Singapore Freemasonry



Freemasonry, a fraternal society, was first set up in Singapore on 8 December 1845 with the establishment of Lodge Zetland in the East, the oldest surviving Freemason lodge here.1 Its members are called Freemasons or Masons, and belong to lodges or temples. The society’s activities are held at the Masonic Hall on Coleman Street.2 The society promotes three main principles: society, charity and morality.3

History
Freemasonry, or simply Masonry, is one of the world’s oldest fraternal societies. It started in England in the 16th century from a blue-collar trade-fraternity guild of stonemasons or stone-workers.4 However, very few Masons today are actual stone-workers.5 The oldest Grand Lodge of Freemasons in the world is the United Grand Lodge of England, founded in London on 24 June 1717.6


It is believed that Dutch Masons were the first to set up an organised lodge in the Far East, but the beginnings of Singapore’s lodge can be traced to the founding of Freemasonry in the Eastern Archipelago. This began with the establishment of the Lodge in Bencoolen in 1765.7 Stamford Raffles, himself a Mason, was instrumental in establishing lodges in the region – namely, Lodge Virtutis et Artis Amici in Java, Lodge de Vriendschap in Surabaya, and Chapter La Vertueuse in Batavia.8

Freemasonry was introduced to Malaya in September 1809 via Neptune Lodge No. 441 E. C. Penang.9 Activities in Singapore began with the first “mother” lodge, Lodge Zetland in the East No. 748 E. C. (now Zetland in the East Lodge No. 508), which was established and consecrated on 8 December 1845 in a house on Armenian Street.10 At the first lodge meeting, 12 leading members of the small European community in Singapore then – including senior lawyer William Napier, Deputy Superintendent of Police Thomas Dunman and The Straits Times editor Robert Carr Woods – were proposed for initiation.11 On 15 December 1845, Napier became the first initiated Brother. Next to be initiated was prominent citizen William H. Read, followed by Lieutenant Benjamin Bloomfield Keane.12

Other notable Masons in Singapore’s early history were the first attorney-general, Thomas Braddell; Rajah of Sarawak James Brooke; Admiral Henry Keppel; former headmaster of Raffles Institution John Coulson Smith; as well as the justice of peace and trustee of Raffles Institution, Thomas Owen Crane.13

Prior to the construction of the lodge on Coleman Street, meetings were held in Masonic halls in various locations around Singapore, including Armenian Street (1845), High Street (1846), North Bridge Road (1853), the Esplanade (1856), Beach Road in Kampong Glam (1871), and another location on Beach Road (1873).14

Description
The membership of Freemasonry is open only to adult men.15 It is not a Christian institution.16 Masons meet in specially designed buildings known as lodges or temples, and they must believe in the existence of God – in whatever form he chooses. It is sad that one of the charms of Freemasonry is that God is not specified.17 Its basic tenets are brotherly love (hence fellow Masons are brothers), philanthropy and truth.18 Procedures and tools of medieval masonry are used as symbols to teach these values.19 The brotherhood meets monthly in lodges.20


Teachings
The Masonic rules in the society’s Book of Constitutions contain many elements of a religion.21 Freemason teachings enjoin morality, charity and obedience to the laws of the land.22 The method of teaching involves a series of two-part plays or ritual dramas with parables, in which members communicate messages to new members.23 Initiated members are sworn under oath to keep secret the signs, words, grips and tokens used during lodge meetings. These signs and tokens are solely ceremonial, and are a way of demonstrating that one is a Mason.24 The most well-known of the signs is a particular form of handshake that is recognisable to other Masons.25

Membership levels or degrees
Proper or symbolic masonry, also known as Blue Lodge Masonry, has three main degrees. These are, in ascending order: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason.26 Promotion requires a mastery of memorised material.27 Other appendant bodies confer additional degrees. The Yoke Rite, for instance, confers up to nine additional degrees, while the Scottish Rite confers up to the very rarely awarded 33rd honorary degree – for Masons who have made outstanding contributions to Masonry, community and mankind.28

In Singapore, levels of membership include Worshipful Brother, Inner Guard, Junior Deacon, Senior Deacon, Junior Warden, Senior Warden and Worshipful Master.29 When elected senior leaders rise to the highest office in a lodge, they become Worshipful Masters and are installed in the symbolic “Chair of King Solomon”.30

Social activities
In Singapore, Masons erected lighthouses, raised funds for the Chinese Pauper’s Hospital (present-day Tan Tock Seng Hospital) and founded Singapore’s first library.31 Historically, they are known to be involved in charitable work.32

During World War II, Japanese troops imprisoned 250 Masons in Changi Prison.33

Official attire
The official black attire includes an apron with masonry symbols of lodge, rank, award medals, and other symbolic adornments of the Order.34

Timeline
26 Feb 1845:
The local lodge is warranted and named Lodge Zetland No. 748.

