'WHAT INDUCEMENT HAVE YOU TO LEAVE ...?'

BY AFEEF A. LAZARUS

(Ed. note:  Bro. Lazarus is a Past District Grand Master (PDGM), Jamaica & the Cayman Islands.  This article, which appeared in Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge [AQC, Vol. 101{1988}] is published here by his kind permission, for which we thank him.)

EVER since my earliest days as a freemason I have heard the Royal Lodge #207 boasting, with justification, that its Worshipful Master installed Dr. Robert Hamilton as the first District Grand Master, E.C., in Jamaica by virtue of the fact that it was the oldest, continuously-working English Lodge in Jamaica. Likewise, the lodge boasts, also with justification, that it had a very interesting and unique beginning in that it was originally warranted in 1789 by the Grand Lodge of Ireland as No. 699 on the register of that Grand Lodge. The Royal Lodge has always been justly proud of its Irish heritage and, so as to keep the happy memory of its origin constantly before the eyes of its brethren, the banner of the Lodge has always borne the Arm and Trowel (the significance of which will not be lost on our Irish brethren) and the Immediate Past Master continues to wear the Irish jewel of that office.

  The more acquainted I became with the Craft, the more I began to wonder about the possible reasons for the change, and the questions which I asked of many brethren much wiser than myself met with vague replies, the most common of which seemed to indicate that it was a change of convenience because it was easier and more expedient to deal with London than it was to deal with Dublin. This did not satisfy me and I immediately sought a copy of the printed history of the Lodge which I found in the possession of the late W. Bro. K. Ivan Levy (who generously lent me his personal copy which I took the opportunity of photocopying). The history of the lodge, published in its 150th year, records that:

   ... the brethren influenced by the better organized system of the 'Ancients' or 'Atholls' (in the island) and desirous of assisting to establish a provincial Grand Lodge under the Ancients, decided to abandon the Irish Warrant, united themselves to the Ancients and worked the Lodge with the sanction of dispensation obtained from the other Lodges until their 'engraved number' could be obtained from England.  This arrangement was no doubt communicated to the Governing body and met with approval...

It goes on to say that:

The process of transferring allegiance from the one Constitution to the other may appear strange to some brethren of the present day; but to those who have been careful students of Masonic histories of the rival Grand Lodges existing in the days of which mention is now made, it will be no surprise to state that in view of the distance of the Colonies from the head centre of masonry in England, and the then slow process of communication through the mails carried by His Majesty's sailing ships of war, extraordinary powers were given to the lodges working under the 'Ancients' or 'Atholls' and where no provincial Grand Lodge existed they had power to sanction new lodges, subject to the approval and confirmation of the Grand Lodge.

 I was still not satisfied! The necessary proofs were not satisfactorily communicated to me for the simple reason that I am only too aware of the strong allegiance and affection which a lodge usually bears towards its mother Grand Lodge and it seemed to me very unlikely that a lodge would 'abandon' its Grand Lodge for another after just five short years of existence unless there was a very good reason over and above those previously advanced. But the passage of time and the destruction of masonic records put an end to any chance of finding out exactly what happened and so I all but gave up hope of ever satisfying my curiosity.

  A few years passed and I have added a copy of one of the later editions of Preston's Illustrations of Masonry to my library, and it was while reading this book, some of which was no doubt being written while Lodge 699 (I.C.) was changing its mind, that I first gained an insight into how the many conflicts of time affected the history and development of the Craft and I began to develop a feeling for what may have influenced our ancient brethren. Bro. John Hamill's book, The Craft (1986) gave me further insight and encouragement. In order to make a case for the theory, however, it is important to set the stage and to transport ourselves back in time to a world far removed from the one in which we now live. 

