19th Century, Miscellenia

I can’t believe this is a thing

There was, up until a month ago, a sign in Wellington that reads “The Royal Antedeluvian Order of Buffalos”.

The sign was on the very artsy, independent (dare I say ‘hipster’) Bats Theatre, so I assumed it was a joke.

Nope.  Turns out its real.  There really is a Royal Antedeluvian Order of Buffalos, and despite all the stuff they have going against them, they take themselves pretty seriously.

In order to be a member, you have to be over 18, enter of your own free will, and be a “true and loyal supporter of the British Crown and Constitution.”  Oh, and be male.

No Buffalo Gals at the Buffs meeting

Obviously (thanks to the British bit), despite the name, there aren’t a lot of Buffalos organizations in the US.

I have no idea what goes on at Buffalo meetings today, but they started out as a club for stagehand and theatre techies in the early 19th century (well before techie was a word).

Their history sounds like it came out of a kids book: the actors had a club called Lushingtons, and they wouldn’t let the lowly stagehands into it, so the stagehands formed their own club, and thought of a cooler name.

The name?  The stagehands wanted to claim that they had been around longer than the actors, so they went looking for the awesomest sounding word for seriously-old that they could come up with.  Ancient was too simple, so they went with Antediluvian – ‘before the deluge’ (the great flood of the Bible).

That is totally what I would have done.

If I was 12.  And trying to one-up the neighbor boys and their club.

What about the Buffalo part?  That’s pretty exotic for England, right?  Apparently when the earliest Buffs got together for their meetings they decided that one thing they should do that was so super-important that it needed to be part of their name was to promote the obscure ballad “We’ll Chase the Buffalo.”  I’m pretty sure there was a lot of alcohol and not a lot of sense involved in this decision.

This thesis is backed up by the fact that one of the central positions in early Buffalo orders was the ‘City Taster’ whose job it was to ensure that the beverages at the chosen meeting tavern were up to snuff.

Despite the dubious merit of their origins, the Buffalo’s have actually done some awesome things, like paying for ambulances during WWI, and helping to found the first ambulance service in the UK, and founding orphanages and old-folks homes.  Good on them!

Still, it’s hard to get past that name!


  1. Lynne says

    There are some very strange boys’ clubs for grown men out there! The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, for example. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks – I think that’s the one where they dress up as Native Americans with bad accents. A Catholic Irish friend of mine was horrified when I told him about the huge (ceiling height by eight foot wide?) banner of King Billy on his white horse that I had spotted in the back of the local Orange Lodge hall when we were using it for a school play. Scary stuff for NZ.

    The more public orders were just as strange, and it took most of them a while to realise that they couldn’t stay as boys’ clubs. The local Rotarians, for example, who are the dear men, mostly pensioners now, who run the local Bookarama book fair as a fund-raiser, have their wives in an organization called The Inner Wheel, which puts them in their place. They make tea and coffee and sell their home baking at the book fair. And they are concerned that they can’t attract younger women to join!

    I suppose the modern equivalent is paint-ball. Or motor racing.

    • Laurel Parker says

      My thought exactly!

      The Boy Scouts of America have Order of the Arrow, which begins with a truly bizarre and innapropriate initiation program, where males dressed in wildly innacurate costumes depicting an outside view of American Indians, kidnap a Boy Scout and teach him all the secret ways of this ‘honor society’. Once in, they do drum circles, which are quasi Indian performances at events like Eagle ceremonies, in these odd costumes. Otherwise, their activities are decidedly little old lady at church sorts of things. They tidy up camps before Scouts arrive, and after they leave, and serve holiday meals to the poor. The majority of Boy Scouts are eager to get in, because they want to get the sash with an arrow on it, but very few stick around and do any volunteerism. This pattern is so well known it is known as “sash and dash”.

  2. Lynne says

    By the way, I just can’t chose one decade on your current poll. There are at least three – maybe four – maybe more I would tick. Even a dud one like 1920-30 brought positive changes – helped the move away from bondage underwear, for example, and let women move. Even if most of them did look like bollards.

    • I understand! I’m always like that with polls. I just pick whatever is moving me at the moment and don’t worry about it.

  3. Having been around BATS 30 years ago, I knew they were real, and they did mysterious things involving rhythmic thumping on the floor above many evenings that one tried not to think about. but wow, I didn’t know they had their roots in theatre production. I am SO a Buffalo Gal!!! Woot!! Thank you for rootling around in the grab bag of histroy and hauling out the most interesting bits xoxo

  4. Yeah, they owned the Bats building, but no longer now that Peter and Fran have brought it – It needs a lot of work done to it and I don’t think they have as much money as they used to so it was put up for sale. I think the plan is to turn that space upstairs into more performance/rehearsal space once the earthquake strengthening is done. I kind of think of them as being like the Masons – mysterious and antiquated with more hand clapping and stomping. Incidentally the old hall in rural southland where my mum did ballet in her youth was called Buffalo Hall and owned by them… maybe they are secretly property magnates.

  5. Polly says

    This is the BEST research! This is the kind of stuff I want to know 🙂 Thanks so much!

  6. Sounds like a lot of fun. Is this Mr. Dreamy’s newest social outlet? Please, please say yes.

  7. My father was a member of the Buffs back in the 1960’s… he’s 88 now and still going strong… he doesn’t have any theatre background but just told me that it was a bit like the poor man’s Masons. My mother was a member of the Glades which I believe was the women’s equivalent?? she’s not around any more to ask… sadly. This was in Singapore… so they must have had branches everywhere.

  8. Funny – my dance classes as a kid were in a Order of the Buffalo hall in Townsville. lol.

  9. Sheila in Brussels says

    I have to say, my father was a Buff. It gave him a sense of identity and comradeship until and beyond the day he died. He was not an officer in the RAF, rather an enlisted tho career “RAF soldier”. It was a counter organisation to the elitist “Mason” organisation and looked to the ordinary, lower grades. When my father died. unexpectedly. several Buffs attended his funeral/cremation service much to my mother’s chagrin They assisted my father to his resting place, and for that I am forever grateful. They validated his life and his existence, and emphasised that he existed.
    The Buffs rock!

  10. Jenny in Chch says

    I used to walk past an RAOB hall on my way to work every day in Northern Ireland, then I did similar in Christchurch until it was demolished after the earthquake last year. They do good murals if nothing else!

    • Oh, boo. So sad that the RAOB just lost their home in Christchurch as well. So much history is disappearing there.

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