Wednesday, April 18, 2007

An overview of the Lodge after 100 years



1955 - 1984

The 19th century was a traumatic period for the whole of South Africa. The Great Trek had begun, and wars and rumours of wars were rife. Bro. Piet Retief (Bro.Retief's water bottle with masonic emblems may be seen at the Voortrekker Museum at Pietermaritzburg. Bro. Retief is depicted on one of the friezes of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, wearing this bottle.) and his men had been viciously clubbed to death on the command of the Zulu King Dingaan. The massacres of Blaauwkrants and Weenen were fresh in the memories of men. Isandlawana, Rorke's Drift, Amajuba - all names that conjure up the picture of battle, of war and destruction - are even to this day well known and remembered, and roll easily on the South African tongue. It seems that Robert Ardrey's (Robert Ardrey - African Genesis - Fontana Books.) postulation, that man emerged from animal beginnings, because essentially he was a killer, and that civilization started when homo erectus took up the weapon, could be supported by the history of this period.

In 1895 - after the formation of the El Dorado Lodge - the notorious Jameson Raid took place, and on the morning of the 30th of December, Jameson and his raiders were at the village of Ottoshoop (Die Afrikaanse Kinderensiklopedie - 1964 ed. - vol. 8 p 259.) formerly Malmani. Malmani is a name that will recur in this history. It was from Zeerust that the Resident Magistrate advised Pretoria by telegraph of the invasion. Orders had been given for the telefraph lines to be cut between Zeerust and Rustenburg, but the men who had been ordered so to do had imbibed so well on the spirits available to them (Herman Charles Bosman - Mafeking Road. Unto Dust. The Bekkersdal Marathon.) that they mistakenly cut fencing wires. Of episodes such as this are the stories of Herman Charles Bosman made, for here, indeed, we are in the heart of the Marico District.

Malmani - now Ottoshoop - is a scant 25 kilometres from Zeerust, and it is here that one of the big gold strikes was made. Rumour has it that the highest pennyweight of gold per ton of ore mined was recovered at Malmani. It is said that Malmani at one stage had thirteen Hotels to cater for the miners, and that a start was made by surveyors to measure it out according to a plan that was subsequently applied to Johannesburg. The only tarred street in the village is Commissioner Street ! Ottoshoop today is a charming village. It has a few lovely homes and a number of trading stores. As usual there is a Police Station, a Post Office, a Bottle Store (liquor store) and, most important - a Railway Station. From here vast quantities of base minerals such as fluorspar and andalusite are railed. Ottoshoop was and is a mining village, and when the Brethren decided to obtain a charter it is small wonder that they chose the name El Dorado - the Golden One. The mysterious attraction of that name has fascinated men for many centuries.

Zeerust was then a tiny village, and even today it is no more than an average South African country town. It nestles on the edge of the Bushveld, and serves a mixed farming community. Cattle, sheep, maize, corn, groundnuts and tabacco are farmed. Citrus and subtropical fruits flourish. Massive quantities of base minerals such as manganese, chrome, andalusite and fluorspar are mined. The farm on which Zeerust was founded was donated by two brothers, Diederik and Casper Coetzee. Casper's grave is to this very day in the Lodge yard, and Diederik's grave is a few kilometres outside town on the Zeerust - Swartruggens road.

In this turbulent period the Brethren of Malmani decided to form a Lodge, and a petition was made. The warrant was duly issued, bearing the date 24th May, 1889, permitting the El Dorado Lodge, No. 2314 EC to be formed and to meet at Malmani, on the first Wednesday of every month. Thomas Melvill du Toit was Charter Master, Phillip John Frost was the Senior Warden and James Charles Truscott was the Junior Warden.

Who was this Thomas Melvill du Toit? The author can find no record of him, his name is not in the Lodge registers, and he is not known to the older residents of Zeerust. Frost and Truscott are known and remembered by the older Zeerust inhabitants, and they are loved and respected figures. Du Toit must have been a highly thought of and respected man to have been chosen Charter Master.
The Warrant of the Lodge bears an addendum - a learned post scriptum so to speak - dated 23rd June, 1891 - recording that, due to "the permanent absence of the nominated Master" Edwin Whiley would become Charter Master, and the Lodge would meet in Zeerust instead of Malmani. Despite the ominous sould of "permanent absence" of the nominated Master they do no signify - to my mind at least - that Du Toit had died. Who was Du Toit? Why after accepting nomination as Charter Master, did he permanently leave Malmani? How long did it take to return the warrant to London to have the amendment made?

