its appearance in Western Australia, and gained a widespread popularity due, I think, more to the opportunities it afforded for social intercourse than to any deep-rooted conversion of its adherents to total abstinence principles.

The fame of the Order as an organisation pre-eminently adapted to combat the drink evil had reached our shores long before an opportunity of establishing it here presented itself. Its "John the Baptist" in this State was a Mr. Ackrill, a visitor from Victoria. He was a ribald teetotaller, but an inveterate smoker, and during his stay here delivered numerous lectures on temperance in conjunction with that veteran reformer, the late Thomas Farmer, in the course of which he strongly advocated the formation of local lodges. Mr. Ackrill, however, although a Good Templar, did not possess the necessary authority to institute lodges, and so an opportunity of introducing the Order here did not present itself until the early part of 1873, when the late C. W. Gray, of Geraldton, returned from a visit to Melbourne armed with full power from the Grand Lodge of Victoria to institute subordinate lodges in this State.

The first lodge formed was the "Light of the West," No. 1, which was opened in Perth early in 1873, its meeting place being the old Wesley chapel in William-street. In a very short time it had a numerous and influential membership, and if the success which followed upon the inception of the Order had continued the whole State would soon have been one vast Good Templar lodge with the Premier as Chief Templar and the Governor as Lodge Deputy.

Lodge No. 4 was instituted by Bro. Wm. Adlam, D.G.W.C.T. and a contingent of other gaudily regaliaed officers from the Perth Lodge. I had the privilege of being a charter member of this first Fremantle lodge, and with about twenty others was initiated into the mysteries of the Order in an upstairs room in the old building which still stands on the south-east corner of High and Queen-streets. Originally this building was the Rose and Crown Hotel, but at the time I speak of its basement was used as the Government Girls' School.

The first officers of the lodge were:— Rev. J. Johnston. Lodge Deputy and Chaplain; G. B. Humble, Worthy Chief Templar (all officers had the prefex 'Worthy"); Edward H. Higham, Vice Templar; John Dunne, Secretary; Harry White, Assistant Secretary; Francis Lindsay, Treasurer; your humble servant, Financial Secretary; Thomas Haley, Marshal; Wm. Simmons, Inside Guard; Michael Nugent, Outside Guard; Miss Urquhart, Deputy Marshal; Mrs. Humble and Mrs. Lindsay Right and Left Hand Supporters. At every succeeding meeting we had quite a rush of candidates for initiation so that the room in which we met soon became too small for our ever increasing numbers.

We were offered a larger room down stairs in the same building, but some of our members were so obsessed with the importance of guarding the momentous secrets reposed in them that they strongly objected to meeting in a downstairs room lest some prying individal might become possessed of their signs and pass words by peeping through the windows or listening at the key-hole. The upshot was that, after a heated discussion, it was decided that we must have an upstairs room at all costs. Then the difficulty arose that no room suitable to our requirements could be secured in the whole town except on prohibitive terms.

Ultimately a compromise was effected between the opposing factions by the selection of the old Government Boys School in Adelaide-terrace as the windows in that building were too high up to permit of any one peering through without the aid of a ladder, whilst listeners at the key-hole could be dealt with by the Outside Guard.

Having settled in our new quarters matters went smoothly for a time. More candidates were initiated at every meeting, peace and harmony prevailed, and all went ''merry as a marriage bell." Then a change came o'er the scene. Certain members had taken umbrage at some action of the secretary (John Dunne) and by way of retaliation they sang through the streets as they went home from lodge some doggrel verses improvised by one of their number, the refrain of which was "We'll hang John Dunne to a sour apple tree, as we go marching home."

This was very reprehensible, no doubt, but hardly warranted the fuss that was made over it. A charge was laid against these merry roisterers at the next meeting and a committee was appointed to investigate the same. During the next week a summons was served upon each of the delinquents calling upon them to attend before the committee in the ante-room of the lodge on a certain evening to answer the charge.

