A brief history of Freemasonry in Singapore in general and the current Freemasons Hall at 23A Coleman Street in particular. This beautiful building has been in use by Freemasons in Singapore since 1879 with the temporary exception of the years of Japanese occupation of Singapore.
A Brief History by W. Bro. E. L. S. JENNINGS
(Based on research done by W. Bro. Neoh Thean Hup) Freemasonry began in Singapore in 1845 with the consecration on 8 December of Lodge Zetland No 748 at the “Masonic Room” in Armenian Street. There were meetings at seven places in the town before the consecration of Freemasons’ Hall in Coleman Street on the 27 November 1879. Here English Lodges have now met for a century.
From the “Masonic Room” in Armenian Street, very close to the present Freemasons’ Hall, Lodge Zetland on 9 March 1846 moved after a few months, to “a more commodious house” in High Street. This was then a sandy road leading from the sea to the foot of Government Hill. Here many of the early merchants lived.
Then, on 1 October 1853, there was another move to what one account describes as “the Masonic Hall” in North Bridge Road. However, Charles Burton Buckley, in his “Anecdotal History of Singapore” (1902) says that in 1848 Lodge Zetland met in a room in North Bridge Road, on the West side, where Hock Lam Street is now. He adds that there were plans for a Masonic Lodge and library attached to the Assembly Rooms site at the Hill Street-River Valley Roads junction, but that the plans came to nothing.
In 1856, Lodge Zetland moved its meeting place to the Esplanade, to the corner of what is now St Andrew’s Road and Coleman Street. Then there stood a house in which Thomas Church, the Resident Councillor, had lived for many years. Today the land is covered by a part of City Hall. In 1871, Lodge Zetland and The Lodge of St George No 1152, consecrated in 1867, moved their meetings from the Esplanade to 15, Beach Road, Kampong Glam. The Hall was consecrated on 10 March 1871.
The two Lodges moved again in 1873 to 10, Beach Road and in 1875 to 59, Hill Street, where they met until they moved into Freemasons’ Hall, Coleman Street, in 1879.
Changes of the numbering of places at which the Lodges met from 1845 to 1879 make it difficult, if not impossible, to establish the exact sites and there have, of course, been major changes in buildings in the general town area.
We are on much surer ground when we come to examine the origin of the building in Coleman Street, since information is available in the Land Office and the Registry of Deeds. We also have useful references in The Straits Times Overland Journal, Volume XLIII of The Pentagram (December 1958) and “One Hundred Years of Singapore”, written in 1919 to mark the Centenary and published in 1921.
A land grant made on 27 September 1878 for space in Coleman Street was issued in favour of R.W. Bro. William Henry Macleod Read, District Grand Master, and his successors in office for the use of Masons under the United Grand Lodge of Antient, Free and Accepted Masons of England. There was an express condition that a building to be used as a Lodge should be erected within two years of the issue of the grant.
The Straits Times Overland Journal of 17 December 1878 reported a meeting of 20 Brethren at the Exchange Rooms. It was resolved that a new Masonic Hall should be erected. To cover the cost, promises were made that 240 shares of $25 each should be subscribed for, “owing, in great measure, to the energy of Major Dunlop”. He was Worshipful Master of The Lodge of St George in 1879-80 and District Grand Master from 1885-1891, succeeding R.W. Bro. W. H. M. Read.
The building was designed by Thomas Cargill, a civil engineer, who was Worshipful Master of Zetland 1879-80 and of St George 1884-85. Bro. Thomas Loveridge was elected Hon. Secretary for the project. He was a partner in Robinson & Co. The foundation stone was laid on 14 April 1879 and the Overland Journal of 15 April 1879 reported that this was done by R.W. Bro. Read, supported by many Brethren, with Grand Masonic ceremony.
The procession of the Brethren, who were attired in ”full costume”, from the present Lodge (59, Hill Street) to the site of the new one was in the following order. Two Tylers with Drawn Swords. Banner, Lodge Zetland-in-the-East. Brethren two by two. Cornucopia with Corn. Stewards. Wine and Oil. Grand Pursuivant. Stewards. District Grand Superintendent of Works, with plans. District Grand Secretary, with Book of Constitutions. Two Stewards. District Grand Registrar, with plate. District Grand Treasurer, with purse and coins. Two Stewards. Banner, Grand Lodge. District Grand Junior Warden with Plumb. District Grand Senior Warden with Level. Two Stewards. The Sacred Law. Deputy District Grand Master with Square. Standard of District Grand Master. Two District Grand Stewards. District Grand Sword Bearer. District Grand Master. District Grand Deacons. District Grand Tyler.
The Brethren, having arranged themselves in order around the site of the foundation stone, the plan and elevation of the new building were submitted by the District Grand Superintendent of Works to the District Grand Master who expressed his approval of them and returned them to the Architect. The District Grand Superintendent of Works was then called upon to read the Inscription on the plate, which, having been done, the District Grand Treasurer was desired to declare the contents of the bag he carried, which was done, each article at the same time being deposited in the cavity allotted to it, and afterwards covered with the plate.
The cement was then laid on the lower stone by the District Grand Master and the upper stone was slowly lowered. The stone having been proved by the Deputy District Grand Master, the District Grand Wardens, the District Grand Master struck it thrice with his gavel and declared it properly laid.
The District Grand Master then poured upon it corn, wine, and oil with the customary Masonic invocation. The District Grand Registrar then placed on the stone a sum of money to be divided among the workmen, and this closing the proceedings, the procession reformed and returned to the Lodge.
