The year 1800 was ushered in by a severe storm and gale of wind which swept over the North-East of Scotland, doing great damage and causing much loss of life. It has been computed that over 100 lives belonging to the port of Aberdeen were lost, and great destitution followed. The Lodge early felt the results of the storm, and on 20th February we find it resolved that the allowances to widows and sick superannuated members be increased, while it is recorded that,
‘upon petition from Alexander Hay’s widow, he being lost in the late storm, they accordingly granted her a gratuity of 10s. 6d. Sergt. Peter Wright being present at the meeting generously gave half a guinea to bestow on such poor belonging to the Lodge that they know are in much need of it.’
At a meeting of the Lodge Standing Committee held on 4th July, 1801, a letter from S. John’s Lodge was submitted requesting the members of S. Nicholas Lodge to walk in procession at the laying of the foundation stone of ‘the Bridge of the South entry to the City’ (Union Bridge). The request was agreed to, and on 10th July it is recorded that
‘this day at one o’clock the brethren assembled and walked in procession with the Lodges of S. John, S. Andrew, S. Luke, Old Aberdeen ; S. James, S. George, and the Operative, when the found, stone of the South Bridge was laid.’
The following three entries refer to incidents in the Napoleonic wars, which were then raging throughout the length and breadth of Europe :
2nd September, 1806 : A letter was submitted to the brethren from Bro. Thomas Howard, at present prisoner of war in France, praying for some relief, he being in very distressed circumstances. The brethren therefore unanimously agreed to remit him one pound sterling, on condition that
‘if at any future period he has it in his power he is to pay back the same.’
10th September, 1811 : The R.W.M. informed the Standing Committee that the cause of their meeting was an application for sick benefit which he had received from John Jaffray, a member of this Lodge, and lately a soldier in the Foot Guards, who in the Spring of the present year lost his left arm in Spain.
20th November, 1811 : A petition for relief was read from Widow Catto, in which she stated
‘that her husband, Alexander Catto, a member of this Lodge, was sometime ago sailing on board of a vessel belonging to Yarmouth, and said vessel being taken by a French privateer, her said husband, by the best accounts she had been able to procure, unfortunately lost his life when passing from his own vessel to the privateer.’
On 14th November, 1809, it is recorded, the Master reported that William Wells, a man of colour, had applied to be admitted a member of the Lodge, and some of the members of the Committee being acquainted with the circumstances and character of the said William Wells, and that he was born free in a British island, the Committee agreed to his being admitted.
At the meeting of 20th November, 1827, a letter was read from the Clerk of the Aberdeen Lodge intimating that Grand Lodge had granted a commission in favour of Thomas Burnett, Esq., as Provincial Grand Master for the City of Aberdeen, and that the fees for the same amounted to £10, of which the Aberdeen Lodge expected the Lodge S. Nicholas would contribute their proportion. The said letter being taken into consideration, it was ordered to be laid on the table.
This entry refers to the erection of a Provincial Grand Lodge for Aberdeen City, on 5th February, 1827, with Thomas Burnett, Advocate in Aberdeen, as first P.G.M. Prior to this date the City Lodges were attached to the P.G. Lodge of Forfarshire, a very undignified arrangement for so important a stronghold of Masonry as Aberdeen.
About this time the Lodge seems to have reached a crisis in its history. For several years the number of candidates had never exceeded seven, and some years there were none, while the demands on the Lodge funds for sick benefit and funeral allowances were increasing. The Lodge had evidently fallen on evil days, and on S. John’s Day, 1828, it is recorded that the question of dissolving the Lodge was brought under consideration, when it was almost unanimously resolved that it was âscarcely practicable and highly improper.
The evil day was thus put off, but for a year or two only, for at the quarterly meeting on 21st November, 1831, the subject was again discussed, when
‘a motion was made by Bro. John Allan, S.W., seconded by Bro. William Levie, that, considering the state of the funds and the yearly increase of annuitants, the Lodge should be dissolved, and the funds divided amongst those having a right thereto.’
