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Our History

The History of Manchester Unity

Manchester Unity in New Zealand commenced in 1842.  New Zealand was a young country then.  However, before 1842, there was the Odd fellowship. 

The beginning of Odd fellowship in New Zealand was different to those in other Countries. Odd fellowship did not originate from New Zealand, rather it began somewhere at sea in a Longboat on the ship Martha Ridgeway, which sailed from Liverpool on 6th November 1841 with 219 passengers.

Among them was Thomas Sullivan who discovered on board several others who like himself, were members of the Manchester Unity, resulting in nine men attending those meetings on the ship. They named their ship-based Lodge, “Strangers Refuge”.

The ship arrived in Nelson on Monday 4th April 1842.  It was reported that “those members of Manchester Unity were made of the right stuff” as just 3 days after landing they held their first meeting, on 7th April 1842 at about 4.00pm, in the fern. Thus the Nelson Lodge was formed.  Appropriate dispensation was sought via the Australian Order to the UK.  It was the beginning of Manchester Unity.  Hence, Manchester Unity is New Zealand’s oldest Traditional Friendly Society.  We can state that we have been here since 1842.

Considering the transport constraints, which were mainly by sea, Odd fellowship spread reasonably rapidly throughout New Zealand with Lodges being formed in: Wellington 1843; Auckland 1844; Dunedin 1848 and Lyttelton 1851.  Therefore, Odd Fellowship had made a spontaneous appearance in five widely-scattered parts of New Zealand, which were further extended as our pioneers settled in other parts of the country.

There was true dedication and commitment from those founding members that was typified by the actions of Thomas Kent, who led the formation of the North Canterbury and Ashley Districts. On moving from Lyttelton to Christchurch in 1853, he and others established the Loyal City of Christchurch Lodge. The Dispensation of the Lodge did not arrive from Manchester for several years, so to ensure the Lodge could meet each fortnight, Thomas Kent would carry the Dispensation of the Lodge in Lyttelton over the Bridle Path to Christchurch.

The successful spread of Odd Fellowship can be best summed up with the recording of 195 Lodges being formed throughout the Country between 1843 and 1899.

Initially females were not allowed in what was termed ‘Male Lodges” and it wasn’t until 1895 that the Sister Wallis Lodge (the first Lodge of Sisters in Australasia) was opened in Wellington. It was some years before a number of Lodges would admit females, but today they play a prominent part and hold senior positions within our Organisation.

In 1902 the New Zealand Branch was formed, with the first Movable Committee being held in Wellington on the 17th April 1902. John McLeod was elected as the first Grand Master serving a two year term that has continued on a biannual basis at the Society’s Movable Conference.  

The New Zealand branch was funded and operated by New Zealanders under the laws and circumstances of New Zealand.  Since then, Manchester Unity in NZ has continued to be funded and operated locally and independently from UK Oddfellows.  The historical connection of fraternity traditions has continued to be observed and honoured between these two, quite independent entities.  Currently, Manchester Unity’s funding and operation is administered in New Zealand as an independent friendly society in compliance with NZ’s  Friendly Societies and Credit Unions Act.

With the Society being formed, this created a three tier structure as a number of Districts were operating throughout the country. This gave members an opportunity to progress from their Lodge to District level and for some (with the necessary skills and experience) onto Society where the roles and responsibilities became far more demanding.

Manchester Unity along with other Friendly Societies can be credited with providing the medical and social support before Government introduced Social Security in 1938.  

Manchester Unity has always been adaptable to change for not only meeting members’ needs, but also those of the Regulators. Since the first 100 years, a number of additional financial products were made available for the membership, like mortgages and savings accounts. Recent compliance for Friendly Societies has put some limitations on the financial products offerings, so Manchester Unity concentrates on providing insurance products.

In conclusion, the formation and evolution of Manchester Unity Friendly Society in New Zealand is unique.  The Society began uniquely, from the sea.   It has adapted itself to the changing social fabric of New Zealand and its governments.  An organisation with a proud history of a uniquely “helping” philosophy towards its members.   A 170 years of history in what is considered a unique Country that we reside in.

The story of how it all began…a synopsis

Some significant historical milestones:

  • 1810 MU in the UK was formed and celebrated their Bi-centennial in 2010 with representatives from the various Orders around the World including a relatively large contingent of members from New Zealand attending.
  • 1904 16,000 people attended an Auckland District’s premier
  • 1908 4th Movable Committee of the NZ Branch decided to admit women to membership of male Lodges, but this was not achieved until some years later.
  • 1917 New Zealand Branch of Manchester Unity became an approved Society under the National Provident Fund Act.
  • 1918 War Members” Relief Fund created.
  • 1939 membership peaked at 39,276 members. 
  • 1943 commencement of Credit Unions within Manchester Unity.
  • To date 10 Lodges of Manchester Unity have celebrated 150 years of existence. In researching the history of the Egmont Lodge in Taranaki it was interesting to note that in 1857 when the Lodge was formed, every man had to be prepared to defend his home and family from the hostile natives. In 1865 they build a Lodge Hall as at that time New Plymouth did not possess any building for public use.
  • A historic Lodge building was erected at the Ferrymead Historical Park in Christchurch by the five Societies: Druids; Forrester’s; Hibernians; IOOF and Manchester Unity. The Lodge rooms house a wonderful collection of memorabilia and regalia that is documented and displayed, so that the past can be preserved and observed by future generations.

Further reading

The above summarises the history of the Society.  However, there is more, for the avid researcher.

There are a number of books and documents written covering our history.  We sourced most of the above information from the book “Odd Fellowship in New Zealand 1842 -1942 A Century of Progress”.

Most Lodges and Districts also have some documentation covering their unique history.

Finally, your local Members are a rich source of Society’s history.  Get in touch with a local lodge.