The Overland Journal reports that ”a number of ladies were anxious spectators of the novel proceedings, and viewed with some awe the various paraphernalia used by the mystic brotherhood, whose secrets remain to them a dark, unravelled mystery.”
When the Brethren returned to the Lodge building the District Grand Master drank prosperity to the new temple and afterwards proposed the health of W. Bro. Samuel Dunlop, the originator of the building scheme, and Bro. Thomas Cargill, the District Grand Superintendent of Works, who promised that “the new temple shall be finished by Christmas next, on which occasion a ball and supper will be given by the Brethren.”
The Hall was consecrated on 27 December 1879. The Overland Journal of Wednesday, 31 December 1879, reported the Consecration and the Installation of W. Bro. Thomas Cargill as Master of Lodge Zetland-in-the-East.
The consecration was conducted by the District Grand Master, R.W. Bro. W. H. M. Read, on St. John’s Day. W. Bro. Cargill appointed the following Brethren as his officers:
Bro. H. J. Murton, S.W.; Bro. T. Loveridge, J.W.; Bro. H. Clipperton, S.D.; Bro. Harrington, J.D.; Bro. J. P. Joaquim, J.G.; Bro. W. Thompson, Tyler.
About 50 brethren then attended the Banquet when the following toasts were proposed:
The Queen and Craft by the W.M.; H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, the Grand Master and officers of the Grand Lodge by the D.G.M.; the District Grand Master and Officers of the District Grand Lodge of the Eastern Archipelago, proposed by W. Bro. Jonas Vaughan and responded to by the D.G.M. “who at the same time in an eloquent speech proposed the health of the Worshipful Master who, he said, since his coming to Singapore has proved himself a good and true Mason, and as far as he (the D.G.M.) is concerned is a great credit to Masonry, and Lodge Zetland must be proud to own him as a member and above all as her Master and he had no doubt that W.M. Cargill would still prove himself devoted to Masonry and a blessing to the Craft.”
“In replying, W.M. Cargill said that nobody knew how happy he felt on his arrival in Singapore to find Masonry so thoroughly established there. Nothing should be wanted in his part to uphold the position of the Craft here. He took great pride in Masonry and it seemed peculiar to him to be installed Master of a Lodge, so many miles away from the Home of Masonry.
”The toast of The Past Master and the Officers of the past year was proposed by W. Bro. Dunlop and responded to by W. Bro. Vaughan.
“In proposing the health of the newly-installed officers Bro. Dennys in a very humorous speech complimented the W Master on his choice of such officers as Bros. Murton, Clipperton, Joaquim, Loveridge and Bro. Murton responded. D.D.G.M. Braddell then proposed the Worshipful Master and Officers of Lodge St. George and of the Royal Prince of Wales Lodge and W. Bro. Dunlop replied. Other toasts followed and the Company broke up at a late hour.”
There was a further grant of land in 1892 and another in 1907, when a deed of appointment of new trustees of the Masonic Hall Building Fund was made.
The Pentagram (November 1910) described proposed alterations to Freemasons’ Hall, stating that these would consist in the taking down of the old porch and the rebuilding of the entire frontage to Coleman Street. “Provisions will also be made for a handsome staircase in place of the present unsatisfactory approach to the ante-room.
“The design has been prepared to harmonise with the existing work and will present a more architectural appearance and prove a dignified addition to the whole building. The front and interior are designed in English Renaissance, a type of Palladian architecture greatly used in England for Government and public buildings. The facade consists of a Doric Colonnade with circular windows above, flanked by two arches of ashlar work, surmounted by coupled Ionic columns and pediments, and finished with a balustrade.
“The ends are formed of large archways with three light Venetian windows above, flanked by coupled Ionic columns and surmounted by a balustrade. This will form a fine covered entrance 60 feet by 20 feet with steps and colonnade leading up to the club. The grand staircase will be of teak above and granite below, closed with a Bostwick gate and grille at foot of staircase, and will lead into a fine lounge 60 feet by 30 feet divided into bays by Ionic Piers and pilasters with panelled plastic ceiling, the floor to be of concrete tiled.”
New trustees were appointed in 1933 and legislation creating the District Grand Master as a corporation sole was enacted in 1939. The procedure is reported in the Pentagram (December 1958):
“R.W. Bro. Trimmer (District Grand Master) held the May Communication of 1936 at Kuala Lumpur. It was there announced that two proposals had been considered with regard to the legal constitution of the Fraternity as holders of property – to form the District Grand Lodge into a registered company limited by guarantee and having no share capital or alternatively to incorporate the District Grand Master as a “Corporation Sole”. Grand Lodge had approved the second alternative and negotiations were proceeding.
”Eventually, legislation (in the Straits Settlements Legislative Council) was passed on 27 February 1939, to this effect, Bro. F. G. Vaux was responsible for the drafting of the bill and Bro. R. Williamson for seeing it through the Committee stage”. This Ordinance is known as the “District Grand Master of the Eastern Archipelago Ordinance.”
The land and buildings at Coleman Street are managed by the Masonic Hall Board comprising the District Grand Master of the Eastern Archipelago, two representatives nominated by the District Grand Master of the Eastern Archipelago, one representative nominated by the Grand Inspector of the Inspectorate Area of South-East Asia of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, one representative nominated by the District Grand Master of the Middle East of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and one representative nominated by the Committee of the Singapore Masonic Club, all of whom shall be approved by the District Grand Master of the Eastern Archipelago.
The District Grand Master of the Eastern Archipelago appoints a Secretary, Treasurer and Superintendent to the Board.
At Freemasons’ Hall today there meet 29 Masonic Lodges, Chapters and other Masonic bodies.