Freemasonry in British India

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Joseph Golder - 06353715
HI3098 – Essay
5,580 words (excluding notes and bibliography)

Freemasonry in British India 1728-1888
“Wherever our flag has gone, we are able to say there Masonry has gone, and we have been able to
found lodges for those who have left our shores to found fresh empires”1
-Archibald Campbell,2 Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, 1888



From left to right: Portrait of the Duke of Wellington [wearing some Masonic Regalia amidst military insignia],
3
by Francisco de Goya, 1812, National Gallery, London; Author Unknown, Motilal Nehru, father of Jawaharlal
4
Nehru (India’s first Prime Minister), in Masonic regalia

“There never has yet been an institution calculated in an equal degree with Freemasonry to break
down the artificial barriers which caste, creed, priestly ambition, and political rivalry, have created
between different classes of the human family”5

1

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “Hands across the Sea”: The Masonic Network, British Imperialism, and the North Atlantic
World”, Geographical Review, Vol. 89, No. 2, Oceans Connect, April 1999, pp. 237-253, American Geographical Society,
[online] www.jstor.org/stable/216089, [accessed] 05/12/2009, p244.
2
Author Unknown, List of Grand Master’s of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, [online]
http://www.grandlodgescotland.com/glos/G.M.M.%27s/grand_master_masons.htm, [accessed] 28/02/2008.
3
Goya, F. De, Portrait of the Duke of Wellington, 1812, National Gallery, London, [online]
nd
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/francisco-de-goya-the-duke-of-wellington, [accessed] 2 December 2009.
4
Author Unknown, Some Very Well Known Indian Freemasons, [online] http://www.rglni.org/eminentmasons.htm,
st
[accessed] 1 December 2009.

1

N.B.: A good deal of this paper is based on the work of Jessica Harland-Jacobs of the University of Florida, not
only because she has thoroughly researched Freemasonry in a British imperial context, but because she often
quotes authors that now seem to be unobtainable, save in the United States (the elusive G. S. Gupta, author of
Freemasonic movement in India, Indian Masonic Publications, 1981, comes to mind). Additionally, this paper is
not strictly chronological, as themes overlap somewhat.

This paper focuses on the presence of Freemasonry in India during the East India Company
(EIC) era, although the final part extends beyond 1857. Firstly, the mechanisms by which
Freemasonry established itself in India are discussed, namely via the military and civilian networks.
Secondly, the impact of religion on British Freemasonry is assessed with regards to the aftermath of
the French Revolution, and how this relates to Masonry in India. Last but not least, we shall examine
the extent to which Indians managed to become Masons.
The Masonic network is ideal for exploring questions of identity and social structure within
the larger British Empire, as Freemasons
“perceived themselves as belonging to a series of interrelated
families at the local, national, imperial, and international levels. First, they
belonged to their local lodge, which [...] paralleled the nuclear family.
Masons were also part of an extended family that corresponded to [their]
jurisdiction. [...] The extended family involved a further level of association,
the British or imperial Masonic family, which included members in all parts
of the empire.”6
Mid-nineteenth century Masons used metaphors of family extensively when referring to
their organisation.7 Indeed, when a new lodge was formed, once its founding members had obtained
a warrant from the ‘mother lodge’, it was viewed very much as a ‘daughter lodge’. In fact, Masons
generally refer to two lodges dependent of the same ‘mother lodge’ as ‘sister lodges’.8 Indeed, in
many cases Masonry took on the role of a cousin or uncle in a family, regarding finding employment
or securing a promotion for a member.9 And as we shall see, the allegories of family are useful for
understanding Masonic attitudes towards Indians.
The majority of British lodges were established first and foremost in the Americas, but there
was also a non-negligible presence in Bengal, Bombay, Madras, and later China, through Britain’s
trading interests. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, lodges were appearing in South Africa
and Australia too, as Britain’s attention shifted eastwards.10 Harland-Jacobs identifies the long
eighteenth century (1750-1815) as a crucial time in the History of globalisation, as immigration flows
5

Author Unknown, “State of Masonry in Ireland”, Freemasons Quarterly Review, December 1846, p411 [online]
http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/beresiner5.html, [accessed] 10/12/2009..
6
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family: Freemasonry and the British Empire in the Mid-Nineteenth Century”, The
Journal of British Studies, Vol. 42, No. 4, University of Chicago Press, October 2003, pp. 448-482, [online]
www.jstor.org/stable/3594899, [accessed] 01/12/2009, p458-p459. See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire,
Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927, The University of North Carolina Press, 2007, p44: This network

anticipated many others that would emerge later, such as the Rotary International.
7

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family [...]”, p452.
Ibid, p453.
9
Ibid, p454. See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p62. It also provided assurances to its members in
8

India that their sons would be watched over by fellow brethren whilst pursuing educations in Britain.
10

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “Hands across the Sea”, p243.

2

increased, cultural links to imperial hubs were strengthened, and Freemasonry played an
increasingly prominent role in the empire.11 It was “instrumental in lubricating the [...]
administrative, military and commercial networks on which Britain’s power was based”.12 According
to Andrew Prescott (head of Sheffield University’s Centre for Research into Freemasonry), the
eighteenth century was a time of turbulence, tension and trouble for Masonry in Britain.13 This may
explain why at first it was rather timid in appearing in India. The map below shows that for a while
the only fixed lodges in India were in Bengal.
The Irish Grand Lodge “devised most of the administrative mechanisms that facilitated
Masonry’s spread abroad.”14 They set up a system of certificates for travelling brethren which
effectively functioned as passports.15 Freemasonry granted its members a sort of supranational
identity.16 Harland-Jacobs, quoting Thomas Schlereth, equates Freemasonry to salons and scientific
societies that defined supranational cosmopolitanism.17 There was indeed a degree of necessity in
becoming a Mason if one was to travel relatively safely throughout the empire.18

[Map 1] “Diffusion of British Freemasonry, 1727-1751 and 1752-1816”

19

11

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p44.
Ibid, p13.
13
Prescott, Andrew, A History of British Freemasonry 1425-2000, CRFF Working Paper Series No. 1, [online]
http://www.freemasonry.dept.shef.ac.uk/show_upload.php?id=181&blob_field=upload_file1, [accessed] 01/12/2009, p9p15. See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p27, and more specifically, chapters 2, 3, and 4.
14
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p7.
15
Ibid, p25.
16
Ibid, p11, p12.
17
Ibid, p66.
18
Ibid, p1.
19
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p42-p43.
12