These summonses were imposing documents. drawn up with legal verbiage, and read, so far as I can remember, something like this: "Whereas you, John Jones being a member of the Fremantle Lodge. No. 4. I.O.G.T.. after leaving the lodge room on the night of the 20th instant, did sing or join in singing a certain ribald song in which the words were used 'We'll han<? John Dunne to a sour ar>nle tree,* with intent therebv to brinq- the said John Dunne the respected i=ecretary of thp aforemetioned lodge, into contempt and ridicule, now you, the said John Jones, are Jiereoy summoned to appear before the unaeiei^ned committee duly appointed by the' said lo„ge, at the lodge- 100m. on Wenesday next the 24th inst, and then and there show cause why you should not be adjudged guilty and be expelled from the said lodge for conact unworthy of a Good Templar and calculated to bring our noble Order into disrepute. Herein fail not on pain of peremptory expulsion."

The accused duly appeared to Answer the charge, and pleaded "Not Guilty." borne of them declared that John Brown and not John Dunne, was the gentleman whom they had expressed their intention of -suspending from a sour apple tree, whilst others maintained that even if guilty of decreeing such an ignoble fate for John Dunne it did not necessarily follow that the particular John Dunne mentioned in the charge was identical with the one they had referred to, the name of John Dunne not being protected by letters patent as being the sole and exclusive property of the lodge secretary.

They contended, moreover, that in their song it was asserted that "John Dunne's whisky bottle lies empty on the shore." This, they maintained, was clear proof that they did not refer to Bro. "John Dunne, as it was well known that his partly full whisky bottle was still reposing safely in his cupboard inhere it was kept for medicinal purposes, and labelled 'not to be taken on lodge nights/' On these grounds they claimed an acquittal.

A host of witnesses on both sides having been examined, the committee considered their verdict, and in due course reported to the lodge that they found the . accused guilty and recommended that they be expelled. This was confirmed by the lodge, and I verily believe that some of the members, if they had the power would have sentenced the nerpretrators of the heinous offence to immolation in a brewery for the term of their natural lives.

On another occasion a member, who was employed in the Customs' bonded store, was charged with being "under the influence." He pleaded that his condition was due to jtilmliTig the fues of over-proof rum, of which he had been bottling off samples in the "ourse of his duties. _ This plea was accented with some misgivings, but the "hard word" was put upon him later • hen he came to the lodore with a hfe xvy load of "fames'* faintly camouflaged by ~n aroma of clones.

Notwithstanding that our normal state of tranquility was sometimes disturbed by such little incidents as these, the usuai weekly meetings were, on the -1-oJo pleasant and harmonious. The T interest of the young people was ke.rt up bv means of entertainments tea meetings and occasional picnic excurs : ons up the river in Green'8 grimy paddle steamer known as the "Puffing 3illy."

Not the least of the attractions were the opportunities afforded for cultivating the acquaintance of the opposite sex; the brotherly and sisterly relations enjoined by the Order often developed ito attachments -of a more ardent na!- ture, and many of the grey bearded grandfathers and grandmothers of the uresent day first met their affinities in a Good Templar lodge room.

But a tendency soon manifested itself among a section of the members to make the lodge too exclusive, and wholesale blackoalling of candidates becae the order of the day, so that it became almost as diuicult for any one to get in to the lodge as for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of a needle. The late Mr. E. H. Higham, who was one of the most energetic members, strongly protested against this, as did several other members. Their remonstrances, however, were of no avail, BO the onlv alternative left to the more liberal minded members was to start another lodge on more democratic lines, and this they decided to o with Mr. aierham at their head.

As a result the "Excelsior" Lodge was founded, about the middle of 1875. I think its official number was 12, but am not sure, though I ought to remember as I was its secretary for three terms and Chief Templar 'for one term, and re-elected for a second term when I resigned for reasons stated later. Mr. E. H. Higham was its first Chief Templar; John Beatty,"Vice Templar; Ezakiel Beatty. Secretary; and Thos. Skaife, Chaplain and Organist. I forget who the other officers were.