Zeerust in 1891 was little more than a collection of houses and few trading stores. The fortifications which the Coetzee brothers had erected as a protection against the Black hordes were still standing. These were only later broken down and built into the floor of the patio of the Magistrates Court. This fact is recorded in a sculpted frieze which - freely translated - reads "The tiles of this patio used to belong to the fort or stone laager which was erected on this farm by Mr Casper Coetzee as a protection against the Blacks. May the Lord our God be with us, even as he was with our forefathers". The original is in High Dutch, and the frieze is beautifully sculpted in a type of Gothic Copperplate. After the 1994 elections in South Africa, a metal strip was attached over the frieze to block out the offensive reference to the Black tribes. Today, this sculpted frieze is no more, as it was removed shortly afterwards, and its present whereabouts are not known.
The register of members of the Lodge - the original one still in use today and dating back to 1891 and bearing the legend "Register of Members of the El Dorado Lodge No .2314 EC, Zeerust, South African Republic" - records the first members as having joined on the 1st December, 1891.
Thirteen names appear :
Edwin Whiley, Brethren Phillip John Frost, James Charles Truscott, John Edward Frost, William Grant, Nathaniel Raphael, John Layton Mitchell, Harvey Gumpold, George Belville Stern, John T Blake, Solomon Goldinger, Jacob Rosen and John George Beverly. The Lodges from which these Brethren joined were Beaufort West 1946 : three members, Cosmopolitan 1409 : three members, Octahedron 1417 : three members, St Andrews 608 S.C. : one member, Southern Cross 1590 : two members, and one each from Frere 2089, Stella 2232 and Mount Vernon, which is recorded as No 2 AC. The author can find no record of the consencration meeting, but the attendance register which records the first meeting as an Installation Meeting was held on the 3rd of February 1892. On that night two Brethren joined the Lodge. One was Robert Moorcroft from the Charles Warren Lodge 1832, and the other Abraham Pieters from the Stella Lodge 2232.
In the Januay 1975 issue of the Masonic Journal it is recorded that "The El Dorado Lodge in Zeerust made do with terribly primitive facilities at the start. Their tiny temple (12 feet by 15 feet) was filled with furniture consisting of (of all things - my interpolation) gin and other packing cases covered with pale blue sateen. The square, level, and plumbrule and jewels were made of deal and painted brown, an ordinary pair of iron carpenter's compassess were used, officer's collars were blue ribbon, and the jewels were cut out of cardboard and covered with tin foil from cigarette boxes. Much in El Dorado is home-made to this day. The W.M's chair is adorned with cricket balls, and at Installation Meetings, candlestick holders made from branches of syringa trees and nailed to deal, are used. These are all items made by our Brethren."
The attendance register records the next meeting as being held on the 2nd of March 1892, and another meeting on the 3rd of March 1892, which is described as an "adjourned meeting". The register of Members, however, records that there were two initiates on the 4th of March 1892. These two Brethren were both from Zeerust. One was Richard Southwood and the other was Julius Markson, both of whom are described as Storekeepers. An emergency meeting was held on the 12th of March and at this meeting Pieter Daniel Albertus Roux, described as Manager, G.C. Co, and Paul Markson, Storekeeper were initiated.
The following Brethren signed the attendance register at the very first meeting on the 3rd of February 1892 :

