Towards the end of 1779 the Lodge found itself involved in a lawsuit. As has been already noticed, although maintaining the ancient landmarks of the Order, the Lodge was also a sick benefit and funeral society. At the meeting of the Lodge on 8th November, 1779, it was reported that
Widow Affleck was determined to pursue the Lodge at law for her benefit, notwithstanding her husband was bad on the books at his decease.
It was unanimously resolved to defend said action. The action was raised in the Court of Session, but dragged on for several years, and was eventually decided against the Lodge. An appeal was taken to the Inner House, however, and so serious was the principle involved considered to be, that at the annual meeting on 27th December, 1783, it was reported that
several of the Societies in and about Aberdeen had agreed to give some money to the Lodge as part of the charges they had been out in regard to the process defending themselves against Widow Affleck, as they considered their wellbeing depended on the process going in the Lodges favour.
There is no record in the minute-books as to how the action was decided, but from an entry in the cash-book it would appear that the process was terminated in 1783, and as there are no payments to the widow, it may safely be assumed that the Lodge was victorious. The process was, however, a costly one for the Lodge, payments amounting in all to £80 appearing in the cash-book as having been made on account of expenses.
In the autumn of 1782 various societies in the city united to establish a fund for the importation of coals, which was afterwards extended to include grain or meal. Lodge S. Nicholas voted a sum of £10 to the fund, and a further sum of £10 in the following year to assist in the purchase of a vessel. A second vessel was added in 1784, and a further sum of £20 was voted by the Lodge, making its contributions to the fund £40 in all. So successful were the United Private Societies (as they were called) in their operations, that in 1785 they constituted themselves into a regular trading company for importing and selling coals and other merchandise under the name of Robertson, Littlejohn, and Co., merchants in Aberdeen, in which copartnery the Lodge invested £40. On S. Johns Day, 1787, however, it was resolved to withdraw from the company, but the resolution was not carried into effect, for on 15th February, 1791, it is reported that Robertson, Littlejohn & Co. had resolved to dissolve their copartner- ship, and to sell their smack, the Geroch, and on a vote it was resolved not to hold any share of her again.
On 4th January, 1789, the brethren
met and entered, passed and raised James Nicol, Mason; Thomas Wilken, Wright; Alex. Smith, Merchant; Wm. Nicoll, Leather Currier; George Fiddes, Shoemaker; Wm. Milne, Merchant; James Watt, Wright; and John Mackie, Farmer; all residenters in Old Aberdeen, and Thomas Walker, Flax Dresser in Aberdeen, for the saek and benefite (sic) of Masonry only and for the purpose of qualifying them to apply to the Grand Lodge of Scotland in order to obtain a patent for erecting them into a separate Lodge in Old Aberdeen.
This entry refers to the erection of Lodge Old Aberdeen, No. 164, in 1786.
At the annual general meeting on S. John’s Day, 1789, it was ordered that the officer get a pair of new shoes for extra trouble last year. This gift became an annual one, and was extended to the stewards, whose duties consisted mainly in distributing the various allowances to sick and superannuated brethren, to see that there was no malingering, and that the brethren who were getting relief were in need of it.
On 4th December, 1790, at a general meeting of the Lodge,
’the order of procession agreed by the select Committee to be observed on S. John’s Day next was read and approved of; the Brethren to attend in the Lodge by ten o’clock on that day, to appear in black coats, waistcoats, and breeches and white stockings, and it is recommended to the brethren who mean to walk to be as liberal in their collections as possible for the honour of the Lodge.’
The procession referred to duly took place, starting from the Castlehill, in conjunction with four other Lodges, to the Church of Old Aberdeen, where âthe Rev. Bro. Skene Ogilvie preached an excellent sermon to the brethren.