Another motion was made by Bro. James Reid, and seconded,
‘that the Lodge be continued and take the benefit of the new Act of Parliament,’
anent registration of Friendly Societies. The former motion was carried by a majority of 14 to 2, but the brethren agreed that the different motions be submitted to the annual meeting on S. John’s Day next (1831). On S. John’s Day Bro. Allan renewed his motion, and said however much he regretted, and he ever would regret the dissolution of S. Nicholas Lodge for many reasons, yet after mature consideration, he saw no other line of conduct left for the brethren to pursue than that of dissolving the Lodge. He therefore would take the liberty of renewing the motion which he submitted to the meeting on 21st November last. The motion was carried by 30 votes to 3.
At a special general meeting called for the purpose and held on 20th February, 1832, the question of dissolution was again considered, when the Lodge was formally declared dissolved, and it was resolved that all benefits of whatever description, and all funeral charges, shall cease and determine from this night by and with the consent of the brethren present, and the meeting hereby authorise the Committee and instruct them to bring the heritable property to sale by public roup with as little delay as possible, and to dispose of the other property belonging thereto as to them may seem just.
The house 34 Queen Street was sold for £530. and on 12th June, 1832, the furniture, fittings, and regalia were sold by public roup, realising £6 15s. 9d. On 25th July an interim dividend of £2 was paid to each member and annuitant, and on 17th December a final dividend of £1 0s. 3½d. was paid, and so for a time Lodge S. Nicholas ceased to exist.
For four and a half years the Lodge lay dormant, but after one or two preliminary meetings, a few of the old members met at 65 North Street on 6th September, 1836, when it was resolved to resuscitate the Lodge, and office-bearers were appointed till the ensuing St. JohnâsÂ Day. At the same meeting the Lodge entered, passed, and raised a candidate, and received a visitation from the P.G. Master, Bro. Wm. Watson (then Sheriff – Substitute of Aberdeenshire), who expressed himself satisfied with all he saw. During the previous four years, however, the Lodge could not have been altogether dead, for in February, 1834, two candidates were initiated, but no other records appear in the minute-book. At a subsequent meeting it was reported that the R.W.M., Bro. John Cruickshank, had in his possession the whole regalia of the Lodge, which he had bought at the roup, and it was resolved to buy it from him.
The annual general meeting was, as usual, held on 27th December (St. John’s Day) for the election of office-bearers, and took place in the hall, Flourmill Lane. On 10th May, 1837, it was resolved to remove to Melvins Hall, Queen Street. By this time the Lodge seems to have resumed its old place in the Province, and to have entered into vigorous life.
On 4th October, 1837, the brethren met at 9.30, and proceeded via Queen Street, Broad Street, S. Nicholas Street, Schoolhill, Skene Street, and Chapel Street to Bon-Accord Square, where they joined the other Lodges in town, and marched in procession along Union Street, King Street, and Broad Street to the Court of Marischal College, where they witnessed the laying of the foundation stone of the new College by the Duke of Richmond.
On 4th January, 1839, it was resolved that the meeting be held in Bro. Alex. Allans, Castle Street; and on 20th August, 1842, the meeting-place was again shifted, this time to Mrs. M’Hardys Inn, Adelphi Court.
Bro. Andrew Masson, accountant in the office of Messrs. Stronach & Grainger, Aberdeen, who, as we shall presently see, seems to have been afflicted with literary tastes outrivalling those of the first Secretary, Bro. Nicoll, was appointed Secretary of the Lodge on S. John’s Day, 1842, and from this date the minutes become again something more than mere records of facts.
On 17th October, 1843, it is recorded that, after initiating, passing, and raising two candidates,
‘the brethren retired from labour to enjoy refreshment, and to initiate the novices in the Masonic rites of hospitality, which was done with conviviality and Masonic jokelarity (sic) over a sumptuous supper prepared by Mrs. M’Hardy, who added the necessary appliances in abundance. After having done justice to the jollification the Lodge was shut.’