W.M. - E Whiley, S.W - P J Frost, J.W - J Truscott, Treasurer and Secretary - G B Stern S.D. - S Goldinger, J.D. - N Raphael, I.G - J E Frost, Brethren - W Grant, J Beverly, J Blake, J Mitchell, H Gumpold, Visitors. - H Sonnenberg, Southern Cross Lodge 398 SC, R M Connoly, Charles Warren Lodge 1832.
The attendance Register is a printed one, and, as was the custom in those days, the printing is almost a work of art. It is lovingly done and the eye glides easily over the pages. Chaplain is printed as CHAPn, Treasurer as TREASr, Organist appears as ORGt, and Steward as STEWd. Strangely no provision is made for a Tyler to sign and nobody signed the attendance register as Tyler until the meeting of the 7th November 1894 when a certain F J Harley altered one of the Stewards' printed abbreviation to Tyler and signed as Tyler. Harley, who was an operative mason from Zeerust, was initiated at Zeerust on 1st August 1894, and raised on 3rd October 1894.
The Register of Members presents a somewhat depressing picture. Three of the first members were excluded - the words used in the register being either "membership ceased under rule 175 B of C" or "excluded for n.p. of dues". Nine of the founder membes resigned, and the balance were lost to the Grim Reaper. Of the first four initiates two resigned and two died whilst still Members of the Lodge. One of the founder Brethren who had resigned from the Lodge on 3rd April 1895 rejoined the Lodge on 7th August 1895, and the register briefly and painfully records "Expelled from the order 17th July 1903". The Lodge minutes available to the author dated from 1905, and the correspondence entered into the D.G. Lodge in 1903 records merely "in the matter of Bro. So and so". The correspondence is on extremely thin paper, the books are badly preserved, sheets are folded and cracked with age, and are just about illegible. The author of the letters moreover writes with a somewhat crabbish hand, and it is difficult if not impossible to read him.
Secretaries seemed to change with astonishing regularity. The Charter Master, Edwin Whiley became Secretary for the first time in 1896. Here was a no-nonsense man in every sense of the word, and some of his letters are a delight to read. So on the 31st of January 1898 he wrote a letter to a disgrutled applicant for initiation who had been rejected.
"Dear Sir", he writes, "your favour of the 14th instant is duly to hand, and I must say I am surprised at your publishing your rejection to the world at large. Your wisest course would have been to keep (the matter?) to yourself. However much I deplore what has taken place be rejecting your application, I still consider you to have acted unwisely by letting others know of it, for if you have not acted as you did, no one but yourself would have known, for none of us would have spoken about it outside of our Lodge".
In 1898 a request by a certain Mr van de Spuy for space to use as a classroom was reluctantly refused by the Brethren as the Lodge had insufficient room.
In 1909 when he was again Secretary, Bro. Whiley writes to a Brother. "Your letter of the 21st instant is to hand. I must say the contents came as a surprise, as in your letter of 2nd October 1908 in which you ask for a clearance paper nothing was said about resigning your membeship. I enclose a copy of your letter and if you can find in that a single place where resignation is mentioned, or even that you want your name off the books, then I will apologise. It is not an uncommon practice for a Brother to ask for a clearance certificate so as to join another Lodge, without resigning his membership of his Mother Lodge".
So also he advises another Brother who had tendered his resignation "If you will take my advice, don't resign as you can always take your third degree at any of our regular meetings, and another thing, do not listen to any nonsense that others may tell you , as I hear that Bro. So and So has been telling you that you will have to re-apply and other nonsense".

