It was a big year for the Ancient Order of Foresters in Geelong in 1863.  Three new branches (called Courts) were established that year – at Belmont, Breakwater and Ashby.

The Order of Foresters was a friendly society, first established in Yorkshire, England, in the 1700s.  Its purpose was to support members and their families in times of unemployment, sickness, disability, old age and death.  Members would pay in regular premiums and access funds in times of need.  If a member became unemployed, funds would be used to tide them over until a new job was obtained.  If a member died, his widow and children would be looked after.  

In effect, the Order provided both health and life insurance, run on a not-for-profit basis. The Order claimed that, in accepting a member, ‘they neither took into consideration his country, his religion, nor his color’.

The Order arrived in Australia, in Melbourne, in 1849.  A Court was established in Geelong in 1850, prior to the gold rush, but by the end of the decade, it had lapsed.  It was re-established in 1861 and called the Court of Barwon Rise (a fitting name for a new branch emerging from the old).

In July 1863, a dinner was held at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Market Square, to celebrate the second anniversary of the new Court.  The Chief Ranger was Brother Bannister; the Secretary was Brother Le Plastrier.  According to one newspaper report, ‘the room was tastefully decorated with flags and various emblems of the Order, the most conspicuous of which were the bows and arrows, proclaiming not only the ancestry of the society, but associating in the minds of the initiated with the days of the bold outlaw of Sherwood Forest’.

Later that month, a new Court Belmont was established at the Belmont Hotel.  Henry Gill was installed as the Chief Ranger and Robert Tuffs as the Sub-Chief Ranger.  After the business of the meeting was over, the assembled adjourned to supper and then to the ballroom, where they enjoyed themselves ‘until daylight made its appearance’.

Brother Le Plastrier

In September 1863, another branch of the Order – Court Triumph – opened at Brearley’s, Tanners and Fellmongers’ Hotel, Breakwater.  The third branch to open that year was in Ashby, in October, at George Bolton’s, Roebuck Hotel, Autumn Street.

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