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The Himalayan Brotherhood Lodge No. 459



Trevor I. Harris

The Early Days

The Himalayan Brotherhood story begins 1773 in Fort William, Calcutta, India , when lodge No. 453 was formed with a warrant from the Premier (Moderns) Grand Lodge of England. Mainly made up of Irish Freemasons in the Royal Artillery, it was also given the local number of Bengal Lodge No. 14.

In 1792, it became the Lodge of Humility and Fortitude. However, six years later it seceded, left the Moderns, and joined the Antients as Lodge No. 317. Communications being poor, the Premier Grand Lodge was not aware of this, consequently for 15 years the lodge was a registered member of both rival Grand Lodges!

From this lodge came W. Bro. Jacob. L. Hoff, the only Past Master of a group of Masons who got together at Simla in the Punjab in 1838 to form a new lodge called Himalayan Brotherhood No. 674. It was Bro. Hoff, a keen Mason who eventually rose to the rank of District Grand Master, who named the lodge.

The sponsoring lodge was Light of the North No. 648, which was itself founded only three years earlier in 1835. Light of the North had so many Irish members that it also obtained a warrant from the Grand Lodge of Ireland as No. 357 I.C. The lodge was unfortunately dissolved just a year and a half later due to the ravages of Malaria.

There were only seven brethren present at the first meeting of Himalayan Brotherhood, and Bro. R. B. McDonald, who had previously been elected 1st Master, was installed into the chair.

It is worth mentioning that Simla was a hill station 8000 feet above sea level. In the summer, the temperature in the plains is almost unbearable. The Governor-General and his retinue, along with the majority of higher ranking army officers, would spend the summer months in Simla to escape the heat. They would then return to Delhi and the plains in October. It was during this summer period that the lodge worked.

These people formed the membership of Himalayan Brotherhood, as very few civilians lived at the station. This was illustrated in 1840 when the Governor-General and his staff went on a summer tour of India , and the lodge was unable to meet due to lack of numbers.

The Past Master’s Jewel

The lodge initiated eighteen candidates in its first two years. It also had 13 joining members, but otherwise received little support from the other Masons at the station, to the extent that in the Freemasons Quarterly Review of 1838, the following appeared-

“A candidate was initiated on 31st May last, and another is now under consideration. There is no doubt, a great many of the Brotherhood at present located in the hills; but either from ignorance of the existence of the lodge amongst them, or from their time being observed in business or amusements, they do not show a disposition to lend their aid in bringing this infant lodge (the first to be established in these remote hills) to maturity.

Of the Worshipful Master’s skill there can be no doubt, from the proof he has already given at the several meetings which have been held”.

W. Bro. McDonald was re-elected master in April 1839, but resigned two months later “due to the onerous duties of his vocation”. However, he was highly regarded by the membership, and was duly presented with a Past Master’s jewel, paid for by voluntary subscription.

His place was taken W. Bro. H. G. Goulard, an experienced mason who had applied for membership the week before, only to find himself elected an honorary member. Simla was so isolated that lodges which met there developed their own ritual called Simla Drill.

In a letter to the “Englishman”, a Calcutta newspaper, a gentleman who referred to himself as a Wandering Mason gave the following report- On St. John the Baptist’s day, the 24th June 1839, the Himalayan Brotherhood Lodge was opened in the 3rd degree. They then marched in procession to the church for a service, led for the consideration of 50 rupees, by the Viceroy’s band.

The Chaplain of Simla refused to attend, but the brethren were determined to hold the service anyway, and the Revd. Mr. Tucker agreed to officiate. Over 200 rupees were raised for the Hospital and Asylum for the poor.

They then marched back, and the lodge was closed at 10 o’clock.

The Masonic Trial

Fortunately a rarely seen occurrence, but when the behaviour of a brother is found to be totally unacceptable, it was occasionally resorted to, especially in isolated places. The date was the 2nd August 1839.

The Defendant- A Fellow-craft, a clerk who had been initiated the previous September.

The Prosecutor- The lodge’s first Master, W. Bro R. B. McDonald.

The Jury- Eight senior committee members of the lodge.

The charges-

1. For having been in such a constant state of intoxication from the 24th June last until the 9th or 10th July, as to have been incapable of attending his public duties.

2. For having, whilst in the above named state of intoxication, behaved to his sister in a harsh, unmanly and unmasonic manner, threatening her with personal violence and turning her out of doors.

The defence- On the 1st charge he only said that the period of his intoxication had been somewhat exaggerated, and on the 2nd, that the lodge should refrain from interfering in a matter arising out of a family difference.

The verdict- After a lengthy discussion, the verdict was guilty on both charges.

The sentence- The committee unanimously recommended that the brother should be asked to resign, failing which, he should be excluded.

The appeal- The brother then made an impassioned plea to the whole lodge for Masonic forgiveness, which resulted in Bro. Torrens proposing that the brother be severely reprimanded instead. The lodge accepted this proposal and the matter was never mentioned again.

Later on in the year, Bro. Torrens also proposed that the sum of 200 Rupees be given to the man’s poor sister, who was now in distressed circumstances. This proposal was also passed unanimously.

The meeting of 28th June 1841 saw Capt. J. G. H. Curtis joining the lodge. He had been initiated in London into Fortitude and Old Cumberland No. 12, and had arrived with a letter stating “he was a brother capable of communicating the mode of working as practised in the London lodges”. Doubtless his presence had some effect, but the lodge would not give up its beloved Simla Drill.