3

Harland-Jacobs identifies regimental lodges as the primary mechanism for spreading
Freemasonry, as military lodges gradually included local civilians too.20 The Grand Lodge of Ireland
even developed “travelling warrants”, which allowed Masons to congregate on the frontiers of the
Empire, without having to petition their Grand Lodge every time they changed location, as lodges
were usual founded in specific towns.21 By these means, some lodges operated in Europe, Egypt,
Malta and India, exposing “over a dozen host communities to Freemasonry’s practices, charity, and
even buildings.”22 The first lodge to serve with a British army regiment (instead of an EIC Regiment)
in India was Irish, warranted in 1742.23 Soon the other grand lodges followed suit, and by 1813, the
Scottish had given warrants to twenty one regimental lodges.24 For Gould, the Seven Years’ War
(1756-1763) was the earliest period during which military lodges were present in the field.25 Indeed,
nearly every regiment had at least one lodge at work during the eighteenth century, with the Royal
Artillery claiming to have the most.26 Interestingly Gould points out that “in practice, regimental
lodges were confined to the Queen’s troops, excepting only the (Bengal and Bombay) Artillery.”27 As
Harland-Jacobs puts it:
“In India, [...] Freemasonry was [...] an exclusively European institution that
flourished among East India Company servants, government officials, the
merchant and professional classes, and army officers.”28
Because so many lodges were regimental, war often proved very detrimental to their
activities. The Second Mysore War (1780-1784), for example, forced Bengal lodges into abeyance,
and the Provincial Grand Lodge of Bengal ceased all activity for three years. The Third Mysore War
(1790-1792) produced a similar effect, and lodges in Madras were also affected. War with the
Marathas in 1803 was equally disruptive for Masonic meetings, although they did extend their
influence into new parts of India as the EIC and then the Raj advanced during the nineteenth
century.29 This could be what Gould is referring to when he argues that lodges prospered most on
the Coast of Coromandel, not Bengal, around 1800 (it is unclear if he means they were in greater
numbers there or if they simply lived in luxury).30 Harland-Jacobs, quoting G. S. Gupta, mentions the
main centres of Masonic activity in India during the first third of the nineteenth century being
around Bengal and Bombay. Terence Gahagan, the chief Masonic authority for the Coast of
Coromandel (southern India) in the late eighteenth century, contributed significantly to the spread
of Masonry in his jurisdiction and abroad.31 Masonic growth in India during the 1770s seems to be
non-negligible, as one lodge reported sixty five members in the late 1770s; the following year they
20

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p2.
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “Hands across the Sea”, p241. See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p32, p33. On
p33:“The Irish Grand Lodge granted the first travelling warrant to the First Battalion in the Royal Scots (the oldest Regiment
of the Line) in 1732.”
22
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “Hands across the Sea”, p242.
23
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p33.
24
Ibid, p34.
25
Gould, Robert Freke, Military Lodges: the Apron and the Sword of Freemasonry Under Arms, Kessinger Publications, 2003
(first published 1899), [online]
http://books.google.com/books?id=ecZ7h3sGAJYC&pg=PP1&dq=military+lodges&ei=GU4lS9ScOZDqkQTPqrjkCw&cd=5#v=
onepage&q=&f=false, [accessed] 01/12/2009, p129.
26
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p37.
27
Gould, Robert Freke, Military Lodges [...], p190.
28
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p467.
29
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p171.
30
Gould, Robert Freke, Military Lodges [...], p51.
31
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p39.
21

4

had ninety five members. Another Calcutta-based lodge reported two hundred members in 1785. A
Madras-based lodge also counted seventy eight members in 1796; however this case is hardly
representative of Masons in India, as many members lived in Denmark and England.32 Apparently, in
1837, when Lord Elphinstone became governor of Madras, Masonic activity in the South increased
radically.33 He became Provincial Grand Master in 1840, and through increased patronage, lodges
began to multiply.34 Lodges in India seemed to be rather vulnerable to war, as during the second half
of the eighteenth century, most of them were affiliated with the military.35 This may explain the
sudden development of a plethora of fixed lodges in India from the end of the eighteenth century
onwards. A Masonic hall (that often doubled as a lodge) was sometimes a settlement’s first
community structure.36 Indeed, Masonic halls were used as “gathering places for recreational
activities, business transactions, and civic meetings”. They functioned like taverns, with the added
bonus that they could be used for “official meetings and religious services [...]”.37
The first fixed lodge founded in the entire British Empire was the Star of the East Lodge of
Fort William, in Bengal, in 1728, just over ten years after the Grand Lodge of England formed in
1717.38 Although there seems to be some contention over this as Gould claimed the first lodges in
India were established in Calcutta in 1730.39 The provincial grand lodges of Madras and Bombay
were formed in 1752 and in 1758 respectively.40 This leads one to assume that enough lodges were
already present for there to be a need for provincial grand lodges. The first lodges in the Punjab
appeared in the 1830s.41 This is particularly interesting as it means that lodges spread in a manner
that anticipated British expansion (the First Anglo-Sikh War was only in 1845-184642). Several lodges
were constituted amongst the brigades stationed at Fort William in the early 1770s, which is
significant as at the time the Provincial Grand Master of Bengal, Samuel Middleton, only had a dozen
or so fixed lodges under his jurisdiction in Bengal, which means that a high percentage of Masons in
Bengal were military men.43 For Gould, by the end of the eighteenth century, civilian and military
lodges in Bengal were on a par.44
Interestingly, these lodges sometimes acted as backchannels by which nations could
communicate. Masonry provided a place for men from different nations to meet, even during times
of conflict.45 During the 1780s, the Provincial Grand Lodge of Bengal often organised balls and
suppers for Calcutta Masons and their guests. This is highly relevant as apparently Masons from
Danish, Dutch and French settlements were also welcome. The Madras Masons organised similar
32

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p52.
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p467.
34
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p175.
35
Ibid, p36.
36
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p13. See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, ““Hands across the Sea”, p245:
Masonry was a very important spiritual guide for colonists in India, as often there would be a lodge where there was not
yet a church.
37
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p53.
38
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, ““Hands across the Sea”, p241. See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p31.
39
Gould, Robert Freke, Military Lodges [...], p165.
40
Author Unknown, Freemasonry Comes to India, MasterMason.com [online]
http://www.mastermason.com/hempstead749/india.htm, [accessed] 12/12/2009.
41
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, ““Hands across the Sea”, p243.
42
Singh, Bawa Satinder, “Raja Gulab Singh's Role in the First Anglo-Sikh War”, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1971,
pp. 35-59, Cambridge University Press, [online] http://www.jstor.org/stable/311654, [accessed] 15/12/2009, p35.
43
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p39.
44
Gould, Robert Freke, Military Lodges [...], p51.
45
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p8.
33

5

events.46 In fact, Masons from different European nations would often take part in the same
processions, as was the case in Bengal in the 1770s and at the Cape in the 1790s, when Britons and
Dutchmen marched together. French Masons also corresponded significantly with English Masons.
Even in 1789, French and British Masons “across the Bay of Bengal” attended each other’s grand
balls. In India, one of the reasons European Masons were keen to interact with one another, even
during times of tension, was to make the stay in foreign custody for prisoners of war a bit easier.47

[Table 1]

48

There were far more English than there were Scottish or Irish lodges in India (see [Table 1]).
This is surprising as the Scots somewhat “ran the British Empire”49 and the Irish made up most of the
armed forces.50 Was it that Bengal was an English sphere of influence that caused Freemasonry to
grow there? Lodge composition evolved from military men to include a wide variety of members as
fixed lodges became more common:
“Merchants and colonial administrators, soldiers and officers, and ordinary
colonists of all types joined the brotherhood because membership offered
a passport to convivial society, moral and spiritual refinement, material
assistance, and social advancement in all parts of the empire.”51
When there were enough colonist Masons, petitions were sent to a grand lodge in Britain for
a warrant to form a colonial lodge. As the amount of colonials grew throughout the Empire, the
Grand Lodges decided, by the mid-eighteenth century, to appoint Provincial Grand Masters to
oversee the growth of Masonry in their regions.52 In many respects the Governor of a province had
very similar functions to a Grand Master.53 The eighteenth century was a troubling time for British
Masonry, as a feud between Ancients and Moderns erupted mid-century.54 Their political war seems
to have had little negative effect in India, as both Ancients and Moderns there associated with each
46