In 1894 correspondence was sent directly to Grand Lodge in London, and numerous letters addressed to Edward Letchworth Esq., Grand Secretary, Freemason's Hall, London, W.C. are in the records.
On the 10th of September 1894, a letter to London reads : "Whereas it has been represented to us that the Brethren of Mafeking, British Bechuanaland, are desirous of establishing a Lodge at Mafeking and that it would tend greatly to the Benefit of Freemasonry if a Warrant of Charter is granted to the Brethren at Mafeking aforesaid. We, the Worshipful Master and Wardens of the El Dorado Lodge No 2314 therefore recommend that a Warrant or Charter be granted by the Most Worshipful, the Grand Master of the establishment of a Lodge at Mafeking aforesaid, vide rule No. 116 of the Book of Constitutions". The letter is signed by E Whiley, G B Stern and J E Frost.
The Charter or Warrant was duly granted to the Brethren of Mafeking, and the Austral Lodge No 2534 was born. This Lodge was later fondly referred to as the Siege Lodge, recalling the Siege of Mafeking. Interestingly, at the Relief of Mafeking in 1900, a new word was given to the English Language, to this day still in reliable English dictionaries : to maffick, or "to rejoice or celebrate with boisterous public demonstrations".
On the 8th of December 1894 a letter to Messrs Hirsch, Loubser & Co of Port Elizabeth reads as follows : "As the lease of the premises at present occupied by the El Dorado Lodge 2314 as a Lodge room and leased by them from Julius Markson, and now held by you as assignees in his estate expires in May 1895, I have been instructed to communicate with you as to renewal of above-mentioned lease. Will you therefore kindly let me know, so as to enable me to lay the matter before the Lodge, what the lowest possible rent is you are prepared to take for the above-mentioned premises. I may state that the Lodge is not in a position financially (does this sound familiar to present day members?) to renew the lease at present rental, and expect you to make a substantial reduction, otherwise the Lodge will have to make other arrangements ; in fact they have had an offer of other premises at a very low rental, but prefer to remain where they are, if they can come to terms with you. In conclusion I have to inform you that Mr N Raphael a Member of our Lodge, who is at present residing at Ottoshoop and who is leaving for Port Elizabeth on or about the 10th instant, is authorised to call on you relative to the above matter". The writer, who has a bold flowing signature, is a certain E H Colley who was then the Secretary.
The author has been unable to discover what eventuated as a result of this correspondence, but on the 3rd of November 1897 the property, where the Lodge is today, was registered in the Lodge's name. In the deed, drawn by certain D J Esselen from Pretoria, on authority of Diederik Johannes Jacobus Coetzee and John Henry Montgomery as executors in the deceased estate of Maria Isabella Coetzee and predeceased husbank Diederik Jacobus Coetzee, transfer of a property, according to a map drawn by surveyor W J Fonde in September 1877, is given to George Bellville Stern and Phillip John Frost in their capacities as curators of El Dorado Lodge 2314. The amount paid was £10-0-0 sterling. When one considers that the purchase price was only R20,00 for the whole property, it comes as a rather stunning shock to find that today the Lodge has to pay out R1742=00 annually to the Municipal Council as assessment rates. This is quite apart from charges levied for water, lights and sanitation fees. The El Dorado Lodge was then well established : it had its own property and the register of members records 54 members on the books. The attendance register of November 1897 records an attendance of only 15 members and one visitor. The attendance register also records the fact that even in those days there were only a few Brethren who regularly attended the Lodge. Some names appear only twice, others at every meeting.
For some time correspondence was conducted with both the Grand Lodge and the District Grand Lodge. So, for example, two letters appear under the date of 16th November 1895. One to J da Silva Esq., District Grand Secretary, Johannesburg, enclosing postage stamps to the value of 5/- (50c) as a fee for the registration of the alteration of the by-laws of the Lodge. The next is to Ed. Letchworth Esq., Grand Secretary, Freemansons Hall, London and reads as follows :
"Very Worshipful Sir and Bro.,
Your circular of Oct. 16th last year, calling attention to the absence of returns of Masters and Wardens of this Lodge for the years 1890 - 1891 and further noting that the last Bro. registered dated back to 1892 came duly to hand.
In reply I have to point out that the workings of the Lodge began in Feb 1892 when it was transferred here from Malmani (Ottoshoop) and Bro E Whiley was installed as the WM, elected. The returns for 1892/3 and all subsequent years have been duly sent in, together with all payments due, and we hold receipts and have received certificated up to date, all in due form - the last certificate received being that of Bro R J G Sinclair raised June 5th of this year. I trust that upon enquiry this explanation will prove satisfactory, but shall be happy to reply to any further questions. I have the honour to be Very Worshipful Sir, yours faithfully and fraternally. (Signed) (Rev) Chas. Page-Wood., Secretary".
Is not the world a poorer place for want of such old-world courtesy?