The Hut in 1910

The lodge finally had its own temple, called The Hut, built on land donated by Bro. Charde in 1843. In 1847 the lodge did not open due to the Indian mutiny, and the next year saw its membership fall. By 1849 the Hut had become extremely delapidated, its walls bulged, and it was in danger of collapse.

Repairs were only completed, however, after the lodge had been seriously admonished for having let the Hut pass into such a state of neglect, but six years later further repairs needed to be made.

The Hut was not ideal for lodge meetings, and on one occasion the lodge had to be called off so the brethren could disperse monkeys who were making a tremendous noise mating on the corrugated roof!

The Royal Arch Degree

Daldousie No. 459, the Lodge’s Royal Arch Chapter, was formed in 1850. At this time, if he wasn’t a Past Master, a brother had to be a master mason for 12 months and upwards before he could join. Needing exaltees, the lodge would put newly raised candidates through the ceremony of “passing the chair” in which they were briefly placed into the Master’s chair, the words of an installed master whispered to them, and then immediately taken out.

For Royal Arch purposes only, these brethren had the rank of a Past Master, although in the craft they were still considered and treated as master masons. Records show that up to three brothers at a time were put through this ceremony.

In 1850 the lodge was honoured by a visit by Sir Charles Napier, the Commander in Chief in India . The meal was so sumptuous that the cost of 32 Rupees per person, 30 times the usual cost, had to be shared amongst the lodge’s 28 members. Some members took two years to settle in full.

Three years later, Mr. Crabb, the contractor to the mess at the Simla club, offered to provide fine meals for their Festive Board, at a cost of just one Rupee per person, which was immediately accepted by the lodge. Firing glasses were expressly forbidden, as this was just after the Indian Mutiny. With the Lodge building outside the main fortifications at Simla, there was a worry that the noise of firing glasses might start a revolt.

Hard Times

By 1870, the lodge had fallen upon hard times. It managed to survive by selling the land donated by Bro. Charde. The lodge now found itself rich but homeless, and met wherever it could. The next year its membership grew from 18 to 30. In April 1873 a very unusual meeting was held. The lodge was opened, the Master and Treasurer elected, after which all three degrees were performed by different brethren. And they even found time to ballot for a joining member!

A most bizarre event occurred round about this time. A new senior officer and Advocate General arrived at the station, and it was just assumed that he was a Mason.. Shortly after his arrival, as a gesture of hospitality, he was invited to a lodge meeting.

He immediately said yes he would love to, and attended a full lodge meeting. At the festive board, he was asked if he would care to reply for the visitors, to which he agreed. He thanked everyone, and said that he had enjoyed himself so much that he really should become a Freemason.

Deathly silence followed. The festive board then resumed in a very subdued manner, after which the newcomer was invited back into the temple, and initiated on the spot.

The Himalayan Brotherhood Lodge carpet Tassels. All four were brought to England in 1947 by Col. Ronnie Bristow, and still used during meetings.

The first Indian member was initiated in 1879, and many more were to follow. The lodge had now become so busy that in 1882, there was a most irregular occurrence. After opening, the lodge was divided into two, and separate degrees were conducted in two separate rooms. One wonders which room held the warrant!

In 1892. Bro. Sir Arthur Miller, who had been initiated in Ireland some 40 years earlier, applied to join the lodge, but had no proof that he was a Mason. He couldn’t even remember which lodge had initiated him. On enquiring with the District Grand Lodge whether he could take an obligation confirming his initiation, the reply came that it was unacceptable, and Bro. Sir Arthur Miller had to go through all three degrees again.

1899 was the year of the lodge’s first Masonic funeral, and the brethren in full regalia (District Grand Lodge permission given) conducted the body of the departed brother to his tomb.

In 1903 Lord Kitchener of Khartoum became a member of the lodge, and Lord Ampthill, who had attended the installation meeting of the following year, was made an honorary member.

The lodge had become one of the most prestigious in India , and many famous personalities were to join or visit. These included the famous explorer Sir Richard Burton and Lieutenant, later General Orkinlake, who were both initiated into the lodge, and one famous visitor was that well-known Mason and author, Bro. Rudyard Kipling.

In 1913 gauntlets were worn for the first time. A year later, the Maharajah of Patiala was initiated into the lodge, and he was passed and raised to the third degree on the same evening.

The Great Move

When India became independent in 1947, the lodge moved to England , as most members were still connected with the British Army. At its final meeting in Simla, something very strange occurred. Just before closing the lodge for the very last time in India , all the lights in the temple failed, and the lodge had to be closed in total darkness.

On moving to London, the lodge met at the Bayswater Hotel, but now meets at Freemasons Hall, Great Queen Street, London, and continues to flourish to this day.

Interesting notes-

1. The lodge has its own tassels. These are in wooden frames about 15” high, which contain the original ornate carpet tassels from the old Masonic hall in Simla.

2. The Director of Ceremonies does not carry a wand but a Field-Marshal’s baton.

3. Charity is collected using an old army hat with a bullet hole in it!

4. To show humility and preserve equality, as a Private might well find himself initiating a General, candidates wore special pyjamas, with a flap over the left breast, and detachable legs.

The Hut today. It is now used as a school.

Note- Hydaspes Lodge No. 4842EC still holds its Masonic meetings there. utH