The ceremony of dedicating the New Freemasons' Hall took place on Tuesday, 23rd April 1861. The members of the several lodges under the English, Scottish, and Irish constitutions mustered very strongly, and most of the principal Masons in Sydney were present to witness this interesting and imposing ceremony. There were about 300 members in all, mid amongst them we noticed Brother J. Williams, DPGM; Brother Thornton, DPGM, and Brother Hobbs, DPGM, being the three Grand Masters under the English, Irish, and Scottish Constitutions, mid the Gov. G. Macarthur, the Chaplain of the Grand Lodge. The following Brethren, also, represented the Legislative Assembly: - Dick, Gray, Dalgleish, and Hoskins. Before proceeding to give an account of the ceremony it may be desirable to give a description of the building, which will now occupy a prominent position amongst our public edifices.

The new building has boon erected upon ground belonging to the Freemasons, extending from York Street back to Clarence Street. In consequence of a lane running between the two thoroughfares, communicating with the adjoining premises, it was necessary to confine the principal building between the lane and Clarence Street. The Freemasons' Hotel has not been interfered with, but at the north side of the hotel a passage has been made, so as to afford communication to the Hall from both streets. The principal entrance will of course be in Clarence Street. The facade of the structure is bold and striking, the ornamentation being appropriate and tasteful, but somewhat deficient in projection. The basement is Doric, and above the Ionic style is followed, a row of pilasters supporting a massive pediment, which it is intended at some future period to fill with sculptured emblems of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Above each of the five arched windows are panels, intended for the reception of Masonic emblems. The principal entrance is between square Doric pilasters, which are surmounted with a pediment.

The grand vestibule, which is twenty-five feet by nineteen, and paved with squares of black and white marble, opens upon the lodge rooms and other offices. There are two lodge rooms and a super room, which being each thirty-five foot by twenty-two, will afford ample accommodation for the meetings of the several lodges. The approach to the rooms opposite the entrance is through an archway between two Ionic columns of enamelled slate, ordered from London for the purpose; the dark marble-like appearance of these in contrast with tile white plaster has a very pleasing effect.

To the left, on entering the vestibule, a handsome spiral cedar staircase six feel in width conducts to the great hall. The interior of the hall has an elegant appearance so far as size, loftiness, and the duo observance of architectural rules are concerned; but the almost entire absence of ornament upon the walls is very conspicuous and displeasing. It is right to explain the reason for this. The whole of the amount required for the completion of the building, according to the architect's designs not being raised, it was decided to proceed with the necessary parts of the building and to postpone for the pro sent all superfluous ornament. Consequently, the pilasters, which relieve the walls on either side of the hall, are without caps, and the cornices are destitute of enrichment. The arched recesses between the pilasters are also plain, but all the arrangements have, we understand, been made for their decoration with Masonic emblems. The hall is lit by five lofty arched windows at either end; and gas lamps are to be lit at night upon neat brackets in the recesses and upon a pendent from the centre of the ceiling; the latter is, however, a temporary arrangement, an elegant glass chandelier having boon ordered from England.

The dimensions of the hall are seventy-five feet by fifty, and the height of the ceiling thirty feet clear. The present condition of the ceiling also bears marks of the economy that has been studied in carrying out the work. Within each of the divisions of the ceiling are rows of perforated zinc, through which at present the ceiling joists are visible, but which will, in course of time, be covered with tasteful scrollwork. Above the staircase is a handsome glory extending across the hall. , Altogether, about thirteen hundred persons can be seated in the hall, inclusive of two hundred in the gallery. The rough provision is made for ventilation by the skirting being perforated; through which a constant draft of air admitted by the grating outside is introduced, to replace the foul air, which passes off through the perforations in the coiling. A similar apparatus is provided in all of the lodge and supper rooms, none of which have any fireplaces.

The hall is entered at the east side by a movable staging thrown across the lane from the passage leading from the Freemasons' Hotel. The entrance in York street, at which there are ornamental iron gates, is Doric; a carved head, intended to represent Solomon forms the key of the arch, and in the centre of the arch, in a circular panel, is the escutcheon of the English Constitution a very clever piece of carving. The pediment above the arch appears disproportionately heavy. At the back of the Hotel, adjoining the Hall, some convenient cloakrooms and other offices have been fitted up.