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p55.
Ibid, p85, p86, p87.
48
Ibid, p4.
49
Smout, Christopher, “The Culture of Migration: Scots as Europeans 1500-1800”, History Workshop Journal, No. 40,
Autumn, 1995, pp. 108-117, Oxford University Press, [online] http://www.jstor.org/stable/4289390, [accessed]
12/12/2009, p108.
50
Karsten, Peter, “Irish Soldiers in the British Army, 1792-1922: Suborned or Subordinate?”, Journal of Social History, Vol.
17, No. 1, Autumn, 1983, pp. 31-64, Published by Peter N. Stearns, [online] http://www.jstor.org/stable/3787238,
[accessed] 15/12/2009, p34-p40.
51
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p3.
52
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “Hands across the Sea”, p242.
53
Ibid, p243.
54
See Bennett, John R., Freemasonry Ancient to Modern, Kessinger Publishing, 2005 (original publication date unknown).
For more on the quarrel between Ancients and Moderns.
47

6

other, despite directives from London demanding them not to.55 The Ancients seemed to be more
successful at setting up lodges than the more exclusive Moderns as they were less upper-class and
paid more attention to the needs of their members56. Furthermore, they were far friendlier with the
Irish and the Scots, perhaps due to their Irish roots.57 They were also very popular with the army,
due to their administrative flexibility.58 In 1779, they set up a Provincial Grand Lodge under John
Sykes, in Madras.59 These problems caused Masons in India to urge for a unification of the Craft,
which it did twenty five years later.60 In 1786 though, Masons in Madras, Ancient and Modern,
united to form a single body.61 At Fort St George, after the unification of the Modern and Ancient
lodges, members would include a tavern keeper, a coach maker, a schoolmaster, a carpenter and a
jeweller. Another lodge in the region was mainly composed of men identified as “labourers”.62
Freemasonry played an essential role in providing support, relief, and a friendly setting for
brothers travelling and settling throughout the Empire (Masonry was one of the first organisations
to operate like contemporary insurance companies).63 Indeed, Anderson’s Constitutions mention
that brethren in need had to be relieved, through help in securing employment amongst other
things.64 Lodges also comforted brethren and looked after their mental and emotional health,
creating a familiar setting and a connection to home.65 This was especially important for bachelors.66
Freemasonry provided the ideal framework for colonialism, as it is based on family values around a
patriarchal structure.67 Indeed, the emphasis on the patriarch in its Victorian sense was made
strongly in the acknowledgment of the lodge’s Worshipful Master as a father figure.68The very
structure of the brotherhood was a model from which colonial administrators could copy elements
to implement in their governorships.69 Indeed, the prominence of some of the Order’s members,
often governors and governor-generals, was an additional reason for colonists to join: Lord William
Hastings, Lord Dalhousie (former Scottish Grand Master), Prince Edward (Duke of Kent), General
Amherst, Lord Clive, General Wolfe, Captain Cook, Lord Cornwallis and Warren Hastings were all
Freemasons, according to Harland-Jacobs.70

55

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p46.
Ibid, p49.
57
Ibid, p50.
58
Ibid, p51.
59
Ibid, p46.
60
Ibid, p46, p47.
61
Ibid, p47.
62
Ibid, p49.
63
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p449. See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p58.
64
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p60. See also: Anderson, James, Consitutions [...], Grand Lodge of British
Columbia and Yukon, [online] http://www.freemasonry.bcy.ca/history/anderson/index.html, [accessed] 01/12/2009. See
also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p24. Anderson was the first to draft a set of rules and policies in 1728 that
all lodges would abide by. Incidentally these would be amended by Benjamin Franklin in 1734. Interestingly, Anderson was
educated at Marischal College in Aberdeen.
65
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “Hands across the Sea”, p244.
66
Ibid, p246.
67
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p450.
68
Ibid, p455.
69
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, ““Hands across the Sea”, p239. See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p40: It
would seem that like colonial administrators, Provincial Grand Masters also suffered from communication problems with
London, often complaining about not receiving answers to questions in their letters.
70
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p4, p72, p168.
56

7

This is substantiated elsewhere too: Clive (victor at Plassey in 1757), was a Mason of the Lodge
of Rock No. 260,71 which although only founded in 1816, existed informally much earlier on.72
Charles Cornwallis (Commander-in-Chief in India, 1786-1793), was a Freemason, according to
Denslow.73 Warren Hastings (first Governor-General of Bengal, 1773-1785)74 was a Freemason,
according to Cheshire Mark Masons.75 Richard Wellesley (Governor-General of India, 1798-1805)
was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland (1782-1783).76 Lord Minto (Governor of India, 18071813) was a Freemason, according to Mackay and Haywood.77 Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington,
was initiated into the family lodge, Lodge Trim No. 494 in 1790,78 having just been elected MP of
Trim, according to Sives.79 Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnavaron (Undersecretary for the Colonies,
1858–59; Colonial Secretary, 1866–67 and 1874–78)80 was an English Pro Grand Master, according to
Harland-Jacobs; and the list goes on.81 Interestingly after Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 2nd Earl of
Moira82 (who was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland from 1806 to 180883) there wasn’t a
Masonic Governor-General until Dalhousie, apart from Amherst. James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin
(Viceroy in 1863) may have been one. Evidence suggests that like many Masons, it was in the
family.84