  When Lodge #699 (I.C) was constituted on 3rd September 1789, the Premier Grand Lodge, or the Grand Lodge of the 'Moderns' as it became popularly known, had been in existence for only seventy-two years and the rival Grand Lodge , the 'Antients' or 'Antholls', for less than forty. The formation of the United Grand Lodge of England was still nearly a quarter of a century away. In the words of Charles Dickens, 'It was the best of times- it was the worst of times'. The world was in turmoil and Mozart was writing some of his best music. The Industrial Revolution had not yet even begun and England was just getting used to the idea of having been defeated by the American Colonies across the Atlantic. Thomas Paine's Rights of Man was still four years off. The first President of the United States of America, Bro. George Washington, was inaugurated on 30 April of that very year. Although the slave trade was coming under increasing attack from many quarters, this abhorrent bartering in human merchandise was still flourishing. It was the time of William Preston, Lawrence Dermott and Thomas Dunckerley, all of whom left their marks on the Craft in such a manner that we still feel their influence today. Across the English Channel, in France, the history of the world was about to change course and the words Liberte', Egalite', Fraternite' were about to take on new meaning and echo throughout the four corners of the globe with such intensity as to shake the very foundations of the existing social order. 1789 was the year of the storming of the Bastille in Paris which signalled the beginning of the French revolution.

  But what of Jamaica? The second Maroon war was brewing and the settlers, land-owners and authorities were making little progress in their efforts to quell these local rebels.  The slaves were becoming increasingly restive. The threat of invasion from without by hostile foreign forces was a reality and the names Nelson and Rodney were not just names in the filing cabinets of time but were those of sailors perhaps personally known to brethren who petitioned the Grand Lodge of Ireland for a lodge to be held at Port Royal Street in Kingston. Suspicions were no doubt still lingering as to the loyalty of this colony as Jamaica had previously petitioned the King in favour of the American colonies' right to make their own laws. It was a time very different from ours in many ways and many of the things we take for granted as traditionally Jamaican were not considered as such then and for good reason.  For example, the ackee had only arrived on these shores in 1778. The breadfruit had yet to arrive as Captain Bligh did not introduce it from the East Indies until 1793, along with the Otahaite apple and the jack-fruit. The mango arrived in 1792. Simon Bolivar, the South American Liberator, had not yet visited Jamaica and his famous 'Jamaica Letter' had not yet been written.

  It was in this world and this Jamaica that Lodge #699 first saw the light of day and continued to work in peace and harmony with the other lodges, some of which operated under the Antients, which the Grand Lodge of Ireland had recognised as being in harmony with it from 1772. But it would be short-lived, for the Irish question, which lay smouldering for centuries before and which still smoulders today, was again on the brink of erupting, having been fanned by the strong gusts of revolutionary sentiment which followed the storming of the Bastille.  The Jacobins, a deistic and secret fraternity in France, provided the meeting-place for the philosophers and intellectuals on whose support the revolution heavily relied. Many saw Freemasonry as one and the same as the Jacobins and when, in 1793, King Louis XVI became a victim of the guillotine, the authorities in England no doubt became concerned and moved to protect the British Monarchy from the same fate. There was a spate of forming political clubs and all secret societies instantly became suspected hotbeds of revolutionary sentiment (many with some justification) and Freemasonry was not to be an exception.  Two contemporary authors, Robison and Barruel, had openly charged that the French Revolution was hatched in masonic lodges. There was also the suspicion that the lodges in America were in some degree responsible  for the war of Independence. It was fortunate for the Craft that the premier Grand Lodge had installed H.R.H. the Prince of Wales as Grand Master in May 1792, while the Earl of Antrim and the 4th Duke of Atholl were installed as Grand Masters of the Antients Grand Lodge in 1783 and 1791 respectively, thereby maintaining important associations between both branches of the Craft and the Establishment. Even so, all private lodges came under some suspicion and in an effort to dismiss any fears which may have been harboured, and to re-affirm their loyalty, the brethren of the premier Grand Lodge unanimously pledged their allegiance to the King and requested the Grand Master to deliver a copy of the same personally to His Majesty, which he consented to do. Similarly, a resolution was passed unanimously pledging support for the Grand Master. As it turned out, this move was to prove advantageous for the Craft in the backlash of the French Revolution. Beginning in 1792, a series of laws and proclamations were adopted against private associations, culminating in 1799 with the passing of Unlawful Societies Act, banning all secret societies which required their members to take an oath. As originally drafted, the Act would have affected Freemasonry, but the Earl of Moira, (the Acting Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge) and the Duke of Atholl (Grand Master of the Antients) met separately with Prime Minister William Pitt to explain the nature of the Craft. These views were supported in Parliament by those friendly towards the Craft and as a result Freemasonry was specifically exempted from the Act, provided that each lodge secretary made an annual return of members to the local Clerk of the Peace.  This Act remained on the statue books until its repeal in 1967. It is interesting to note that Bro. Norman Rogers in his Prestonian Lecture for 1958, entitled 'The Years of Development', credits the French Revolution and the war with France as two forces which helped to push the two Grand Lodges closer together in self-defence, eventually giving rise to the United Grand Lodge in 1813.

