Dunedin theosophists ... have [sic always] been active seekers with diverse interests... reports Dunedin Lodge member Alistair McMurran as he shares..
The Dunedin Lodge of TSNZ was formed in 1893 and the Charter of the Dunedin Lodge was signed by the first International President, Colonel Olcott on 23 May 1893. Since then, many interesting and lively characters have been members and given service to the Dunedin Lodge of the society.
The Inglis and Pollard families were the most influential in the Dunedin Lodge last century. Mrs A. J. Pollard, their mother, was president and her daughters Cecilia and Truda Burrell also filled that role. Rose Pollard was a long time secretary and treasurer.
The most noted member of the Inglis family was Agnes, who was the acknowledged mystic of the lodge. She lived into the 1980s and wrote an unpublished history of the Dunedin Lodge that emphasised the influences of the Ascended Masters who formed the Theosophical Society in 1875. Her mother and sister were also members.
Agnes Inglis epitomises the different threads that have been part of the Dunedin Lodge history. She was an avid reader, psychic, occultist and the daughter of John Inglis who joined the lodge in 1901. Agnes was a long term secretary and librarian with sparkling eyes and a deep spiritual understanding. She was a member of the Lotus Circle, a Sunday school for children, that met weekly in Liverpool Street. Agnes Inglis knew that the Theosophical Society had to continually adapt and was never meant to stay in the Victorian era.
The Inglis family was helped by the Masters when little sister Annie died at nine months. "Dad brought home a theosophical book and mother read that a baby often comes back to the same family,'' Inglis wrote. She was uplifted and also helped by a great Adept (Indian) who appeared to her in the passage of their Maclaggan Street home. His eyes seemed to give great strength. Five years later she saw photos of these Adepts (Masters) who live in the Himalayas and she recognised her helper. Lex (Alexandrina Inglis) was born on 30 January 1903. "Mother knew before she was born that this was the same baby,'' wrote Inglis. Inglis was taught dancing and elocution as a member of the Order of the Round Table when growing up. "We had to prepare a talk. It was an effort speaking for five minutes on a single topic,'' she wrote.
The Round Table also emphasised service and part of her duty was to empty the ashes from three large fireplaces and set the fires ready to light for Sunday evening TS lectures. Inglis had a number of direct contacts with the Theosophical Masters and was once saved from serious injury when a large bookcase fell on top of her at the Theosophical Society building in High Street. "I did not speak about the voice of the unseen person whose advice saved me,'' she wrote, "I believe he was one of the Masters who helped form the Theosophical Society in 1875. They have clairvoyant vision and other occult faculties unknown to ordinary people.''
The Masters Kuthumi and El Morya and their assistants have influenced key decisions taken by the Dunedin Lodge over the last 116 years. This influence is highlighted in the University of Otago history thesis by A. Y. Atkinson on The Dunedin Theosophical Society 1892 to 1900 that was published in 1978:
"One day travelling on the train from Sawyers Bay to Dunedin, Augustus William Maurais noticed that the elderly gentleman seated across from him was reading a theosophical magazine. Introductions were quickly made and the stranger proved to be Grant Farquhar, wealthy partner in the tannery factory at Sawyers Bay and a keen enthusiast on all matters theosophical.''
Maurais called a meeting to discuss the formation of the Dunedin Lodge in December 1892. It ended in disagreement between advocates of spiritualism and Maurais who considered the Wisdom Tradition the most important aspect of the society. The spiritualists were not invited to the meeting in February 1893 that started the Dunedin Lodge of the Theosophical Society in New Zealand.
Maurais, who had read deeply into the Wisdom Tradition, became the first secretary. His knowledge was necessary during the first decade when theosophy was viciously attacked from the pulpit by the famous Dunedin Presbyterian minister the Rev. Rutherford Waddell. Atkinson wrote: "Scarcely a day went by when the morning or evening newspapers did not print a letter written by a theosophist or one of theosophy’s critics.” (A large part of the correspondence centred around the scandals and frauds associated with theosophy.) "Maurais, writing in the Evening Star in 1894, pointed out that the body of knowledge itself was more important to theosophists than the beings, human or spiritual, who had conveyed it.'' However, on reading these old records, one comes to the conclusion that a great deal of what Jung calls synchronicity was taking place at the time. You could call it ‘the touch of the Master's hand’.