71

Halleran, Michael, “Bro. Brother’s Journal: Ignorance Abroad, Part the Second”, Scottish Rite Journal, The Supreme
Council, Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction, USA, [online]
http://www.scottishrite.org/ee.php?/journal/pastarticles/bro_brothers_journal_ignorance_abroad_part_the_second/,
th
[accessed] 6 December 2009.
72
Author Unknown, About the District Grand Lodge of Madras, [online] http://www.dglmadras.org.in/about_dgl.htm,
th
[accessed] 6 December 2009.
73
Denslow, William, R., 10,000 Famous Freemasons, from A to J Part One, Kessinger Publications, 2004 (reprint, edition
number unknown), p251.
74
Author Unknown, Warren Hastings, [online]
http://www.indianetzone.com/37/warren_hastings_first_governor_general_bengal.htm, [accessed] 10/12/2009.
75
Author Unknown, Stayley Lodge Centenary, The Cheshire Mark Mason, December 2008, [online]
http://www.cheshiremarkmasons.co.uk/issue10.pdf, [accessed] 10/12/2009.
76
st
Author Unknown, Richard Wellesley, 1 Marquess Wellesley, [online] http://www.answers.com/topic/richard-wellesleyth
1st-marquess-wellesley, [accessed] 28 November 2009.
77
Mackey, Albert, G.; Haywood, H., L., Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Vol. 3, 1909 (2003 edition), p1368.
78
Author Unknown, Famous Masons in History, Matawan Lodge, New Jersey, [online]
th
http://www.matawanlodge.org/famous.htm, [accessed] 26 November 2009. Also of interest: Beresiner, Yasha,
Wellington: Soldier, Politician and Initiated Freemason, Masonic Papers, [online] http://www.freemasonsfreemasonry.com/beresiner13.html, [accessed] 10/12/2009.
79
Sives, Alexander, A Brother in Arms – Arthur, Duke of Wellington, April 2009, [online]
th
http://www.masonicnetwork.org/blog/tag/lord-wellington/, [accessed] 29 November 2009. This is equally substantiated
elsewhere, however Sives presents one of the more complete accounts.
80
th
Author Unknown, Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert 4 earl of Carnarvon, [online]
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/96256/Henry-Howard-Molyneux-Herbert-4th-earl-of-Carnarvon, [accessed]
07/12/2009.
81
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p461.
82
Author Unknown, Francis Rawdon-Hastings, [online] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/256745/Francisth
Rawdon-Hastings-1st-Marquess-of-Hastings-2nd-Earl-of-Moira, [accessed] 4 December 2009.
83
Author Unknown, List of Grand Master’s of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, [online]
http://www.grandlodgescotland.com/glos/G.M.M.%27s/grand_master_masons.htm, [accessed] 28/02/2008.
84
Author Unknown, A Brief Historical Sketch, The Provincial Grand Lodge of the Royal Order of Scotland for the United
States of America, Puerto Rico, Republic of Panama, Guam and the US Virgin Islands, CONSTITUTED 1878, [online]
http://www.yorkrite.com/roos/info.html, [accessed] 1/12/2009; Luckhurst, Tim, “Lord Elgin: Defender of aristocratic
adventure and national treasures”, The Independent, [online] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/lordth
elgin-defender-of-aristocratic-adventure-and-national-treasures-573486.html, [accessed] 4 December 2009; Author
th
th
Unknown, The Right Honourable 11 Earl of Elgin and 15 Kincardine Lord Elgin, [online]
http://www.city.waterloo.on.ca/Portals/57ad7180-c5e7-49f5-b282rd
c6475cdb7ee7/COUNCIL_documents/Approved_Bio_and_Photo_Lord_Elgin.doc, [accessed] 3 December 2009; Baldwin,
th
Richard, B., The Royal Order of Scotland, [online] http://srjarchives.tripod.com/1998-08/BALDWIN.HTM, [accessed] 5
December 2009.

8

In the years after Clive, when India was seen as a quick way to wealth, Freemasonry became
very attractive, as it was seen as a door to ‘polite society’.85 Furthermore, Freemasonry will have
been a welcome source of order in eighteenth century Bengal, as according to Steadman, life there
for the average Briton was rather chaotic.86 Steadman portrays eighteenth century British Calcutta
as no place for Christianity, as it was rather overshadowed by vice.87 Later, men like Dalhousie,
Moira and Elphinstone, contributed significantly to maintaining the respectability of the
brotherhood. They also began to allow middle-class men to join, as local elites made it more
attractive to those who had found wealth in India.88 As settlements grew, Masonry helped rising
men become powerful local power brokers.89 This is substantiated by Prescott (with a slight nuance),
who argues that between 1856 and 1874, English Masonry became overwhelmingly middle class,
whilst Scottish Masonry retained its strong working class membership, as did the Ancients.90
Harland-Jacobs, quoting Paul Rich, mentions Freemasonry as part of a “secret curriculum” in public
schools, that eventually gave access to “the ultimate old boy network”.91 Thus the brotherhood was
instrumental in making the colonial middle-class.92
Harland-Jacobs, quoting Stockwell, mentions the importance of imagery and performance in
upholding the idea of empire, a task that Freemasonry performed admirably.93 Quoting Rich,
Harland-Jacobs argues that as the Britons’ “ability to enforce politics by force” was limited
(especially after 1857), “they used ceremonies as a substitute for gunboats”.94 In fact, “Freemasons
were [...] the shock troops of imperial ceremony”.95 Indeed, Masonic processions increased in
frequency throughout the nineteenth century.96 They were literally builders of empire, laying the
foundation stones, during very public processions, to various imperial buildings, schools, hospitals,
canals, jails, lighthouses, hotels, theatres, monuments, libraries, courts and orphanages.97 Masonic
processions in India, as well as stone-laying events, were almost always reported in local
newspapers, in order to best display “the grandeur of Britannia and her subjects”.98 In 1824, the
Calcutta Gazette would report on a stone-laying ceremony for the New Hindoo College, being built
for the “moral and intellectual improvement” of Britain’s Hindu “native subjects”. The Masonic
procession and speeches were watched on by a crowd, “dense to the extreme” with Europeans and
Indians. A few months later a similar event took place for a New Mahommedan College.99 This is
relevant to the last part of this paper, as it shows the colonials’ mentality regarding Indians.

85

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p6.
Steadman, J. M., “The Asiatick Society of Bengal”, Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 10, No. 4, Summer 1977, pp.464-483,
The John Hopkins University Press, [online] www.jstor.org/stable/2738568, [accessed] 01/12/2009, p464.
87
Steadman, J. M., “The Asiatick Society of Bengal”, p465.
88
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p175.
89
Ibid, p13.
90
Prescott, Andrew, A History of British Freemasonry 1425-2000, p22.
91
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p9.
92
Ibid, p6.
93
Ibid, p13.
94
Ibid, p13, p14.
95
Ibid, p14. See also: p13: During the age of high imperialism (1870-1914), the “institution encouraged its members to give
their energy, money, and even their lives to uphold the imperial power and prestige of the ‘motherland’”.
96
Ibid, p56.
97
Ibid, p14.
98
Ibid, p55. See also p245: Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Masonic newspapers developed considerably.
There was even one entitled the Indian Freemason.
99
Ibid, p162.
86

9

100

Left to right: Lord Moira ; Lord Dalhousie

101

Moira’s administration is rather interesting, as not only was he to be the first GovernorGeneral to administer India since the Company Charter Act of 1813 ended the EIC’s monopoly, but
he would act as “Acting Grand Master of the Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and
Accepted Masons in and over the whole of India [...].” Under his rule, vast amounts of territory were
conquered from the Ghurkhas (1814-1816) and the Marathas (1816), and the amount of immigrant
Britons increased, causing Masonic membership to diversify throughout India.102 With such an
illustrious Mason in their midst, Britons rejoiced, as he enhanced the positive image of Masonry
within the empire.103 After his departure, Freemasonry experienced a downturn, but this was soon
rectified as further buildings displaying Britain’s greatness and for the education of native Indians
were erected (the Hindoo and Mahommedan Colleges mentioned previously).104 Speeches on both
these occasions reflect Masonry’s commitment to the increasingly popular interventionist and
Utilitarianism-inspired governors.105
Under Dalhousie, British power was increasingly centralised and enhanced: he annexed the
Sikh state (1849) and part of Burma (1852). He introduced the telegraph, railways, postal system,
and irrigation works. He also focused on anglicising Indian society and was committed to mass
education and missionary Christianity. His reforms, amongst other things, arguably caused the 1857

100

101

Ibid, p146.

Author Unknown, Frontespiece, taken from Lee-Warner, Sir William, The Life of the Marquess of Dalhousie,
Vol. 1, London, 1904.
102

Ibid, p172. Lord Moira observed that Freemasonry was “a Body spread throughout all classes of Society”. According to
Harland-Jacobs, “Madras’s Lodge Perfect Unanimity was composed of civil servants, advocates, merchants, attorneys, and
army officers, as well as a chaplain, a surgeon, member of council, deputy commercial resident, master of the ceremonies,
and secretary.”
103
Ibid, p173.
104
Ibid, p174.
105
Ibid, p174.