The Freemasons' Hall has been executed from the designs, and under the direction of  Mr 'G. A. Mansttold. The masonry and brickwork have been executed by Mr Lockridge, and the carpenters' work by Mr Alston. The cost of the building, so far as at present finished, has been £6500, which sum has been raised by shares taken up by the members of the several Freemasons’' lodges in Sydney.

The completion of the Freemasons' Hall supplies to a large extent the want long felt in Sydney of a spacious and commodious assembly room, adapted for public purposes, and more particularly for musical performances. Without underrating the accommodation afforded by other buildings it may fairly be stated that in respect to size, capacity, and general arrangements, the Freemasons' Hall is a great improvement on them. This may at all events, be inferred from the fact of the two loading musical associations in Sydney -the Philharmonic Society and the Vocal Harmonic Society having entered into an engagement with the Freemasons for the use of the hall for their concerts, and also for their rehearsals. For these occasions a platform will be erected at the eastern end of the hall, and upon this will be placed the largo organ belonging to the Vocal Harmonic Society, hitherto in the Castlereagh Street schoolroom. The first concert that will take place in the hall will be the performance by the above society, of the oratorio " Elijah," on the 9th of May.

There can be no doubt that a hall of much larger dimensions would be filled upon occasions when popular concerts or largo public meetings are held ; and should the Freemasons be able to obtain possession of the lane which at present awkwardly divides their property, they might so extend the hall so as to meet all the possible requirements of Sydney in that respect.

The Grand Hall, in which the ceremony of consecration took place, was decorated with the flags of all nations, the banners of the Provincial Grand Lodge of New South Wales, the Zetland Lodge, the St. Andrew's Lodge, and other Masonic emblems. In the centre of the Hall was a table, on which were placed a Salver of silver containing corn, and two silver goblets, and on either side, containing wine and oil. As in all Masonic ceremonies only the initiated are admitted, it is impossible for us to give a detailed account of what actually took place, but we may fairly state the greater portion of the ceremony which was really grand, interesting, and impressive. The brethren of the several lodges having assembled, were ranged round the hall in the following manner, under the direction of the Grandmaster of the ceremonies, Brother Israel, and several assistants: - On the west, the Brethren of the English lodges ; on the south, the Brethren of the Scottish lodges ; mid on the north, the ' Brethren of the Irish lodges. The east side of the hall was reserved for

The Provincial Grand Lodges, under the English, Irish, and Scottish Constitutions.

At a quarter past twelve o'clock the ceremony was commenced by the members of the three Grand Provincial Lodges entering and marching in procession round the hall. They were led by the D.P.G.M. Brother Williams, D.P.G.M. Brother Thornton, D.P.G.M. Brother Hobbs, accompanied by the Provincial Grand Chaplains, Rev, G. Macarthur, Brother Murphy, and Brother Malim, and most of the Senior Past Masters, and Masters of the several lodges. Having taken the places appropriated to them at the north end of the building, the Provincial Grand Chaplain opened the proceedings with a prayer, all the brethren standing, and in full Masonic costume. The grand honours, usual amongst Masons, were then given by the brethren and sacred music was played on the organ by Brother Packer who also conducted the choir. The CXXXIII Psalm was then chanted by the choir and the grand honours were again given by the Masons. The Provincial Grand Chaplain then delivered an oration to the brethren, in which he enlarged on the principles of Masonry and refuted the charges that had been made against the Masons as a body. An anthem was then sung by the organist and brethren. At its conclusion the Provincial Grand Chaplain read the consecration prayer, and the brethren formed for perambulating round the Hall. The salvers and goblets containing the corn, wine, and oil were then borne by the three Grand Masters, who led the procession, the organ playing sacred music. The first perambulation, with corn, was borne by the D.P.G.M. of the English Constitution; the second perambulation, with wine, by the D.P.G.M. of the Irish Constitution; and the third perambulation, with oil, by the DPGM of the Scottish Constitution. At the end of each perambulation an appropriate sentence was enunciated by each D P G M.  After the perambulations had been concluded, the brethren having again taken their places, a prayer and a blessing upon the undertaking was pronounced by the Provincial Grand Chaplain. The response “Glory be to God on High” being given by the brethren, as well as the response of "As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end ….So mote it be”

