Masonry

This chapter contains a collection of articles about the practice of Freemasonry, mainly in India during the Governor-Generalship of Lord Moira.

It is interesting to note it was not just an English thing. Les Francs Maçons are mentioned below; Omdat ul Omrah, the Nabob of the Carnatic in early 19th century was a member of one of the Madras Lodges and, also mentioned below, Alexander, Tsar of all the Russias, was inducted into the order too. As male members of the British Royal Family were all members, it is quite likely it was popular in Prussia and the German states as well. The masonic song partially quoted below has words indicating Jews and Turks were also welcome.

The main opponent of freemasonry seems to have been the Pope (although the Tsar left soon after the war was won), so it was likely little represented in Catholic countries.

Sat 24th Jan 1795

The Masonic lodge of Perfect Unanimity is strong in Madras. Its Masonic Hall was rendered unsafe in the recent rains and it now meets temporarily at the Pantheon. Brother Lewin is Master again this season.

Deputy Provincial Grand Master Gahagan installed the new officers at a recent meeting in Brother Hamilton’s garden. Fifty brethren assembled for the function and subsequent festivities. Brother Lewin sang the Constitutional song written by the late Brother Maule.[1]

Sat 10th July 1813

Lord Moira is the acting Grand Master of the Masonic Lodges of England on behalf of the Prince Regent. The Friendship No 3 Lodge which Farquhar, General Bradford and Bayford attend, voted on 10th Dec to donate £100 towards a Masonic Medal to be presented to Moira at his farewell Masonic dinner on 16th Jan before he leaves England to assume the government of India.

Every Lodge in Britain will be expected to follow this example and accordingly the sum raised will total £20,000. Moira has a reputation amongst all the European Lodges for the benevolence and perfection of his Masonic practice.

Sat 25th Sept 1813

Moira has arrived at Calcutta. He was carried here on HMS Stirling Castle, the ship commanded by his friend and fellow Mason Sir Home Popham.[2]

Sat 9th Oct 1813

The Provincial Grand Lodge at Madras[3] and the Masters of six of the subsidiary lodges at that port (Brethren Compton, Vaughan, Higginson, Babington, Ellis, Hadow and Edward Watts) and numerous other masons in India have sent an Address to the past Acting Grand Master of England (Moira) via the Provincial Grand Master in India.

“We masons were unjustly accused of leaguing against the King and Church and we thank you for publishing that the Regent and his brothers are amongst the highest members of our Order. To ‘fear God and honour the King’ is the foundation of Masonry.

“We thank you for uniting the Grand Lodge of Scotland under the English Order. The Madras masons are united with the English Lodges and have 13 subsidiary Lodges in Asia. We pray the Almighty Architect will keep you safe. Etc.”

Moira replied ‘the mystery of our fraternity and the basis of freemasonry is cultivating people by precept and example. So long as we cultivate this aim I shall be proud of my superintendence over the immense body of freemasons under the Grand Lodge of England. Our Constitution is the only security against any set of individuals conducting nefarious designs in secret. Your strict adherence to its terms is laudable.’

Sat 8th Jan 1814

The masters of the three Masonic lodges – Star in the East (the premier Lodge of Bengal), Freedom & Fidelity (Moira’s lodge) and Industry & Perseverance – and 120 of their members assembled at Government House in Calcutta in early Dec 1813 to address Moira of their respect and their gratitude for his safe arrival.

They wish that freemasonry will be strengthened and extended under his government. Moira told them that operating a secret society placed an onerous burden on the office-bearers to ensure that benevolence and charity infused all their acts.[4]

The deputation then visited Lady Moira’s drawing room and made a welcome address to her as well.

The French Lodge at Chandernagore, Les Francs Maçons, send a welcome address to Moira to which he replied in French “I will do what I can to soften your fate. I visited Mauritius en route for Calcutta and was satisfied with the way the Port Louis Lodges work.”[5]

The Calcutta lodges then celebrated the anniversary of St John and attended at St John’s Church together with the band of H M’s 24th infantry regiment. The Rev Dr Ward, grand chaplain of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Calcutta (just formed by Moira), gave a sermon on St John 15; 17 – ‘these things I command you – that ye love one another.’

Sat 18th June 1814

London, Dec 1813 – There are two groups populating the Masonic world – the free-masons of England and the free-masons under the Constitution of England. They have been separate for a century since Sir Christopher Wren’s retirement as Grand Master.

In 1717 a Grand Lodge was revived with some novel provisions that caused proponents of the previous arrangements to withhold their agreement to membership. The two groups became contentious but both have prospered and now have branches throughout the world.

Today, the Royal Duke of Kent is the Grand Master of the English group (the ancient group) whilst the Royal Duke of Sussex leads the ‘new’ Constitutionalists.

On 25th Nov 1813 this schism was ended by an Act of Union, signed by both Dukes at Kensington Palace. This was primarily the work of the Duke of Kent once he took over as Grand Master from the Duke of Athol. The two Royal dukes have been aided by three Commissioners. The principles, traditions and practices of the ancient group have been fully preserved and Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, Earl of Dublin, Knight of the Garter, Field Marshal of England, Governor of Gibraltar, etc., is the new Grand Master of the combined masons. A poem has been published for the occasion:

Mountains may fall and rocks decay,
And isle on isle be swept away,
But Masonry’s primeval truth,
Unbroke by force, unchanged by time,
Shall bloom in renovated youth
And energy sublime.