10

Sepoy Uprising.106 As a response to this, ‘Article 55’ was enforced throughout lodges in India,
obliging them to refer to a provincial grand lodge if they wanted to admit a non-European
member.107 Interestingly, it was noted during this period that many a lodge would not even receive
fellow brothers, should they be of Asiatic descent. Perhaps to ease tensions, the next Grand Masters
(such as Sandeman) were drawn from civil society instead of the military.108
Eighteenth century imperial Masonry was somewhat inclusive of ‘other’ groups such as
Jews, Muslims and South Asians.109 South Asians wished to join British Masonic lodges for the
contacts and social status they provided, and there is also the notion that the knowledge withheld
by Masons was so secret that it increased its value dramatically.110 During the eighteenth century,
the brotherhood had indeed counted some Asians, Native Americans, and Africans in its ranks. The
numbers weren’t very significant but the idea that Masonry was crossing racial boundaries was
indeed potent.111 Omdat-ul-Omrah Bahadur, son of the Muslim Nawab of Arcot (the Carnatic), was
the first Indian Freemason, joining in 1775 or 1776.112 The Grand Lodge of England attached an
exceptional amount of importance to the event, going as far as sending its new member a
specifically made apron and copy of Anderson’s Constitutions. Obviously, Britain wished to stress
how inclusive it was of elite native Indians. Harland-Jacobs uses Cannadine’s Ornamentalism to
describe how Britons governed their empire: as an “authoritarian and collaborationist” entity that
“always took for granted the reinforcement and preservation of tradition and hierarchy”.113 The
same year Bahadur joined, Joseph Brant, the Mowhawk leader, also joined in London. What these
two men had in common was the fact that they represented the highest rank of their indigenous
order, and thus allowed for an extra layer of control for Britain. Indeed, the Nawab of the Carnatic
had sided with the British in the war with the French for Southern India, and his son’s initiation was a
means of strengthening that alliance.114 British Masons were less racist (and racialist) in the late
eighteenth century than they were in the first half of the nineteenth century. Harland-Jacobs partly
blames this surge in racism on the extensive expansion undergone at the turn of the nineteenth
century, particularly in India, which brought a variety of peoples hitherto widely unknown, under
British rule. Exclusionary practices became increasingly widespread within this predominantly white
institution. “Thus a tension between the fraternity’s inclusive rhetoric and its exclusive practices
became increasingly evident and difficult to explain.”115 Men of the mid-nineteenth century became
imbued with social Darwinism, and the belief that colonials were part of the master races, whilst the

106

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p468. See Also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p227: Masonry
was dealt a blow by the Uprising, as subsequently a good deal of their funds was used for relief for European victims of the
Uprising.
107
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p225, p226.
108
Ibid, p227.
109
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p5.
110
Urban, Hugh B., “The Torment of Secrecy: Ethical and Epistemological Problems in the Study of Esoteric Traditions”,
History of Religions, Vol. 37, No. 3, February 1998, pp. 209-248, The University of Chicago Press, [online]
www.jstor.org/stable/3176606, [accessed] 01/12/2009, p210.
111
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p466.
112
Ibid, p466; Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p78. See also: Prescott, Andrew, A History of British Freemasonry
1425-2000, p15, p16; Gould, Robert F., History of Freemasonry Throughout the World, Vol IV, printed by Charles Scribner’s
Sons, 1936, [online] http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/gould_history_freemasonry.html, [accessed] 08/12/2009,
p226. According to Prescott, the admittance of Prince Omdit-ul-Omrah Bahaudar (admitted in 1776, according to Gould),
was partly to allow the Grand Lodge of England to claim to be the “Supreme Grand Lodge of the World”.
113
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p78, p79.
114
Ibid, p79, p80.
115
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p466.

11

colonised belonged to subject races.116 Historians identified this shift as a result of the imperial
debacles in Jamaica and India.117 In some respects, Masonry became compatible with the racial
discourse of the mid to late nineteenth century, as Europeans saw themselves as patriarchs leading
childlike Indians to Enlightenment and civilisation.118
In the early decades of the nineteenth century, a handful of Muslims were admitted to the
brotherhood, but it was only around 1840 that discussions about whether or not Hindus should be
allowed to join took place.119 The Masonic debate about Hindus provides us with an interesting
insight when correlated with the various mutinies and uprisings that took place in India during the
first half of the nineteenth century, culminating in the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857.120 On one side of this
debate stood “a few vocal advocates, British and Indian, who were willing to include any Indian
candidate, provided he gain acceptance into a local lodge.” They used the ideology of universal
brotherhood and the family metaphor as their primary arguments. On the other side of the debate
were the vast majority of English Masons in India “who did not want to welcome Hindus into their
family.”121 They believed Hindus simply did not fit the mould and could not be considered as
brothers. Additionally, their argument was emboldened in the aftermath of the 1857 Rebellion as
the “racialised discourse of imperialism” strengthened.122
In order to understand Masonic reticence regarding admitting Indians (particularly Hindus),
we need to consider the religious nature of British Masonry by the mid-nineteenth century. Olive
Anderson argues that it was the Crimean War that “began a dramatic change in the attitude towards
the army of British society in general, and the religious public in particular.”123 She focuses primarily
on literature from the period. Harland-Jacobs and other Masonic Historians paint a very different
picture. The concept of family in Britain underwent significant changes at the beginning of the
nineteenth century.124 The French revolution and the Vatican’s war on Masons caused British
Freemasonry, like the army, to become far less radical, far more protestant, and far more exclusive
of these ‘other’ groups.125 Indeed, British Masonry became very different to French Masonry, which
habitually exhibited sympathy towards Jacobin ideology (a good deal of competition between

116

Ibid, p475.
Ibid, p476.
118
Ibid, p479.
119
Ibid, p467.
120
Ibid, p468.
121
Ibid, p468.
122
Ibid, p469.
123
Anderson, Olive, The Growth of Christian Militarism in Mid-Victorian Britain, The English Historical Review, Vol. 86, No.
338, January 1971, pp. 46-72, Oxford University Press, [online] www.jstor.org/stable/563655, [accessed] 08/12/2009, p46p52.
124
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p451.
125
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p5, p6. See also: Chevallier, Pierre, Histoire de la Franc-Maçonnerie
Française, Vol III, La Maçonnerie : Eglise de la République (1877-1944), Fayard, 1975; Faucher, Jean-André, Les clubs
politiques en France, Editions John Didier, Paris, 1965; Faucher, Jean-André, Les francs-maçons et le pouvoir, de la
révolution à nos jours, Perrin, 1986; Gayot, Gérard, La Franc-Maçonnerie Française, texts et pratiques, XVIIIe-XIXe siècles,
Gallimard, 1980; Kayser, Jacques, Les grandes batailles du radicalisme des origines aux portes du pouvoir, 1820-1901, Paris,
1962; Nordmann, Jean-Thomas, Histoire des radicaux, 1820-1973, La Table Ronde, 1973. It would be out of place to go into
in any amount of detail here, but to illustrate how unique, religiously speaking, British Masonry was (and somewhat still is)
when compared to French Masonry, these authors are highly relevant regarding the radicalism, and later, socialism of
French Masonry.
117