The following address was then delivered by Brother DPGM

"Brethren, the active duties that have devolved on me as chairman in connection with my brother directors, in the building and completion of this edifice, must be my apology for offering a few remarks on this auspicious occasion. I need scarcely inform my brethren, as most of you are aware of the fact, that eleven months ago, when it pleased the G A O T U to permit me, through the brethren, to have the great honour of laying the foundation stone of this magnificent building and without egotism I may call it so, as it stands unequalled in the colonies (for the purposes it is intended), that the directors in the beginning were beset by no mean or ordinary difficulties, surrounded by conflicting interests and gloomy forebodings of failure, and harassed by the technicalities of law, yet by the blessing of Divine providence we have surmounted all obstacles and impediments, and here we now offer to the brethren who entrusted us with the heavy responsibility of carrying out their wishes and intentions a building suitable for all the requirements of the craft in this city, and worthy of the order to which we belong. One great object to be attained, and which has ever been kept in view by the director, is the necessity of concentrating and centralising the Masonic body in this city irrespective of Constitutions with a view of all the brethren in the colony partaking of its benefits in a greater or lesser degree with one common interest moving the whole, and while we have provided for the necessary accommodation of the craft through the moneys of the craft, we have not forgotten to provide also for the requirements of other public assemblies, so that pleasure and profit may be the mutual result.

It is with no small decree of pride I point out to you the largest shareholder in this institution "you naturally wish to know who that may be well, brethren, you see the symbols that represent life and truth, in the serpent and the square, and the largest shareholders stand, much in the same position, as he is only present by his representatives they are the trustees of the Masonic Orphan Fund. And now, brethren, on you rest and de- pends the future welfare and prosperity of this institution, by unity of purpose, and that peculiar characteristic we most profess, brotherly love. Let no petty jealousy of distinctive positions in the craft be the means of setting aside that fraternal amity which should over exist amongst freemasons. Each brother in his turn, be he ever so lowly, can add his mite to the general stock, for the welfare and good of the order. What matters it to what constitution he may belong, or whether he be Grand Master or Tyler, so long as he can assist in the good work for the benefit of the craft. Thus I would exhort you, brethren, be true to yourselves by the truthful representation of these grand principles to which, in the name of the G A O T U, this hall has been dedicated Brotherly love, relief, and truth, thus you will stand unshaken as a living monument of what freemasonry can do when unactuated by selfish or mercenary motives, guided and governed by this singleness of purpose, from you in Australia will spring an imitation of the mother Grand Lodges, these noble, I might say holy, institutions, to whose care is consigned the aged and decayed freemasons, the widow and the orphan. Yes, brethren, on you shortly will devolve the care and education of the orphan children of the good and true Mason, who, by his careful attention to his duties as such, will bequeath to his brethren, when it pleases The Grand Muster to call him hence, the sacred trust and nurture of these that are most dear to him. How soothing it must be to think how tranquilising in the last moments of a departing brother to know that while the spirit is passing into the hands of our Great Father, under his blessing, his beloved ones are entrusted to his brethren by keeping our thoughts directed to these good and humane objects, we will lose much of individual self, and be truly what we are intended to be by the will and blessing of the G A O T U, the most noble and fraternal of human institutions "

The D P G M having concluded his address the anthem of "To Heaven's High Architect," was chanted by the choir, and grand honours were given by the brethren, The national anthem was then sung, the brethren joining in the chorus. The benediction having been pronounced by the Provincial Grand Chaplain, the members of the provincial grand lodges of Now South Wales marched round the hall and quitted it, in the same manner they had entered. The ceremony being thus concluded, the brethren took their departure.

A ball, in celebration of the opening of the New Freemasons' Hall, was held yesterday evening. The company began to assemble at half-past eight o’clock, and in au hour's time, there being about five hundred present; dancing commenced, and was kept up with Great Spirit during the whole night. At twelve o'clock supper was served in the three lodge rooms, consequently, everybody was able to enjoy the good things provided without the confusion usually attending balls of a similar character. After supper dancing was resumed, and kept up till an early hour this morning, when the party broke up, well satisfied with their evening's amusement The hall was decorated with flags, and was well lighted up by the temporary chandelier on brackets in the recesses. The German band was in attendance, and played in their usual skilful manner. We must not omit mentioning that great credit is duo to Mr Cohen, of the Freemason’s' Hotel, for the manner in which the supper and refreshments were served.

Extracted from The Sydney Morning Herald – Tuesday 21 May 1861 – page 11

(originally published SMH 24 April 1861 – page 8)