The following extract from a minute of meeting of 3rd January, 1791, may be taken as an example of the rough-and-ready manner in which the brethren were accustomed to confer degrees :
‘A complaint was made that some brethren on S. Johnâs Day last had accidentally met with an entered apprentice who was desirous of being immediately passed and raised, as he was just going out of town. The brethren sent to the place where they new the officebearers had been for the evening to inform them that they wished them to pass and raise him, but they were gone. The brethren being unwilling to lose money to the Lodge, proceeded to pass and raise him themselves. The Lodge disapprove of their conduct, but as they are sensible of their mistake they accept of the money, but strictly prohibit and discharge them or any of the brethren from proceeding in such an irregular manner under the pain of being excluded from the Lodge.’
At the same meeting it was reported that Bro. James Meldrum had made a present to the Lodge of a serpent and a dove! I do not know whether Bro. Meldrum intended by his gifts to express his opinion of some of the brethren, but the reader of these notes would hardly be blamed for thinking that the Lodge could have done without the serpent, and taken an extra dove instead.
A brief entry which occurs in the minute of the annual meeting of S. John’s Day, 1791, reminds one of the ‘bold buccaneers’ who sailed the high seas, and were the scourge of our merchant service until well into the last century. It reads as follows:
‘The meeting unanimously gave one pound one shilling sterling towards the relief of William Paterson in slavery in Algiers.’
At the meeting of 20th August, 1792,
‘William Merchant having thrown some false aspersions on the Officebearers saying they embezzled the money of the Lodge, acknowledged his fault and was reprimanded by the Lodge and would be struck off the books if ever he said such things again.’
Truly the officebearers had a lot to put up with sometimes !
At this same meeting a motion was made that âif any member the Lodge think qualified for master, they may chuse him although he never had been Reward or Warden before, From this it would seem that before a brother was qualified to occupy the Masters Chair he must have served as Steward or Warden. The consideration of the motion was deferred to S. John’s Day, when it was lost by a majority.
On S. John’s Day the brethren also had under consideration the case of Bros. William Brunnen and James Rea, who were charged with the making of Masons in a clandestine manner. At subsequent meetings the case was reconsidered, when Brunnen declared that he intended to pay to the new body, while Rea owned his fault, and stated that he had no intention of joining the new body. On a vote being taken, it was resolved to expel both brethren from the Lodge. These entries evidently refer to the foundation of S. George’s Lodge, No. 190, which got its charter from Grand Lodge on 3rd Nov., 1794, but which probably met as an irregular body for some time previous to that date, for on 1st November, 1794, the following entry occurs in a minute of that date :
‘The Committee having made due search and enquiry into the matter relative to Bro. John Duthie (he was charged with being a member of S. George’s Lodge) âfound his name inserted in a minute of S. George’s Lodge about making of Masons, but the same is not of his handwriting, nor signed by him, therefore and on account of his positive denial and most sacred oath, they free and acquit him of said charge.’
On 26th June, 1794, the foundation stone of His Majestys Garrison on the Castlehill of Aberdeen was laid with full Masonic honours by the Marquis of Huntly, the then Grand Master Mason of Scotland, and a deputation from Grand Lodge. A procession of all the Lodges in Aberdeen took place, and these are enumerated in the minute-book of S. Nicholas as follows:S. John’s ; Operative, S. Nicholas, S. Luke’s, S. Andrew’s, Old Aberdeen; and S. James. Of these, S. John’s, S. Luke’s, and S. James no longer exist. After the ceremony each Lodge returned to its own Lodge-room, and spent some part of the evening as Masons and brethren.
Nothing further occurred in the remaining years of the eighteenth century affecting S. Nicholas in particular, but it was not allowed to close without an event of some importance affecting Masonry in general. This was the passing, in 1779, of an Act of Parliament ‘for the more effectual suppression of societies established for seditious and treasonable purposes’. Since that day every Masonic Lodge requires to get annually from the Grand Lodge of Scotland a certificate that it has complied with the requirements of this Act, and authorising its members to exercise their functions of Freemasons.
The Act was the outcome of the condition of ’splendid isolation’ in which Britain found herself as the result of the machinations of Napoleon on the Continent, when everything that could not be explained or understood was looked upon with suspicion. The Act was a great boon to Freemasonry, however, for it gave the Craft a recognised social status which it had not hitherto possessed.