12

English and French lodges arose, as shown by Wissa regarding nineteenth century Egypt126).127 After
the French Revolution and vocal accusations that Freemasons played a key role in its undertaking,
British Masonry became extremely politicised and religious, in an effort to distance itself from the
French and other radicals, such as in Ireland. It is during this period that being a British Mason
became synonymous with loyalty and allegiance to the Crown.128 Masons in India were aware of this
situation and responded by writing to the Crown to assert their allegiance, before the grand lodges
requested them to do so. It was in these conditions that Francis Rawdon-Hastings (Lord Moira) took
over as acting Grand Master of the Moderns, due to his close affiliation with the Prince of Whales.129
One can draw a parallel between this and the advent of a very religious-minded middle class.
Indeed, nineteenth century Masons often described their organisation as the “handmaid of
religion”.130 In the 1820s, the Duke of Sussex attempted to reform Masonry so that it “gave a new
religion to the world” by transcending Christianity. This attempt was met with failure, as Robert
Crucefix and George Oliver, preaching a more evangelistic version of the brotherhood, eventually
triumphed over Sussex.131 Apparently British Masons in India would rejoice at Crucefix’s and Oliver’s
work when they were finally obliged by London to admit Hindu members, as they could take solace
in their view that only Christians would ever truly understand Freemasonry.132
The head of English Masonry in India argued in 1840 that the Masonry’s progress was
shaped by “sympathy with the whole family of man”.133 This is ironic because Christianity was used
as an argument to exclude Indians. This is interesting as Freemasonry and the religions of India may
have more in common than nineteenth century Masons would have liked to admit. According to
Urban, at the turn of the eighteenth century an esoteric sect called the Kartābhajās (part of broader
Vaisnava-Sahajiyā and other Bengali Tantric traditions) emerged in Bengal as a result of the
censorship and repression caused by the implementation of British rule.134 Many parallels between
Freemasonry and the Kartābhajās can be drawn, such as the fact that being a member enhanced
one’s contacts, prestige, and social standing.135 This is highly relevant as it somewhat demonstrates
that Freemasonry, structurally, was not as alien a concept to Indians as most Britons assumed, and
may not have been at all incompatible with Indian society, as many European Masons argued. The
Kartābhajās were controversial to ‘mainstream’ Indians due to their operating in secret, and their
126

Wissa, Karim, “Freemasonry in Egypt 1798-1921: A Study in Cultural and Political Encounters”, Bulletin (British Society
for Middle Eastern Studies), Vol. 16, No. 2, 1989, pp.143-161, Published by Taylor & Francis, Ltd., [online]
www.jstor.org/stable/195148, [accessed] 05/12/2009.
127
Prescott, Andrew, A History of British Freemasonry 1425-2000, p15. See also on p25: Throughout the nineteenth
century, and especially after the foundation of France’s Third Republic in 1870, British and French Masonry became ever
more distant, as a result of the French penchant for Jacobin ideology and of British religious zeal.
128
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p127, p128, p130.
129
Ibid, p135, p136, p137.
130
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, ““Hands across the Sea”, p244. See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p69:
Harland-Jacobs mentions Preston’s Illustrations of Freemasonry as explaining the dynamics of Masonic spirituality. This is
pure speculation but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the upper echelons of the Order opened the door to revelations
regarding the divinity of Man along the lines of American Masonry (thus in direct contradiction with mainstream
Christianity). Of course, here is not the place to discuss this issue; however it could prove fundamental to understanding
how Masons’ viewed the various religions of the world.
131
Prescott, Andrew, A History of British Freemasonry 1425-2000, p18-p21. Incidentally this battle between Sussex and
Crucefix included misreporting minutes from Grand Lodge proceedings to use as ammunition against one another; this led
to the keeping of detailed minutes in the Grand Lodge, not unlike the East India Company’s obsession with records.
132
Ibid, p23.
133
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p464.
134
Urban, Hugh B., “The Torment of Secrecy [...]”, p211.
135
Ibid, p212.

13

indulging in ‘immoral’ (ritualistic sexual) behaviour.136 For Masons, operating in secret also fuelled
scandalous accusations, such as the Leo Taxil hoax in late nineteenth century France.137
Moreover, the Kartābhajās had a vision of a universal “religion of humanity,” open to men
(and women) of all classes. This correlates somewhat with Masons’ ideology of the spiritual oneness
of mankind.138 Furthermore, the Kartābhajās were interested in concepts such as the “worship of
Man”139. It is unclear whether this was a tenet of British Masonry (unlikely given its Christian
element); one look at Brumidi’s Apotheosis of Washington though, tells us that some American
Masons definitely thought along these lines.140 In fact, in “Masonic Enlightenment”, Frank C. Higgins
draws an interesting parallel between Hindu mythology and Masonic initiation: he maintains that
the meaning of Masonic initiation is that of spiritual rebirth, along the same lines as Agrouchada’s
vision of the second birth being about the entrance into a spiritual life.141 It would be interesting to
determine if the Kartābhajās were somewhat a competitive reaction to the implementation of
British Masonic Lodges and indeed if other sects emerged in Madras and Bombay around the same
time, as the Kartābhajās were but one of many Indian sects of the era.142 It would also be interesting
to determine whether or not those Indians who sought to join British lodges did so partially out of
disgust for the Kartābhajās, as powerful Brahmins often sought to marginalise and belittle them.143
There is very little information pertaining to the idea that Sir William Jones was a
Freemason. He founded the Asiatic Society (modelled on the Royal Society of London144) and was
“closely linked” to the brotherhood, according to some. In fact many a Mason “regularly proposed
their Masonic colleagues to the Royal Society”,145 as the brotherhood encouraged its members to
engage in intellectual pursuits.146 After Jones came John Shore. Whilst it is unclear whether or not he
was a Mason, he was the founder of the British and Foreign Bible Society,147 which apparently had
close ties to Freemasonry.148 Incidentally, the Asiatic Society was organised in a very similar fashion
136

Ibid, p223.
Author Unknown, A Hoax, Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, [online]
http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/texts/taxil_confession.html, [accessed] 15/12/2009. See also: Faucher, Jean-André, Les francsmaçons et le pouvoir, de la révolution à nos jours, Perrin, 1986.
138
Urban, Hugh B., Songs of Ecstasy, Tantric and Devotional Songs from Colonial Bengal, [online]
http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/oso/public/content/religion/9780195139013/toc.html, [accessed] 9/12/2009, 2003
(made available online; first printed in 2001), p1 (abstract).
139
Urban, Hugh B., “The Torment of Secrecy”, p226, p227. Curiously, this ties in neatly with Hermetic teachings.
140
Brumidi, The Apotheosis of Washington, 1865, [online] http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/apotheosis/Overview.cfm,
[accessed] 09/12/2009. One might even argue that American Masons had more in common, at least ideologically, with
French Masons than they did with their British brothers.
141
Poll, Michael R. (edited by), Masonic Enlightenment, The Philosophy, History and Wisdom of Freemasonry, Cornerstone
Book Publishers, 2006, p18. For more about Agrouchada and Indian occultism, see Jacoilliot, L., Occult Science in India,
Publisher Unknown, 1919, p80-p95.
142
Bendall, C., “Ancient Indian Sects and Orders Mentioned by Buddhist Writers”, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society,
1901, pp.122-127.
143
Urban, Hugh B., “The Torment of Secrecy”, p223.
144
Steadman, J. M., “The Asiatick Society of Bengal”, p466. On p470: Steadman argues that it was no coincidence that the
Society was founded at the same time the East India Company’s track record was being discussed in parliament; it was an
attempt to show that it was not merely a bellicose organisation.
145
Author Unknown, The Royal Society, Deism V Idealism, [online] http://www.heardmusic.co.uk/page.asp?pid=81,
[accessed] 10/12/2009. See also: Steadman, J. M., “The Asiatick Society of Bengal”, p465: Interestingly, the presidency of
the Asiatick Society of Bengal was first offered to Warren Hastings, before Hastings mentioned his preference for Jones.
146
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “Hands across the Sea”, p245.
147
Author Unknown, John Shore, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, [online]
http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/101025452, [accessed] 10/12/2009.
148
Author Unknown, The History of Freemasons’ Hall, The United Grand Lodge of England, [online]
http://www.ugle.org.uk/static/ugle/the-history-of-freemasons-hall.htm, [accessed] 10/12/2009. “In addition to Masonic
137

