The first public appearance of freemasons in New Zealand was at the laying of the foundation stone of St. Paul's Church in Auckland in 1841, for The New Zealand Herald and Auckland Gazette of 31 July 1841 reported that: “The Gentlemen of Auckland who are Freemasons appeared with the decorations and insignia of their Order” at the ceremony. Apparently, shortly after this date, steps were taken to form a local lodge and the first lodge under the constitution of the Grand Lodge of Ireland was opened in Auckland early in 1843.
This, however, was not the first meeting held in New Zealand, for freemasons had been active in Wellington and, after a preliminary meeting in August 1842, the first regular meeting of the new lodge was held in October 1842. This lodge was formed under the constitution of the Grand Lodge of England. It was not until 19 years later, in 1861, that the first lodge under the constitution of the Grand Lodge of Scotland appeared, naturally enough in Dunedin. With the three constitutions established in New Zealand, it might have been expected that rivalry and jealousy would have developed among them, but this does not appear to have been the case – on the contrary, the lodges seem to have fraternised and cooperated with one another.
One of the problems of the time was the delays inherent in communications with the parent bodies, and it was possibly in an attempt to overcome these difficulties that district or provincial lodges were established. By 1890, nine of these district lodges had been established under the various constitutions, but apparently the problems were not entirely overcome for in that year the Grand Lodge of New Zealand was formed.
The practice of benevolence and charity has always been a hallmark of freemasonry and, while it is not a benefit society undertaking to make payments in return for contributions, it has done much work in assisting the widows and children of deceased members and helping those members who, because of misfortune, need assistance. Orphanages have been maintained for many years, and a recent extension of activity has been the erection in Auckland of a home for the aged. Proposals for similar homes in other centres are being actively pursued.
There are over 700 lodges, or other groups of freemasons in New Zealand, and the two principal groups, the Grand Lodge of New Zealand and the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter, have an aggregate membership of 58,000. This latter figure, however, makes no allowance for plural memberships.