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Freemasonry, fraternal society, first set up in Singapore, on 8 December 1845, with establishment of "Lodge Zetland In The East", the oldest surviving Freemason lodge here. Its members called Freemasons or Masons, belong to Lodges or Temples, and here, activities are centred at the Masonic Hall in Coleman Street. The Craft promotes three main principles - society, charity and morality.
Freemasonry, or simply, Masonry, one of the world's oldest fraternal societies, started out in England in the 16th century from a blue-collar trade-fraternity guild of stonemasons or stone-workers. The oldest Grand Lodge of Freemasons in the world is the United Grand Lodge of England, founded in London on 24 June 1717.
It is believed that the Dutch Masons were the first to set up an organised lodge in the Far East but the beginnings of Singapore's Lodge is traced to the founding of Freemasonry in the Eastern Archipelago. This began with the establishment of the Lodge at Bencoolen in 1765. Stamford Raffles himself 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. Such was the influence of Raffles that the local Lodge bears his name and coat-of-arms as insignia.
Freemasonry was introduced to Malaya in September 1809 via Neptune Lodge No. 441 E.C. Penang. Activities in Singapore began with the first 'mother' lodge, "Lodge Zetland in the East" No. 748 E.C (now The Zetland in the East Lodge No. 508) established and consecrated on 8 December 1845, in a house at Armenian Street. At that first lodge meeting, twelve leading members of the small European community in Singapore - among them senior lawyer, William Napier, deputy superintendent of police ,Thomas Dunman and Straits Times editor, Robert Carr Woods - were proposed for initiation. On 15 December 1845, William Napier became the first initiated Brother, next was prominent citizen Mr William H. Read followed by soldier, Lieutenant Benjamin Bloomfield Keane. Other notable Freemasons in Singapore's early history included the country's founder, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles; first attorney-general ,Thomas Braddell; Rajah of Sarawak ,James Brooke, Admiral Henry Keppel, John Coulson Smith, former headmaster of Raffles Institution, and Thomas Owen Crane, Justice of Peace, and trustee of Raffles Institution. Some world famous Masons were George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The present head and Grand Master of the 'headquarters' United Grand Lodge of England is the Duke of Kent.
Prior to the construction of the Lodge at Coleman Street, the Masonic meetings were held at 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 then another location at Beach Road (1873).
Freemasonry for historical reasons is for adult men only. It is not a Christian institution. Freemasons or Masons meet in specially designed buildings known as Lodges or Temples. Members must believe in the existence of God - whatever form he may choose. That God is not specified, is one of its charms. Masonry's basic tenets are brotherly love (hence fellow masons are brothers), philanthropy and truth. Procedures and tools of medieval masonry are used as symbols to teach these values. The "brotherhood" meet monthly in these Lodges or Temples.
The rules, and their Book of Constitutions contain many elements of a religion. Its teachings enjoin morality, charity, and obedience to the laws of the land. The method of teaching involves a series of two-part plays or ritual dramas with parables, in which members get effective messages across to each new member. Initiated members are sworn under oath to keep secret, the signs, words, grips and tokens which are solely used ceremonially when in Lodge meetings, and a way of demonstrating that one is a Freemason. The most well-known of their 'signs' is a particular form of hand-shake, recognisable to other Masons.
Different membership levels or degrees
Proper or symbolic masonry or 'Blue Lodge Masonry' has three main degrees: first degree 'Entered Apprentice'; second degree 'Fellowcraft'; third degree 'Master Mason'. Promotion requires mastery of memorised material. Other appendant bodies confer additional degrees, e.g. the Yoke Rite confers up to 9 additional degrees, and the Scottish rite up to the very rarely awarded 33rd honorary degree, conferred on masons who have made outstanding contributions to Masonry, community, and mankind. In Singapore, levels of membership include, Worshipful Brother, Inner Guard, Junior Deacon, Senior Deacon, Junior Warden, Senior Warden and then Worshipful Master. 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". Only Worshipful Masters can initiate new members into the fold. Past Masters still play active roles in their lodge.
In Singapore, they erected lighthouses, raised funds for the Chinese Pauper's Hospital (later Tan Tock Seng Hospital) and founded Singapore's first library. Historically, they have always been charitable. Their District Grand Lodge Benevolent Fund provides for the education and care for needy children of Freemasons, support and house distressed Freemasons (admittedly few here) and their dependants and also support other non-Mason charities. During World War II, the Japanese Occupation troops imprisoned 250 Freemasons in Changi Prison.
26 Feb 1845 : The local Lodge is warranted, named Lodge Zetland No. 748
8 Dec 1845 : First meeting at Lodge Zetland
1846 : Lodge Zetland renamed Lodge Zetland of the East
24 May 1850 : Horsburgh Lighthouse Foundation Stone laid with Masonic ceremonial honours.
24 May 1854 : Raffles Lighthouse Foundation Stone laid with Masonic ceremonial honours.
1863 : Lodge Zetland renumbered Lodge Zetland in the East No 508
29 Mar 1873 : Clyde Terrace Market at Beach Road laid with Masonic ceremonial honours
14 Apr 1879 : Laying of the foundation stone of the Masonic Hall at Coleman Street.
28 Jun 1952 : First compilation, "Lodge Singapore", with members of all nationalities, consecrated at Victoria Memorial Hall (now Victoria Concert Hall). The Lodge is now numbered 7178. After the consecration, 166 brethren convene to a banquet at Robinson's Cafe in Raffles Place.
4 Feb 1963 : Worshipful Brother T. S. Zain became the first Malay to be installed in the symbolic "Chair of King Solomon".
9 Dec 1995 : 150th anniversary of Singapore's first Masonic lodge, "Zetland In The East" celebrated at the Orchid Country Club, with 1,000 guests also from Britain, Australia, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka.
Today, very few Freemasons are actual stone-workers. In Singapore, there are about 400 registered masons from all walks of life, who are members of 11 different Lodges in Singapore. The official black attire includes an apron with masonry symbols of lodge, rank, award medals, and other symbolic adornments of the Order.
Vernon Cornelius-Takahama, 2000
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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.
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