The Mason worships God on high
And feeling in his heart the flame
Of Holy love to all the same,
To all who pure in heart and life
Seek to be safe from Worldly strife
The door shall open fly.

We do not look to form a sect
But all the varying creeds respect,
That may from conscience flow.
To the Great Architect alone
Their truth and purity are known
And not to man below.

The Christian, Turk and Jew may be
Linked in the bonds of Masonry.
Etc.

A Grand Assembly of the united Masons was held on the Day of St John the Evangelist (27th Dec). The Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland were invited to come. About 1,000 Masons attended, all wearing black with white gloves and aprons, and wearing their Masonic regalia.

Sat 21st Jan 1815

The following eight freemasonry Lodges are active in India – Star in the East, Industry and Perseverance, True Friendship, Humility with Fortitude, Marine, Moira, Oriental and Aurora. They recently celebrated the festival of St John the Evangelist in Calcutta.

Sat 3rd April 1819

A Papal Bull to the Inquisition in Spain approves the use of torture for cases of treason and freemasonry. The bishop at Alicante has excommunicated all freemasons there and anyone else who either possesses masonic writings or knows of a freemason but does not identify him to the church.

Sat 25th May 1822

Warsaw, 4th Dec – a Ukase has been issued at St Petersburg banning freemasonry and the Russian lodges have been closed since 15th Oct.

It has caused great surprise in London as we persuaded Tsar Alexander to himself became a mason during the Napoleonic War.

Sat 21st Dec 1822

London, 7th July – The Duke of York, as High Steward of Windsor, will shortly lay the foundation stone of the proposed Windsor Bridge in a Masonic ceremony. The officers and members of the Grand Lodge of England will attend in full regalia together with many other distinguished Masons.

Sat 18th Jan 1823

Calcutta news, Fri 20th Dec – a Masonic procession marched through Calcutta from the Town Hall to Government House today. A military band led the procession. The junior lodges went first followed by Industry and Perseverance, the Star of the East, with the Provincial Grand Lodge in the rear. The brethren marched two by two in the robes denoting their respective Orders. Each Lodge was preceded by a junior member carrying the Lodge Banner. The Masters, Wardens and members wore their jewels of office and other regalia. The road was kept clear by native infantry who kept back the large crowd that turned-out to watch.

The procession ascended the steps of Government House to the upper marble hall where each assumed its assigned position. In this way they formed a square within the pillars. At the far end of the square, on a raised Masonic throne, sat the Governor General under a canopy. He is Grand Master of the Order in Asia. Before him was an altar with a bible on it. The Marchioness Hastings and several ladies of distinction were on the Governor General’s left side. Sir Edward Paget and the other high government officials were also present.

It was a grand and imposing spectacle. Provincial Grand Master Larkins then stepped up in front of the Governor General and read the Excellent Address that had been prepared for the occasion. He referred to the stimulus imparted to Masonic activity by the Governor General’s 9-year tenure at Calcutta – membership and charitable work has greatly increased. He then delivered the Address to Moira (Hastings) who rose and made an eloquent reply.

Moira said that Europe had only briefly been civilised and Masonry was a contributing cause. Secrecy of proceedings and scrutiny of candidates ensured the vision of the brotherhood of man was upheld. The higher classes became interested and were inducted into the Order and the social consequences of their entry has been apparent in their public acts. Principles of humanity and justice have been inculcated amongst the community and have spread to influence the administration of entire countries. It is only necessary to observe the differing conditions of those countries that embrace Masonry (England) and those that prohibit it (Spain). Masonic principles have been so widely disseminated and endorsed that few know their origination. Most people understand them simply as universal moral rules to be observed at all times and in all circumstances.

Many Masons felt the inspiration and spirituality of the event. At the end of the speech the assembly wheeled passed the Governor General, two by two, and returned to the Town Hall to disrobe and disperse.

There will be a second procession on Fri 27th Dec, being St John’s Day, a significant Masonic festival.[6]

(NB – the cathedral at Calcutta and some others in the Company’s domains are called St John’s)

Sat 15thMarch 1823

The wife of a Mason, calling herself Lucretia, has written to the Bengal Hurkaru, published 22nd Feb, proposing a female Lodge. She says there is no secret in Freemasonry. The girls merely have to agree on a sign word and handshake; appoint a President, Wardens, Deacons, Tyler, etc., and establish a colour for the uniform of their Order.

“Our husbands stay out late on Lodge nights and, worse, they persuade the bachelors to join them, to the discontent of local spinsters. They wear aprons and sashes, which are part of female clothing. It is provocative. We women are left unattended and propose to convene our own meetings on the upper floor of a house in Chowringhee.”

The first meeting of the Amity Lodge occurred on 26th Feb. A majority of the English females attended.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. The original Constutional Song of early 18th century starts “Let poets and historians …. ” etc. This effort of Maule’s is something new.
  2. Moira is acting Grand Master of the Order. The Prince Regent has been disqualified by his receipt of monarchical powers. Now Moira has left England, the Royal Duke of Sussex is appointed Grand Master.
  3. Masonry in India predates Plassey and the conquest of Bengal.
  4. I live in Hong Kong. If I ask a taxi driver to go to the Gwai Lo Huk Sair Wui (the foreigners’ triad society), he will unquestioningly take me straight to Zetland Hall.
  5. In 1805 Joseph Bonaparte had become Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of France. By 1814, according to Lefebvre in ‘Napoleon,’ there were 1,000 French lodges.
  6. A list of masons’ names is in the newspaper.

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