  Elsewhere in the world the position was not so encouraging.  In Italy, for example, the number of masonic lodges grew, but contrary to the development in England they became pro-revolutionary centres and many supported the Revolution in France. In the south of the country some elements connected with the Celestine lodge evolved a conspiracy which was discovered and the leaders executed in October 1794.

   Some years later, we are told, freemasons' lodges in South America, some of which were under the Provincial Grand Lodge of Jamaica, had to close their doors as, by order of Simon Bolivar, all secret societies, including Freemasonry, were prohibited; probably, says Bro. Seal- Coon (AQC 89, p.94) because of the political intrigues they gave cover to at that time.

   It is no wonder, therefore, that suspicions against Freemasonry and other 'secret societies' took on greater proportions when associated with the Irish Question. Lepper and Crossle, in their celebrated History of the Grand Lodge of Ireland tell us that in the disturbed state of the country that existed from the outbreak of the French Revolution certain parties attempted to use the Order as a political lever and lodges were used as a means of concealing plots.  The Society of United Irishmen led by Wolfe Tone was one such party which was advocating the overthrow of English rule in Ireland and sought armed aid from revolutionary France to achieve that end. The society was barred from meeting as an open political organization and its members took refuge in masonic lodges, some of which continued to express revolutionary sentiments with increased vigour, prompting the Grand Lodge of Ireland to take note of their activities. In Jamaica, an English Colony of increasing importance, fear ran high and the brethren of the English lodges must have expressed their own concern for the continuation of the goodwill enjoyed by their fraternity. In expressing this concern, one can easily conceive that they brought a very strong influence to bear on their Irish brethren to disassociate themselves in some tangible way from their revolutionary brethren and affirm their support (which I daresay was never seriously doubted) for the English Monarch.  The transition to an English Constitution, they must have argued, would be reasonably simple and painless because the Grand Lodge of the Antients had not really been started by a rival masonic group as had been alleged in some quarters, but by those who, including a number of Irish Masons, wanted to preserve certain original landmarks which they accused the premier Grand Lodge of changing unlawfully.

   Thus Samuel Ballard Whittaker, Joseph Dunckerley, John Misskelly (Murshelly?), James Findlay, Ebenezer Daniel and James Hurst, by their humble petition to the Grand Master of the Antients, sought to affirm their allegiance and that of the brethren of #699 to the Crown of England and probably saved the lodge.

  'Why' some may say, 'did they not petition the Grand Master of the Moderns?' After all, the Moderns did have the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne as their Grand Master! The answer is, I think , simple and clear.  At the time in question, the Antients were sweeping the board in Jamaica. It was a time of considerable masonic activity there, and of twenty-six English lodges warranted between 1784 and 1813, all were Antients, including some Moderns' lodges that exchanged their warrants for Antients' ones. The Royal Lodge therefore joined this trend.

   Although it is not certain when the lodge adopted the name 'Royal', I submit that this was from the very beginning of its life as an English lodge and that the name was deliberately chosen and attached to the lodge as further affirmation of support for the King.  I have been made aware of a legend concerning the naming of the lodge by Joseph Dunckerley.  The story casts Joseph as the illegitimate son of the famous Thomas Dunckerley, himself the illegitimate son of King George II; hence the name 'Royal'.  Without more factual proof, however, I regret that one must consider this to be a legend and no more.  Masonic records indicate that other Irish lodges were in some way connected with Jamaica during the period under review and it is interesting to take note of what became of them.