14

to a Masonic lodge.149 The interest in deciphering Vedic and other Sanskrit-based texts150 will have
been potent not only to ‘normal’ scholars, but to Masons keen to research the links of their esoteric
organisation with ancient civilizations. Indeed, Jones, amongst others believed that deciphering
some of these texts was a key to discovering hidden ancient-Egyptian knowledge.151

152

From left to right: Ardaseer Cursetjee ; Prosonno Coomar Dutt (in Masonic regalia)

153

According to Harland-Jacobs, Ardaseer Cursetji was the first Indian admitted to the Royal
Asiatic Society, in England.154 However, according to Kochhar, he was admitted to the Royal Society
of London.155 Also, according to the Asiatic Society itself, the first Indian members were Prasanna
Kumar Tagore, Dwarkanath Tagore, Russamay Dutt and Ram Camul Sen.156 Admitting Indians into
uses Sandby's Hall [Freemasons’ Hall’s predecessor] was to be an important centre during the 'London Season', hosting
concerts, balls, play readings, literary evenings and meetings of many learned and philanthropic societies, including the
Anti-Slavery Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society”. For more about the links between Freemasons, the Royal
Society of London, and Rosicrucians, see Bauer, Alain, Isaac Newton’s Freemasonry, The Alchemy of Science and Mysticism,
Inner Traditions, 2003; Beresiner, Yasha, The City of London, A Masonic Guide, Lewis Masonic Publishing, 2006; McIntosh,
Christopher, The Rosicrucians, The History, Mythology, and Rituals of an Esoteric Order, Weiser Books, 1998; Sprat,
Thomas, The History of the Royal Society of London, For the Improving of Natural Knowledge, Elibron Classics, 2005; Yates,
Frances A., The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, Routledge Classics, 2002 (first published 1972).
149
Steadman, J. M., “The Asiatick Society of Bengal”, p467.
150
Ibid, p473-p477.
151
Ibid, p481. This is interesting as legends abound about secret ancient Egyptian knowledge passed down orally
from generation to generation. There is also some speculation that Masons have a lot to do with this. As a starting point
for more on ancient knowledge, see Freke, Timothy; Gandy, Peter, The Hermetica, The Lost Wisdom of the Pharaohs,
Tarcher/Penguin Group, 1999 (first published 1997). See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p29: HarlandJacobs briefly mentions the “gentlemen of the Royal Academy whose attraction to Masonry stemmed from their interest in
Newtonian science and the ancient world.”
152
Author Unknown, Ardaseer Cursetjee, Photograph, Royal Society of London, [online] http://royalsociety.org/The-RoyalSociety-and-India/, [accessed] 10/12/2009.
153
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p231.
154
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p469.
155
Kochhar, R. K., “Ardaseer Cursetjee (1808-1877), the First Indian Fellow of the Royal Society of London”, Notes and
Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 47, No. 1, January 1993, pp.33-47, Published by the Royal Society, [online]
www.jstor.org/stable/531392, [accessed] 01/12/2009.
156
Author Unknown, History, The Asiatic Society, [online] http://www.asiaticsocietycal.com/history/1.htm, [accessed]
10/12/2009.

15

the Royal Society only really became fashionable at the dawn of the 20th century. The exception to
this would be Cursetjee, marine engineer in Bombay and a Parsi, who was elected in 1841.157 Indeed,
not only was Cursetjee a good poster-boy for the Empire, he also helped the British develop steam
navigation, working with the EIC.158 Cursetjee became a Freemason in 1843, according to Kochhar.159
This is most relevant, as this was after he became a member of the Royal Society; usually it is the
other way around. In some respects, he paved the way for others, showing that if one was
intellectually valuable enough to the empire, the doors to the brotherhood could be opened. As we
shall see, the British adopted the same mentality, after much debate. There was a “disjuncture
between their cosmopolitan, universalist ideology and the “rule of colonial difference” that underlay
imperial power”.160 In 1857, the Grand Lodge of England rhetorically asked:
“how can western ideas make their way amongst a people whose
superstitions so kindle their suspicions, that a greased cartridge may
become the cause of a general rebellion? How can a man think of another
as his brother, [...] when to touch him is pollution?”161
Hindus, Parsis and Muslims “were met with caution” when they attempted to join the
brotherhood. British Masons were breaking their own rule: to extend the hand of brotherhood to all
humans without discrimination.162 Even those that were for allowing Indians to join, during this
ideological and racialist feud, only held that position because they thought that Masonry would
“help raise up childlike natives “to the high level of European civilization and culture””.163 The
Scottish Masons of Bombay were the first to take the ‘universal family’ concept seriously with
regards to Hindus in 1843. Apparently James Burnes, an EIC medical officer, “was instrumental in
this development”. He was appointed Provincial Grand Master for Western India in 1836 by the
Grand Lodge of Scotland. In 1840, he explained to a gathering of Masons that the inclusion of native
Indians would allow for bonds between colonists and colonised to be strengthened and for truer
knowledge of “the Great Architect of the Universe” without “awakening religious prejudice”.
However, the Scottish Bombay Masons became defensive when Maneckji Cursetji, a Parsi,
attempted to join their lodge in 1840. Turned away, he tried to join in England. This failed too and he
joined a Parisian lodge. Even when he returned to Bombay as a Master Mason, in 1843, the Masons
were still unwelcoming.164 Nonetheless, this made British Masons very aware that Indians could find
their way into Freemasonry “through a back door”. Thus, they reasoned it would be better to allow
Hindus to join their lodges as they would henceforth be able to regulate admission and avoid
157

Kochhar, R. K., “Ardaseer Cursetjee [...]”, p34.
Ibid, p39-p42.
159
Ibid, p44.
160
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p450.
161
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p238. See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p460: There were
many differences between the Grand Lodges of Ireland, Scotland and England. Regarding Indians, it is interesting to note
that the Irish and Scottish authorities “had a more relaxed attitude toward their colonial brethren (in the settler colonies as
well as India)” than did the Grand Lodge of England.
162
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p448.
163
Ibid, p448. See also: Meyers, Jeffrey, “The Idea of Moral Authority in the Man Who Would Be King”, Studies in English
Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 8, No. 4, Nineteenth Century, Autumn 1968, pp.711-723, Rice University, [online]
www.jstor.org/stable/449475, [accessed] 01/12/2009, p722.This view is somewhat violently described in Rudyard Kipling’s
(a Mason) The Man Who Would Be King. Meyers argues that: “Peachey and Dan merely use Freemasonry as another
means of tricking the natives and gaining power. Their godlike relation to the natives, whom they slaughter
indiscriminately, can hardly be called one of ‘universal brotherhood.’” Whilst literary and not historical, this view clearly
expresses the contempt some Britons had towards Indians.
164
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p469.
158