The visit by Annie Besant on her second visit to Dunedin in 1908 (she also visited the lodge in Dunedin in 1894) was a highlight for Agnes Inglis who wrote, "She came to our room in the Lotus Circle and sat behind the table by the window." Inglis wrote in her historical account, "She said, 'Please close the window. I must not get a sore throat as I have to lecture...’ Annie Besant spoke to us on good citizenship and told us to choose work to help the country and to keep our town beautiful and clean. At night the theatre was packed. Her voice was quiet at first, but grew stronger as she went on; her voice reaching a high pitch. Sometimes she stopped and you could hear a pin drop. She had no notes and spoke entirely from memory.''
The Dunedin Lodge had leasehold rooms in Dowling Street from 1914 but moved to a freehold property at 236 High Street in 1945 when the owners doubled the ground rent. "The introduction of television in the early 1960s caused our Sunday night audiences to dwindle so we changed the public meeting to a week night, thus breaking the habit that the lodge began in 1893,'' Inglis wrote. "We have to adapt to modern needs and understand what people need most along spiritual lines.''
Atkinson highlights the early members of the Dunedin Lodge as intellectuals with compulsive reading habits and breadth of outlook. "They were confident and possessed a tendency to deviate from the norm,'' Atkinson wrote in his thesis, "Maurais's desire for ‘back to nature self-sufficiency’ was an example of this.'' Long-term member Charles Burrell was another example of an active member with diverse interests. Each week he would swim from St Clair Beach through the surf to the off-shore White Island and back. He was a very fit man who had an ability to read people's minds.
New people have come into the lodge and shifted the thinking and activities. It has never been static. The lodge helps people gain skills and confidence. For example, the quiet and gentle Victor Nelson was aged 90 when he gave his first public talk. Nellie Huls, the president for 13 years during the late 1970s and 1980s, opened up the lodge and allowed the public to attend all meetings. It brought in new and vigorous people. Richard Botting, a natural healer, made a huge impact in the late 1980s and once gave a public talk on crystals without notes. Erika Bianca was a vigorous president during the 1990s who, with the help of Dr Tarlton Fraser, changed the style of public meetings. Outside experts were invited to give public talks. This worked and the numbers at meetings increased and membership grew.
The president has always been a powerful person in the lodge. Their personality and ideas have shifted the emphasis and added to the vast complexity that is the Dunedin Lodge. Under Erika Bianca the move was away from pure intellectual pursuits to a wide variety of general interest topics. In Phil Philpot's reign as president in the first decade of the 21st century, the intellectual side of the lodge was emphasised Victor MacGill has introduced a consensus approach to his administration.
Lack of finance was a problem at this time and a lot of energy of the committee was spent on housekeeping duties and not on promoting theosophy. Philpot and former Australian Aelred Edmunds took the initiative and sold the building at the height of the property market boom. It was another example of the guidance of the Masters.
The Dunedin Lodge headquarters has been at the old RSA building in Moray Place for the last three years. The financial freedom from selling the High Street property enabled the lodge to set in place a vigorous weekly programme. The RSA building was owned by new life member Margaret van der Vis, who started the meditation group. It was sold when she shifted to a retirement village at Mosgiel with her husband. The new owner wanted to use the building for other purposes and the Dunedin Lodge had to find a new home.
The lodge moved to new rooms in the Upstart Building in Water Street in 2009. After five years there the lodge was able to buy the building at 469 Hillside Road (the former Fitzroy hotel at Bathgate park).
The last word of this history, belongs to Linda Hampton, the great granddaughter of John Inglis, who echoes the impact the Inglis family has had on the Dunedin Lodge over the last 100 years: "Perhaps we ought to ask the Masters what should be done [next].....They still have a hand in what the TS is – [we can] trust that their guiding hands will continue to show the way.''
Websites of interest:
Key Dates for the Dunedin Lodge:
1893 Dunedin Lodge formed (February). Charter signed by Colonel Olcott (May)
1893 Rented small room next to Jacobs Tobacconist 1894 Visit by Annie Besant (also 1908)
1897 Visit by Colonel Olcott
1900 to 1914 rented large room, John Reid's Building, Liverpool St and temporary rooms 1904 Lotus Circle opened and Round Table formed
1905 Visit by C W Leadbeater (also 1910, 1912, 1918)
1914-45 Leasehold property 17 Dowling St
1920 Mr G Richardson donated 2000 books to form library
1930 Visit by George Arundale and Ernest Wood
1931 First National Convention held in Dunedin
1945-2006 Freehold property, 236 High Street
1949 Visit by John Coats (also 1959, 1970)
1978 A.Y. Atkinson - BA Honours History thesis: Dunedin Theosophical Society (1892 to 1900)
2006-09 Rented room, RSA Building, Moray Place
2009 Rented room in Upstart Building, Water Street
2014 Bought new building at 469 Hillside Road, Caversham; ie former Fitzroy hotel at Bathgate P