Brisbane Lodge was one of the earliest Theosophical Society establishments in Australia.
by Florence Hagger
(Scanned and transcribed by Geoff Harrod in April 2004 from a tattered old typed copy found among the possessions of the late Mrs Edna Jenks.)
It has been a unique experience delving into the Lodge records back to 1881. It brought back the memory of old friends now passed on, many who formed the first Lodge in 1881 were personally known to me.
Speaking of those who have grown along with the Lodge I would like to make special reference to our President, Mrs Daphne Roemermann. She has been with us from early childhood, and it is very fitting that she should be our President this year when we are holding our Jubilee Celebration. She is the first of our younger members to hold the position. Unlike most young people who are brought up in the atmosphere of our organization she did not reach saturation point and find the study of Theosophy too dry a diet for her more mature years.
Although the present Charter under which we are working dates from 1895 that was not the first introduction of Theosophy to Queensland. Queensland was the first State in which a Lodge was founded, and, although called the Brisbane Lodge, it really originated in Toowoomba, where Mr. Carl Hartmann drew in a large circle of well-known public men, both in Brisbane and Toowoamba.
The original Brisbane Lodge must have grown considerably, but lapsed in activity with the death of Mr Hartmann, for we find that when Colonel Olcott visited Brisbane in April 1891, a meeting was held at Wickham Terrace, at which 27 members were present, and a Lodge was formed under the title of 'The Queensland Theosophical Society'. That membership of 27 must have been expanded samewhat during the meeting, for on checking over the records I find the names of 36 persons present, prominent among them being Dr and Mrs Taylor, Mr and Mrs C.A.J. Woodcock, Judge Paul, Dr. Ellison, Rev. Manly Power, Clement Wragge, Archie Weston, Baron Barnett, George Barnett, Henry Tryon, H.L.E. Ruthning, A.R.F. Macansh, Robert Wishart, Gavin Pettigrew, and Robert Glasgow.
They were a very enthusiastic band until a copy of an article in 'British Weekly' appeared on the scene, purporting to be an exposition of fraud committed by Mdme Blavatsky, whereupon the more timid amongst them started to drop out. However, a goodly number still held together and met occasionally, and in 1893 arrangements were made for Mrs Cooper-Oakley to visit Brisbane. At the meeting called to consider this we find the first mention of Mr W.G. John, who later became the General Secretary for the Australian Section.
From then on there is nothing further about this Queensland Lodge until a meeting was called in April 1895 when Mr Robert Wishart proposed 'That the Branch of the Society lately existing be now dissolved and that all books, papers, monies and other property of the Society be made over to the new Society now about to be formed under the Charter dated 21st January 1895 and now lying upon the table'. This was passed accordingly and the Brisbane Lodge came into being. There is no record to show the steps leading up to the decision to form this Lodge, or to apply for the Charter, which is the one under which we now function.
The meeting was held at the Royal Society's Room, 30 being present. Dr Taylor was our first President; Mr Gerald Hanbury, Treasurer; Mr W.G. John, Secretary; Mr. Maillard, Vice-President. Council members were: Mrs. Jephson, Mrs. Maillard, and Mr. R.J. Cottrell.
In 1895, we find among nominations for new members the name of Miss Maud C. Trundle, who is at the present time our oldest member, and so far as I am aware the only member of that time now living.
I shall give a general resume of the history of the Lodge during the past 50 years. One thing which impressed itself upon me was the number of times we changed our meeting place. The mantle of the 'Wandering Jew' must have descended upon Brisbane Lodge right from the beginning of our activities. First a new meeting place was found in the Chartered Bank Chambers, Creek Street, and towards the end of the year Countess Wachtmeister visited Brisbane and spoke for the new Lodge, drawing large audiences for that time, at one meeting 18 members and 49 visitors being present.
The next year another room was taken at the corner of Elizabeth and Albert Streets. It was in this room that I first made my acquaintance with Theosophy. Considerable progress had been made in membership, it then being 40.
In 1897 Colonel Olcott came out to Australia once more and toured the various Lodges accompanied by Miss Lilian Edger, a New Zealand member, later a National Lecturer, who visited us again in 1899 and also in 1904.
In this year 1897 I gather that the addresses given by members must have been rather heavy as the suggestion was given that a change be made as they were too advanced for those attending.
In January of 1900 my Mother joined up after a few years of interested study and attendance at classes and lectures, and I note that at the close of the year she was elected to a seat on the Council, which seems to imply that workers at that time were difficult to find just as they are at present.
In 1901 Dr. Marques resigned as General Secretary, and Mr John removed to Sydney and took up the position of General Secretary which office he held until his death in 1916. Mrs Edelfelt also left for Sydney in the same year, and thus the Lodge lost two good workers. Mr. Bramwell succeeded Mr John as Lodge Secretary.
