Secret societies. The phrase conjures visions of cult-like rituals filled with imposing ceremonies based on ancient craft and an underbelly of activities hidden from society. But how accurate is that notion?
The Victorian era through the 19th century saw the rising phenomenon of men’s clubs. These, it is alleged, were gaining popularity due to the changing gender roles and religious beliefs occurring at the time, which were seeing women gain a greater standing in society than had hitherto been observed.
Ritual secrecy became popular within these clubs and as a result, often bred an urban mythology of corruption and suspicion. Whether these myths were true or not is largely left unclear, the secrets remaining safe behind sealed lips and secret societies.
As part of the elite set in Adelaide at the time, Arthur Hardy was a keen member of the early fraternal clubs of the colony. Indeed, from 1867 through until 1884, he was the first district Grand Master of the English Freemasons in South Australia, and was later known as a founding member of The Adelaide Club, which still operates to this day.
Whether public or secret, meeting places were a staple of the gentleman’s club. In 1869 Arthur Hardy was responsible for the commission of the new Freemasons’ Hall, built on the eastern corner of Flinders Street and Freeman Street, later renamed Gawler Place.
A newspaper article in The South Australian Advertiser, dated 21 June 1869, depicts a delightful account of the ceremony and ritual of the laying of the foundation stone. Planned with a spacious entrance hall, a grand banquet room, and a staircase fashioned out of blackwood and cedar, the article reveals an interesting public insight of the time, quoting the chapel as a “place where Masons make their final preparations for entering the presence chamber of the Grand Master – scene of all those mystic rites and mysterious observance into which the eyes of the uninitiated crowd in vain desire to pry.”
The ceremony itself was grand in nature, despite being shrouded by a very heavy rainfall on the day, making the dirt roads too muddy for as many spectators to attend as had been expected. The ceremony involved a choir along with a procession of the wives and daughters of Masons, each carrying either baskets or wreaths of flowers. During the ceremony, a time capsule was placed in a cavity underneath the cornerstone of the building. In it, copies of daily newspapers and the South Australian Masonic Guide were buried, along with the following memorandum:
Monday, 31st May, 1869
In the name of the Great Architect of the Universe. This, the cornerstone of the Freemasons’ Hall, Adelaide, was laid with Masonic honors by Arthur Hardy, of Mount Lofty, near Adelaide, Esquire, Justice of the Peace, Barrister-at-Law, Right Worshipful District Grand Master of Freemasons of South Australia, assisted by the officers of District Grand Lodge and members of the Craft, on Monday, the 31st of May, A.U 5873, a.d. 1869, in the 32nd year of the reign of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria.
The promoters of this edifice have desired not only to raise a structure perfect in its parts and honorable to the builders, and to the ancient and honorable craft whereto they belong, but also to provide for themselves and their brethren, so long as its walls remain a fitting temple, protected from popular intrusion, for the rites and ceremonies of their Order. Here, too, they have designed to prepare a place where the sacred offices of Masonic hospitality may be fitly celebrated, and under whose roof the three grand principles of brotherly love, relief, and truth, may ever find a sheltering home.”
Followed by a luncheon and a grand promenade concert, the historical account of the day provides a true insight into society – whether secret or public – of the early colonial times of Adelaide and the influential part that Arthur Hardy played within it.
Based on the following article of The South Australian Advertiser, 21 June 1869 https://://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/31990447