There seems still to have been a hankering in the minds of certain of the brethren after the old benefit society, for on S. John’s Day, 1837, after the usual business it is recorded that
‘Brother Mackay proposed a mutual assurance or friendly society connected with the Lodge.’
This was duly seconded and agreed to, and a committee appointed, but nothing was done at the time. Five years later, however (in 1842), the subject was revived, and after consideration resolved upon, and the rules of the Lodge were altered to suit the circumstances.
Rule 1 states
‘that this Society be, as formerly, named the S. Nicholas Lodge of Free- masons of Aberdeen, and the purposes thereof are hereby declared to be the following, and to which and the necessary expenses of managing the affairs thereof the whole funds shall be exclusively applied, viz. :To secure a sum payable on the death of a member, as mentioned in the following rules and regulations.’
It does not seem to have been made compulsory on the existing members to join the assurance fund, but those who did not do so were precluded from all share in the management of the Lodge. This naturally gave rise to a good deal of feeling, a minority considering, and rightly so, that these changes were foreign to the spirit of Masonry, and any scheme of mutual benefit, if it were to exist in connection with a Lodge, should be kept entirely separate from it. The friction culminated in a split in the Lodge, which, however, will be referred to later.
The meeting of 13th December, 1843, is interesting in giving the details of the first ball held in connection with the Lodge of which there is any mention. It was resolved to hold the ball in M’Hardys Inn, Adelphi, after the annual general meeting on S. John’s Day. The price of the tickets was fixed at the not over-extravagant figure of 2s. the double ticket (to include refreshments), and it was further resolved that any profit accruing from the sale of ball tickets should
‘be appropriated for refreshments in a Masonic manner, and by the frugality of the Committee in an honourable manner,’
whatever that may mean. The ball duly took place, and it is recorded âthe company was numerous
“and very respectable, the music by Mr. James Young and his band (which, in terms of a previous minute, consisted of a Bass, two small fiddles, and a clarionet, with a flute occasionally) was fascinating. and the arrangement of the various dances by Mr. Macdonald could not have been rivalled for taste and ingenuity. The dancing was kept up with greatest harmony and sociability until an early hour in the morning.”
At the annual general meeting which preceded the ball it was moved that all members of the Lodge, whether members of the assurance fund or not, be entitled to vote and hold office, and the motion being carried by a majority, the election proceeded accordingly. This departure from the constitution, however, seems to have increased the existing friction over the assurance fund, but I shall allow the Secretary to tell the story of the death of the assurance venture after an existence of eighteen months, in his own words, for they cannot be improved upon :
‘Before closing this minute (that of 27th December, 1843), the Secretary deems it his exclusive prerogative to place on record the arbitrary and âtyrannical conduct, illiberal opinions, brotherly disingenuousness, and un-masonic behaviour of certain brethren whose names shall be taken due notice of in the sequel; and before proceeding further, it will be necessary to give a brief history of the whole case as it occurred, so as to keep it in remembrance, and for the benefit of posterity (that is to say, the present and future members of S. Nicholas Lodge), that the full amount of brotherly love and Masonic affection, in accordance with our early obligations as Masons, should not be lost sight of. After disposing of the business narrated in this minute, the whole books of the Lodge, together with the books of the Life Assurance fund, were firmly packed up in brown paper, and given to the Tyler to take charge of them until next day, the Secretary being one of the stewards at the ball, was pre-vented from taking them home with him as usual. The Tyler, poor old man, to make his charge more secure, put them into the chest and locked it, but during the ball Charles Dawson, the ex-Treasurer, called out the Tyler, and asked him for the key of the chest to deposit his own book.’
On the next day, the 28th current, the Secretary called on the Tyler, and requested him to bring home the books that he might be enabled to prepare an advertisement of the election for insertion in the newspapers. In the evening the Tyler called to say that he could not procure the books, that he had been in search of Charles Dawson the whole day, and could not get the key from him.