The Excelsior lodge had its first and many subsequent meetings in a large up stairs room of the premises in Henry-street now occupied by the Workers' Club, which were then used as a private boarding house. Afterwards the old Wesley Chapel now forming part of the Sunday school building in Cantonmentstreet, but which was then disused, was secured at a rental of <£6 per annum. To adapt it for a lodge room we had to take up all the pews in order to make room,. and had most of them removed to one of Mr. Higham's stores, retaining the pulpit for the Chief Templar's dais.

The lodge started with a great flourish of trumpets and prospered for a time, but was always looked down upon by the parent lodge whose doors were only open to the elite.

Mr. Higham recognised the educative value of good literature, and thanks to his exertions and liberalitv the lodge became possessed of a splendid temperance library for the use of members who availed themselves of it to the fullest extent.

What became of the books I do not know, but probably when the lodge broke up they were distributed amongst the few members who then belonged to it. But if the Fremantle Lodge, No. 4. was too fastidious in the choice of it® members the Excelsior Lodge soon went to the othe rextreme an dadmitted all and sundry. As a consequence it became altogether too radical and some of the songs contributed at the general harmony meetings were fit only for a taproom. As a natural result many desirable members, who it should have been our aim to retain, withdrew from our ranks and our numbers gradually dwindled.

At the last meeting I presided over as Chief Templar I felt it my duty to stop a member who was singing as I considered. a coarse song; the member resented jny intrevention, and on my putting the question, "Shall the decision of the chair be sustained?" my ruling was not supported, and I therefore resigned. This incident, however, only served to hasten my exit from the Order, as "dry rot" had already set in. and the exodus of secessionists had commenced long before. The star of Good TemplaTy which had shot like a meteor across the temperance firmament and illuminated it for a brief period had begun to wane, and in a few years th eonce flourishing .organisation was little more than a memory. This denouement was not what one would have expected as there were some influential people and earnest workers amongst the first members of the Order in this State, including ministers of religion, magistrates, legislators, lawyers, doctors, editors, and teachers. Everything calculated to ensure the stability of the movement seemed to have been done.

A large annual subsidy was paid by the combined lodges for the exclusive use of a column in the Inquirer (which column was edited by Dr. Elliott of Guildford) for 'the dissemination of temperance news. An official organ was conducted by Rev. W. Traylen, and propaganda work generally was prosecuted with vigour. Yet, in spite of all this, the soul of the movement seemed to suddenly vanish leaving a devitalised body to languish ntil it sank into an early grave "unwept, unhonoured. and unsung."

Fremantle Lodge. No. 4, was amongst the first to succumb, and 4he old Excelsior, No. 12, did not long survive it. In later years a new Excelsior, No. 21, arose Phoenix-like from its ashes, but never attained the prominence once enjoyed by its prototype. I believe it still exists, but lacks the vigour and enthusiasm - which characterised its predecessors in their palmy days.

When the famous "blue ribbon" orator. Matthew Burnett, visited this State early in the eighties, Good Templary bid fair to take a new lease of Life, but the revival was only superficial and temporary. The great temperance evangelist pinned the blue ribbon upon nearly half the population, but no sooner had he left our shores than the majority of his converts suffered a relape,s and brewery shares went up.

I suppose there are few old residents of Fremantle who have not at one time o ranother been members of a Good Templar's lodge. Not all of these oldtime teetotallers are on the water wagon now, but if they believe that it is good to "use a little wine for the stomach's sake" tihey have no less an authority than St. Paul on their side. If, on /her hand, thev believe with t'v writer of Proverbs that "at last _ it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like in adder,' 'then it is not Good Templary they used, but sufficient will power to "look not upon the wine when it is red." to ; whic hexcellent exhortion the inspired writer might have adf'ed: "Nor upon the beer when it is amber."

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