Freemasonry was spread across Asia and the Eastern Archipelago by the military, trade and migration.
The paper below by Manoj Sharma explores how Freemasonry took root in the lodges under the District Grand Lodge of the Eastern Archipelago. The District, which is the largest by membership under the United Grand Lodge of England, has forty lodges spread over the independent nations of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
The paper starts with a brief history of the British East India Company in India, Japan and China from 1608 until 1858. It explains that the Premier Grand Lodge and Antients were not alone in their expansionism, and that the Grand Lodges of Scotland, Holland and France were appointing Provincial Grand Masters in China, Ceylon, Bombay, Java and Sumatra from the 1730s onward, having modelled themselves on the Grand Lodge of England.
It took time for Freemasonry’s ambition to be a ‘center of union, and the means of conciliating true friendship among persons’ to be fully accepted by Masonic lodges in the east. The experience today of Freemasonry being an inclusive global institution was not a linear progression and was gradual. Inclusivity began with a small number of anglicised Indians and was followed by Zoroastrians and Muslims, and later Hindus and Sikhs being admitted into lodges.
The paper describes the history of Freemasonry in Sumatra through to the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, and after the founding of modern Singapore by the freemason Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. It covers the history of Penang before Captain Francis Light leased Penang Island in 1786 on behalf of the British East India Company from Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah and renamed it The Prince of Wales Island. The first lodge was petitioned on the island in 1808 and warranted in 1809, but eventually failed with Freemasonry ceasing by 1844.
The paper describes John Colson Smith’s petition for Singapore’s The Zetland in the East Lodge, and how this lodge sponsored the Lodge of Fidelity in Singapore which persuaded UGLE permit the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Eastern Archipelago to be formed. This now contains forty lodges meeting across Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
The paper concludes by commenting how the District of the Eastern Archipelago with its diversity of members, medley of mother tongues, assortment of religions, and bonds of benevolence mirrors the 1723 Constitutions in that ‘we are also of all Nations, Tongues, Kindreds, and Languages, and are resolv’d against all Politicks, as what never yet conduc’d to the Welfare of the Lodge, nor ever will.’.
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