On the 27th of April 1896 a letter is forwarded to a group of printers in Grahamstown. The address and name are illegible, and 500 Lodge notices ordered. The letter reads "Kindly send me 500 Lodge notices as per enclosed form, printed in blue ink and send them as soon as possible, and on receipt of above together with account I shall remit amount to you". On the 17th of July £1-10-0 sterling is forwarded and the Printers advised : "The Lodge notices have been given every satisfactory they being better done than those we have had done in this State" (sic)
On the 16th of May 1896 the "El Dorado Lodge of Freemasons" addressed a letter to L P Boyce Esq., as Secretary for the Undenominational Congregational Church of Zeerust in the following terms :
"Dear Sir,
In terms of resolution at a meeting held last evening I have to inform you that the members of the El Dorado Lodge of Freemasons have decided not to grant the use of their Hall from one month from date hereof.
You will therefore have to provide yourself with some other place for the purpose of holding your services. I may add that we find it very inconvenient in having continually to be moving our Lodge furniture about".
The grandson and namesake of the recipient of the letter is a Past Master of the Lodge, and he is still closely linked with the (now) Congregational Church in Zeerust, as was his father and Grandfather. Sadly he is with us no more, having passed to the Grand Lodge above in August 1997.
At a Church service held especially for Freemasons in the Congregational Church at Zeerust, the presiding Minister welcomed the members of the Lodge to the Church as the Church had been welcomed in the Masonic Temple at its inception in Zeerust.
In 1899 the Anglo Boer War broke out on the 10th of October. The last letter appearing in the correspondence book is dated 28th September 1899, and the next one is under the date of 4th April 1902 after the cessation of hostilities.
The attendance register makes for interesting reading. On the 24th June 1894 a meeting is marked as "Sunday Service Meeting" and 17 members and two visitors signed the register. On the 11th of October 1898 only four Brethren sign, and a note appears on the Register "No meeting - not sufficient members being present to open the Lodge". The meetings are then regularly entered up to the 12th of September 1899 and the next meeting appears under the date 14th October 1902. It appears that there was indeed a break in meetings of the Lodge, as no record appears of any meetings between 1899 and 1902. Meetings were then held regularly, and on the 10th August 1915 the ominous words "no meeting there being insufficient Brethren to open the Lodge" appear. Three Brethren and one visitor signed the register.
Then during various dates in 1917 the same entry appeared nine times. On the 14th day of May 1918 only five Brethren signed the register, and the next page, which is blanked and undated, contains the words "Lodge Recess".
The next meeting is recorded as being on the 6th of April 1920 when four Brethren signed the register. In 1921 two more occasions arise when no meetings were held, and then on the 15th of April 1922 - an Installation Meeting - 14 members and 30 visitors sign the register. The Lodge then seems to enter a flourishing period, for on the 12th of March 1929, 31 members and 1 visitor sign the register. The last meeting recorded in that particular register is the one for the Installation on 13th of April 1929. At that meeting 28 members and 16 visitors attended including RWBro Burt-Andrews the then DGM of the Transvaal.
On the 18th of January 1911 the Brethren formed the "Marico Endeavour Lodge of Instruction" with WBrethren Salinger, Frost, Whiley and Brethren Farmer, Hoops, Thompson, O'Leary, Cohen, Kay, Lucas and Lloyd as founder members. The introduction, which was read at the meeting, reads as follows (in part) : "Freemasons communicate the tenets and principles of their order orally : the necessity for Lodges of instruction is thus obvious. Taking into consideration the number of Brethren residing in the locality boasting only one Lodge, it is truly astonishing, and not a little discouraging to those who are striving to disseminate the sublime tenets of Freemasonry, to find how comparatively few are those whose inclination leads them to visit such a Lodge, or renders assistance in furthering their prosperity".
As the meeting on the 25th January 1911, 10 Brethren attended, and the collection amounted to 6/3 (62c) . The last meeting of this Lodge of instruction which is recorded in the minute book is dated 27th November 1913, at which 6 Brethren were present and 4/3 (42c) was collected. It is recorded that WBro P Kaye had presented the Lodge with a substantial minute book, but this could not be found.
The author has known and attended the El Dorado Lodge for a quarter of a century and he has no knowledge of the Lodge of Instruction and has been unable to determine its ultimate fate.
The invoice book of 1907 shows that subscriptions were £1-1-0 (R2,10) per annum, Initiation fees were £4-4-0 (R8,80) each. The apron and case cost £1-15-0 (R3,50).
The declaration to be signed by the candidates are hand-written in a semi-copperplate, and it is obvious that many hours of loving care and labour went into their compilation. The by-laws of 1891 and 1908 are hand-written as well, with amendments made in red ink. The by-laws are signed by all members and so those of 1891 bear 56 signatures, and the 1908 ones 32.
Eldorado Lodge (when the change from El Dorado, which is apparently correct, took place is unknown) is today still going strong. The same problems that beset our older Brethren are still dogging our footsteps, lack of money and support from Brethren in the area. When the Lodge went into recess Bro G Devine, who was then Secretary, wrote and complained that he was the only member of the Lodge, who attended Lodge, who resided in Zeerust. The same position applied in 1975. The Secretary was the only member of all those resident in Zeerust who attended Lodge. This has been mentioned before but it bears mentioning again - money is one problem. The account for Municipal services for January, 1975 is R58,31, and a revaluation of properties, for assessment rate purposes, is due to be made in 1975. So this is a problem that will become worse before it improves. The present day rates of about R650=00 per month for Municipal rates would no doubt have caused nightmares to our older Brethren.
El Dorado now has a handful of dedicated and determined Past Masters and a few young determined Members who, with the backing of an equally determined and helpful District Grand Lodge will keep El Dorado Lodge No 2314 on the go.
PS : This brief overview of the history and background of the El Dorado Lodge was written by my late Father and Brother, Llewellyn Begg Verster, who was the Secretary of the Lodge fo close on 30 years, until his untimely death 18th November 1984. I found this document amongst some Lodge papers one day, and it was forwarded to the District in Johannesburg for inclusion into a book that was published recently to commemorate the centenary of the District Grand Lodge of the Transvaal in 1995. El Dorado Lodge celebrated its own Centenary in 1992. At present the Lodge is struggling under the financial burden, and lack of members. The few dedicated Brethren who still regularly attend the Lodge meetings are determined to keep El Dorado going .With such a colourful and interesting history, we can not allow the Lodge to fade into oblivion .
Willem Verster, PDJGW
P.O.Box 71

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