8 Dec 1845: First meeting at Lodge Zetland is held.
1846: Lodge Zetland is renamed Lodge Zetland of the East.
24 May 1850: Horsburgh Lighthouse foundation stone is laid with Masonic ceremonial honours.
24 May 1854: Raffles Lighthouse foundation stone is laid with Masonic ceremonial honours.35
1863: Lodge Zetland is re-numbered Lodge Zetland in the East No. 508.
29 Mar 1873: Construction of Clyde Terrace Market on Beach Road begins with Masonic ceremonial honours.
14 Apr 1879: Foundation stone of the Masonic Hall on Coleman Street is laid.36
28 Jun 1952: The first compilation of members of all nationalities, Lodge Singapore, is consecrated at Victoria Memorial Hall (present-day Victoria Concert Hall). The lodge is now numbered 7178.37 After the consecration, 166 brethren convene to a banquet at Robinson’s Cafe in Raffles Place.
4 Feb 1963: Worshipful Brother T. S. Zain becomes the first Malay to be installed in the symbolic Chair of King Solomon.38
9 Dec 1995: The 150th anniversary of Singapore’s first Masonic lodge, Zetland In The East, is celebrated at the Orchid Country Club with 1,000 guests, including some from Britain, Australia, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka.39




Author

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama




References
1. Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Hui, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM); Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Hui, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM)
4. Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Freemasons. (2002). The Lodge Singapore No. 7178 E. C., 1952–2002: 50th anniversary. Singapore: The Lodge Singapore, p. 99. (Call no.: RSING q366.1095957 FRE)
5. Sreenivasan, V. (2008, December 8). Veil lifts a tad on a fascinating social network. The Business Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Jones, L. (Ed.). (2005). Encyclopedia of religion. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, p. 3195. (Call no.: R q200.3 ENC)
7. Freemasons. (2002). The Lodge Singapore No. 7178 E. C., 1952–2002: 50th anniversary. Singapore: The Lodge Singapore, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 366.1095957 FRE)
8. Lim, K. H. (Ed.). (2008). The pentagram Freemasons in SE Asia: 150th anniversary issue, Volume LV, December 2008. Singapore: The Library Committee, District Grand Lodge of the Eastern Archipelago, p. 58. (Call no.: RSING 366.10959 PEN-[SRN]); Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the Freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Freemasons. (2002). The Lodge Singapore No. 7178 E. C., 1952–2002: 50th anniversary. Singapore: The Lodge Singapore, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 366.1095957 FRE)
10. Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Lui, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM)
11. Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Lui, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM)
13. Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the Freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Hui, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM)
15. Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L.K. Hui, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM) 
16. The new encyclopaedia Britannica (Vol. 4). (2002). Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, p. 966. (Call no.: R q031 NEW)
17. Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Hui, pp. 8, 14. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM) 
18. Freemasons. (2002). The Lodge Singapore No. 7178 E. C., 1952–2002: 50th anniversary. Singapore: The Lodge Singapore, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 366.1095957 FRE)
19. Jones, L. (Ed.). (2005). Encyclopedia of religion. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, p. 3197. (Call no.: R q200.3 ENC)
20. Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the Freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Hui, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM) 
22. The new encyclopaedia Britannica (Vol. 4). (2002). Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, p. 966. (Call no.: R q031 NEW)
23. Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the Freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Freemasons. (2002). The Lodge Singapore No. 7178 E. C., 1952–2002: 50th anniversary. Singapore: The Lodge Singapore, p. 99. (Call no.: RSING 366.1095957 FRE)
24. Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Hui, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM)
25. Sreenivasan, V. (2008, December 8). Veil lifts a tad on a fascinating social network. The Business Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Jones, L. (Ed.). (2005). Encyclopedia of religion. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, p. 3197. (Call no.: R q200.3 ENC)
27. Beltran, M. S. (2009). Together my brothers: A journey into freemasonry. Quezon City, Philippines: Lost Word Pub. House, p. 37. (Call no.: RSEA 366.109599 BEL) 
28. Dummies. (2015). Freemasons and the York Rite system. Retrieved 2016, October 12 from Dummies website: http://www.dummies.com/religion/spirituality/freemasons-and-the-york-rite-system/; Beltran, M. S. (2009). Together my brothers: A journey into freemasonry. Quezon City, Philippines: Lost Word Pub. House, p. 47. (Call no.: RSEA 366.109599 BEL) 
29. Freemasons. (2002). The Lodge Singapore No. 7178 E. C., 1952–2002: 50th anniversary. Singapore: The Lodge Singapore, p. 75. (Call no.: RSING 366.1095957 FRE)
30. Lee, V. (2010, June 19). Inside the inner sanctum. Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Hui, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM)
31. Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the Freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Hui, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM) 
32. Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Hui, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM); Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the Freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the Freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the Freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8; Lee, V. (2010, June 19). Inside the inner sanctum. Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Freemasons. (2002). The Lodge Singapore No. 7178 E. C., 1952–2002: 50th anniversary. Singapore: The Lodge Singapore, pp. 29–30. (Call no.: RSING 366.1095957 FRE); Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 512–517, 520–525. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
36. Freemasons. (2002). The Lodge Singapore No. 7178 E. C., 1952–2002: 50th anniversary. Singapore: The Lodge Singapore, p. 30. (Call no.: RSING 366.1095957 FRE)
37. Freemasons. (2002). The Lodge Singapore No. 7178 E. C., 1952–2002: 50th anniversary. Singapore: The Lodge Singapore, pp. 31, 44. (Call no.: RSING 366.1095957 FRE)
38. Lim, K. H. (1995). In the chair of King Solomon. Singapore: L. K. Hui, pp. 21, 23. (Call no.: RSING 366.109595 LIM) 
39. Long, S. (1995, December 8). Hush-hush world of the Freemasons. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.




Further resource

Freemasons. Eastern Archipelago, District Grand Lodge. (1873). Ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the Clyde Terrace Market, at Singapore, the 29th day of March, 1873, by the Rt. Worshipful, the District Grand Master, W. H. Read [Microfilm no.: NL 5876]. Singapore: Straits Times Press.



The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Religious Buildings
Religious buildings
Freemasons--Singapore
Singapore--History--1819-1867
Freemasonry--Singapore
Associations, institutions, etc.--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Religious buildings