Amongst those who joined in 1901 were Mrs Tidswell, Miss Kate Nevill and Mrs Mildren. Mrs Tidswell later transferred to Toowoomba where she was instrumental in buying the Hall in which Toowoomba Lodge now holds its meetings. Miss Kate Nevill, a brilliant speaker and an American, who did quite a lot of platform work both for Brisbane and other Lodges, afterwards returned to America. Mrs Mildren was Secretary for 14 years, from 1903 to 1917 and was followed by Miss Ella Walker who served for 3 years.
Miss Ethel Barter, who predates me by a year, should be speaking in my place, but she is unable to be present. In 1903 I joined up.
The next Lodge removal was to Moon's Buildings in Adelaide Street in 1902, where Mr John paid the Lodge a visit in his capacity of General Secretary. By the time Miss Edger came back in 1904 we had attained to a membership of 51, and together with the public, average attendances amounted to 247. As Moon's Btlilding proved too small the School of Arts' Hall was engaged for the season.
The following year marked the occasion of the first visit of Mr C.W. Leadbeater to Australia. He was accompanied by Fritz Kunz, also by Basil Hodgson Smith. Mrs Nevill, wife of the American Tobacco Expert, was their hostess. Our membership, as a consequence of this visit, almost doubled itself from 51 in 1904 to 100 in 1905. The next year we moved once again, this time taking a small Member's room upstairs in the School of Arts with the use of the hall for public lectures.
From 1905 on, many prominent workers joined our ranks. Mrs. Hawkes with her two sisters, also Miss I.K.C. Cochrane, Mrs Forsyth, Miss Marcella Clarke and Mt Matthew Reid.
During 1908 Dr Annie Besant paid her first and only visit to Brisbane. She was the guest of our President and his wife, Dr and Mrs Taylor, and was accompanied on her tour by Mrs W.G. John (formerly Mrs. Ede1fe1t). Mrs. Besant spoke to crowded audiences in the Exhibition Hall, and one Sunday night, at the. Opera House (now His Majesty's Theatre), the crowd was so great that 11steners were standing in every available place. Also at the request of Rev C.E. Rowe she spoke to a crowded audience in the Albert Street Church on 20th Ju1y.
It was during Mrs Besant's visit that I first contacted Mr Matthew Reid and formed a friendship - or perhaps I should say renewed a link with the past - which has increased through the intervening years.
An addition to our ranks in 1909 was Mr L.W. Burt, now the Rt. Rev. Lawrence Burtt, who has done much good work throughout the Australian Lodges during his 36 years of membership, and is Chairman of the Section Council in Sydney, and Editor of the Section Journal. It was in this year also that Mr. Robert Wishart went as a delegate to the Adyar Convention.
In 1910 the Annual Section Convention was held in Brisbane, and the Lotus Circle was formed with an attendance of 30 children. Membership continued to increase. The Order of Service started its work among the educational and charitable institutions, which has grown with the years and borne much fruit, and has largely contributed to the good repute in which Theosophy is held in this city.
1914 marked a new era in our history - we made our first attempt to acquire a permanent home of our own. A building was purchased in Charlotte Street, the old Union Club. After several years of occupation the building was sold, and we moved to a hall in Chandler's Building in Elizabeth Street.
It was during our stay in Concordia Hall (Union Club renamed) that Mr Charlton did great service to the Lodge by having it registered under the Religious and Education Act as 'Brisbane Theosophical Society' by Letters Patent. This big piece of work relieves us of certain forms of taxation and gives other legal advantages. Here also we were favoured by many well-known visiting lecturers including Mr C. Jinarajadasa.
A couple of years in Chandler's Building proved sufficient, and in 1923 we occupied a room in Globe Building, Ann Street, which eventually proved beyohd our means. In 1925 a gift from Miss Eva Astill of £500, and another of £100 in the following year, together with the proceeds from shares in Concordia Building Co., enabled us to pay down a deposit on Besant House and take possession.
In 1925 also 'The Hospice' was taken over from Mrs John Wienholt. This has become one of the principal activities of the Order of Service, and from then until the present - with a short gap during which she was away in England it has been under the capable management of Miss I.K.C. Cochrane.
The Secretary from 1920 until 1927 was Mr George W. Morris. Mrs. C.S. Hawkes followed Mr Morris and carried out the duties of Secretary most efficiently until a couple of weeks ago. Her term of 18 years has been longer than that of any previous Secretary.
Besant House has not proved altogether satisfactory, and in 1928 it was leased for 5 years as a hospital, the Lodge then removing to Vasanta Hall in Boundary Street.
We have now been back in Besant House for about four years - the 5-year lease having been extended for another term - but, although ideal in some ways as a home, it has its disadvantages, principal of which is the diff'iculty in getting there.
Many have come into the Lodge during the past half century - some have gone out through the gateway of death, some through transferss to other Lodges, some perhaps because they did not find what they were looking for, but everyone who contacted the teachings of Theosophy has taken some portion of it out into the world and helped someone thereby. There are many more Theosophists besides those on the Lodge Membership roll.
From the East comes the admonition - 'Look not for the fruit of action', and who can tell just when and where the action comes to fruition, and where the seed falls?
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