16

another Cursetji incident. Thus the Lodge Rising Star of Western India came into being in 1843, with
four Indian founding members: three Muslims and a Parsi, and still no Hindus. Of course the most
prominent positions within the lodge were occupied by Britons, with Burnes himself as Master. It is
also worth noting that the highly anglicised Parsis of Western India were deemed adequate
candidates as they “had strong financial and political connections to European merchants and civil
servants”. Indeed the Parsi founding member of Rising Star was none other than Ardaseer
Cursetji.165 Scottish Masonry under Burnes overtook English Masonry in prominence, as Englishmen
deserted to join Scottish lodges, which suggests that Burnes’ handling of the matter of admitting
Muslims and Parsis met with success.166
The English Provincial Grand Master of Bengal during the 1840s, John Grant, argued that it
was up to the Grand Lodge in London to decide on the admittance of “Musselmans and Hindoos.”
He adopted this stance as a way of unofficially blocking admittance. The actions of the Scottish
Bombay Masons forced him to make concessions: he consented to Indian admission as long as the
candidate was well educated and respectable, and able to acquire “in some measure [...] an English
education”.167 The admittance of Hindus was still unofficially hindered. The idea of admitting
Muslims and Hindus into the brotherhood made Grant “very anxious”. He turned to the Grand Lodge
of England for advice. Responding in 1842, Prince Edward Augustus (Grand Master) argued that
should they fit the requirements of Masonry (belief in a Supreme Being), they should be allowed to
join, as long as Grant remained cautious about who he admitted. Grant recoiled in horror, and
searching for reasons to continue the unofficial ban, he hypocritically invoked caste differences as
prohibiting Hindus from joining as they could not treat their fellow man as an equal. In the aftermath
of his administration, Harland-Jacobs argued that English Masonry in Bengal suffered from “a lack of
leadership and competition from Scottish Masons in Calcutta.”168 One may also assume that Indian
membership grew more in Bombay and Madras than it did in Calcutta.
The unrest of the 1850s brought this slow progress to a standstill.169 Indeed, in the
aftermath of 1857, Masonic leaders in India “pulled back from the limited trend of inclusiveness
evident in the 1840s.” The Provincial Grand Lodge of Bengal even enforced a “bylaw requiring
provincial grand masters to approve the admission of Indians on a case-by-case basis” (Article 55 of
the By-Laws of the District Grand Lodge of Bengal).170 A few Hindus petitioned against ‘Article 55’ in
the 1860s, most notably Prosonno Coomar Dutt, a Hindu merchant of Calcutta. He was refused
without so much as an adequate explanation.171 Lord Mayo, Viceroy of India, along with the Grand
Lodge of Ireland, gave Dutt their unconditional support.172 There was tremendous pressure on
Bengal officials to change their policy, as not being a Christian, they argued, was no grounds for
exclusion. The Provincial Grand Lodge was forced to capitulate and Dutt joined Lodge Anchor and
Hope in 1872, after nine years of petitioning.173

165

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p470.
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p223.
167
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p470.
168
Ibid, p471.
169
Ibid, p471.
170
Ibid, p472.
171
Ibid, p472.
172
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p230.
173
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p474.
166

17

Another relevant case is that of the Muslim Prince Said-ud-Dowlah, who sought admission in
Kanpur in 1863. Having been accepted, the Provincial Grand Master suspended two lodge leaders for
their “rebellious conduct”,174 threatening to suspend any Mason who initiated “an Asiatic [...]
without a Dispensation”.175 The debate over these two cases was apparently quite intense, as it
reached London. Brother Howe was the most vocal voice against the admission of Hindus. He used
polytheism as an argument against them, claiming it counted as not believing in a Supreme Being.
He also argued that this made Hindus untrustworthy. Unsurprisingly, most English Masons sided
with him, although Charles Pilffard, a Calcutta lawyer, argued that these exclusions went against
Masonic ideology and made English Masons hypocrites.176 Interestingly, even though Said-udDowlah was a Muslim, the English seemed to put him and Prosonno Coomar Dutt in the same
category.
Most Muslims initiated in India belonged to royal families that were collaborating with the
British. For example, in 1836, the English Grand Lodge accepted the admission of the ambassador of
the Kingdom of Oudh (which Wellesley brought into the subsidiary alliance system in 1801). During
the next decade, the Duke of Sussex initiated Muslims with similar backgrounds. Nonetheless, there
is very little evidence that many more Muslims were admitted. These exceptions did however
contribute to fuelling the debate over extending membership to Parsis and Hindus.177 Eventually, the
English Grand Lodge would overturn ‘Article 55’.178

Members of Alexandra Lodge No. 1065 (English Constitution), Jubbalpar, India, ca. 1870 (all Europeans)

179

174

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p472.
Ibid, p473. See also: Whymper, Henry Josiah; Hughan, William James, Religion of Freemasonry. Kessinger Publications,
2003 (first published 1888). Specifically, see Chapter IX (p168 of 2003 edition). Also see Scott, Charles, Analogy of Ancient
Craft Masonry to Natural and Revealed Religion, Kessinger Publications (first published 1850 or 1888). Religion of
Freemasonry perfectly details the debate over the extent to which Masonry could indeed be universal.
176
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p473, p474.
177
Ibid, p221. See also: Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p220: The admission of Muslims into the
175

brotherhood was sometimes met with outright contempt and anger, expressed by some Masons during the
ceremony. Meer Bundeh Ali Khan was initiated to the Marine Lodge in Bengal in 1812. Two members refused
to attend the lodge meeting in protest, and two other Masons overtly mocked the Islamic faith during the
proceedings, and were asked to leave.
178
Ibid, 229.
179

Ibid, p225.

18

Indian Freemasonry remained an overwhelmingly European institution, as racialist ideology
proved impossible to eradicate.180 Nonetheless, multiracial lodges in India gradually became more
common, as at least a fifth of all the lodges operating in India during the 1870s included an
indigenous element.181 Masonry began to serve as a meeting ground between colonisers and
colonised, and through its teachings it was thought that racial tensions could be calmed.182 The
British only made the brotherhood accessible to Indians because they thought it would help
strengthen the empire.183 This idea culminated in 1877, when the Prince of Whales (English Grand
Master) visited Bombay to lay the foundation stone of the Elphinstone docks. The Masonic
ceremony included English, Parsi, Muslim and Hindu Masons, and the Prince officially congratulated
his fellow Masons on the flourishing conditions of the Craft in India.184 By the end of the nineteenth
century, Masonry in India was facilitating European and Indian public interactions, and according to
Masons in London, this aided in making Indians loyal subjects to Queen Victoria.185
Thus Masonry was central to the expansion and maintenance of the British Empire,
especially after 1857, when mechanisms to control indigenous populations were needed more than
ever by the British state.

180

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p474.
Ibid, p475.
182
Ibid, p480.
183
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p7.
184
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, “All in the Family”, p478.
185
Harland-Jacobs, Jessica, Builders of Empire, p264.
181

19

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24

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