The post of next day, the 29th current, put the Secretary in possession âof the following printed circular, which is in these words, to wit:
“Aberdeen, 28th December, 1843. Sir, In consequence of the members of the S. Nicholas Lodge of Freemasons Life Insurance Fund declining to elect office-bearers on the 27th inst. in terms of the rules, the former office-bearers, seeing no other means of honestly denuding themselves, beg to intimate that the amount of your payments on account of that fund will be returned to you by the Treasurer, on calling at Mrs. M’Hardys, Adelphi Court, on Tuesday, the 2nd January next, between the hours of eight and nine o’clock evening. Yours truly (Signed) James Adam. Amount 5/10. Addressed by William Walker, Superintendent to the New Market Company, to Mr. Andrew Masson, Accountant, Aberdeen.”
From the receipt of the above, it was evident that the books of the Lodge had been purloined by Charles Dawson at the instigation of the Denuding Office-bearers and were in possession of the New Market Company !!!
Thereupon the R. W.M., Depute Master, and the Secretary called at the office in ye New Market upon William Walker, and found Charles Dawson there at the same time, and demanded the books of the Lodge, to which they answered âthat we would get them when they were done with them. However, for reasons to themselves best known, Charles Dawson returned a part only of the books.
The parcel had been broken open in the office of the Market Coy. and the Register of the Life Assurance Fund and other papers abstracted and stolen therefrom, the whole of which are supposed to be in the possession of the leader of the denuding officers or in the repositories of the Market Company!
It is unnecessary to animadvert further on the very illiberal conduct pursued by the few individuals arrogating to themselves the collective wisdom of Saint Nicholas Lodge, suffice it to say that, in accordance with the printed circular, a few of the brethren, subscribers to the Life Assurance Fund, did attend, and after a good deal of discussion and sparring, wherein Bro. William Walker took the prominent part, and acknowledged, with no small degree of self-importance, that lie was the originator of the schism, and would take the whole blame upon himself.
Under the circumstances as above narrated, and also in consideration of the very loose and unbusiness-like manner in which the rules of the Life Assurance Fund had been drawn up, particularly the table of rates, which can lay no claims to the simple rules of arithmetic, the figures being thrown down like a shower of hailstones, the brethren accepted of their contributions, and an extinguisher by the instrumentality of Bro. Walker put upon Saint Nicholas Life Assurance Fund.
In this abrupt manner the assurance scheme terminated after an existence of scarcely two years.
The minute of meeting of 21st Feb., 1844, records the purchase for £3 17s. 1d. of the whole of the silver, regalia, etc., of S. Luke’s Lodge, which had become defunct.
‘The meeting was highly pleased that the articles had been procured at so cheap a rate, and that they would add to the respectability of the Lodge.’
On 4th June of the same year the Lodge had again to flit, this time to the Commercial Inn, 41 Queen Street.
The meeting of 7th August was honoured by the presence of a rather unusual visitor in the shape of the American Giant. After labour, it is recorded, the brethren retired to refreshment,
‘when amongst the many toasts given was that of Bro. Charles Freeman, the American Giant. The giant, who stands 7 feet 3 inches in his boots, politely returned thanks.’
The annual election of office-bearers held on S. John’s Day, 1845, is unique in the history of the Lodge, in respect that a clean sweep was made of the retiring office-bearers, most of whom sought re-election, including the R.W.M. It is worthy of note that at this time candidates for office had to be nominated at a meeting previous to the election, and only those so nominated could be voted on. In spite of this, however, a section of the Lodge at the election brought forward and proposed for the Chair, and several of the other offices, candidates who had not been so nominated, and were unfortunately successful in their coup by narrow majorities. The result was that a great amount of ill-feeling was engendered, and a large majority of the brethren left the Lodge, taking all the books with them.
After two years of wrangling, including proceedings in the law courts, the seceding brethren were suspended from Masonic privileges, but after six years of a pre- carious existence the Lodge was compelled to remove the suspensions, and ask the offending brethren to return.