     Lodge No. 456:  According to Irish masonic records this warrant was issued to 'KINGSTON, JAMAICA' on 5th October 1767 and cancelled on 7th October 1813, but there is no record of it ever having worked in Jamaica.

     Lodge No. 234:  Although Almanacks for 1795 to 1797 show this lodge as working in the 62nd (Wiltshire) Regiment of Foot stationed on the island, there is much doubt that this lodge existed in Jamaica.

     Lodge No. 733:  According to Sylvester's History of Jamaican Freemasonry this lodge existed in Jamaica from 1781, but there is no other record of its existence.  In fact the warrant was ordered from Grand Lodge on 7th April 1791 for 'PORT ROYAL, JAMAICA', but the warrant was never issued.

     Lodge No. 738:  Sylvester claims that this lodge was warranted in 1791.  In fact the warrant was ordered on 2nd June 1791 for 'ST. JAEGO' but never issued.

     Lodge No. 299:  This lodge is shown in the Almanack for 1795 as working in the 10th Regiment of Foot, having been warranted in 1758.  The warrant was eventually cancelled on 2nd July 1818 but neither the regiment nor the lodge appears in Almanacks after 1795 and it has been assumed that both left Jamaica at that time. 

     Lodge No. 759:  This lodge was warranted on 8th March 1792 to the 20th Light Dragoons, a regiment raised in England for service in Jamaica.  The regiment returned to England in 1802, but no reference to this lodge has come to light in local records.

     Lodge No. 293 and Lodge No. 300:  Both of these lodges are shown in the Almanack for 1796 as working in the 16th Regiment of Foot.  As for No. 300, the warrant seems to have lapsed in 1777, but there exists some confusion as to its return.  In the case of No. 293, neither this lodge nor the 16th Regiment of Foot appears in Almanacks after 1796 and both are presumed to have left Jamaica.

It was obviously not a very good time for Irish Freemasonry in Jamaica, but it is noteworthy that it continued to flourish in Barbados where a Provincial Grand Lodge was formed in 1801, which does seem to diminish the theory that communication with Ireland was all that difficult.  As to whether the Antients were better organised is a matter of opinion.

It only remains, as a matter of general interest, to account for the warrant for Lodge No. 699.  This warrant was eventually cancelled on 7th October 1813.  On 6th October 1814 the warrant was re-issued to a lodge in DONAGHADEE, Co. Down in Ireland, but the warrant was returned to Grand Lodge on 17th August 1825 in exchange for a warrant which had been surrendered by Lodge No. 29.  The warrant for No. 699 finally found it resting-place when, on 13th April 1887, it was issued to a lodge meeting at Rockburren Hall, Connswater, Belfast which currently meets at Ballymacarret under the name of Rockburren Lodge No. 699 (I.C.).

Such a colourful history has given the Royal Lodge the strength to prosper and contribute in no small measure to the Craft for 200 years.  May it continue to exist in strength with credit to the Craft and advantage to its members.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:  Clinton Black, History of Jamaica.  Pick & Knight, Pocket History of Freemasonry, 6th edition.  William Preston, Illustrations of Freemasonry, 11th edition, 1804.  John Hamill, The Craft.  J.R. Clarke, External Influences on the Evolution of English Masonry (Prestonian Lecture 1969).  Philip Crossle, Irish Masonic Records.  Norman Rogers, The Years of Development (Prestonian Lecture 1958).  F.W. Seal-Coon, An Historical Account of Jamaican Freemasonry.  Printed History of the Royal Lodge No. 207.  Encyclopaedia Britannica.  J. Heron Lepper,  An Inquiry into the Esoteric Ceremonies of Certain Illegal Irish 'Secret Societies', Lodge of Research No. CC, Ireland, Transactions 1982-1984, Vol XVIII.  B.C. Sylvester, Masonic History, Poetry and Humour.  Caribbean Masonic Journal, November 1952.  Lepper and Crossle, History of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, Vol 1 (1925).