Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927

Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927

Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927

Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927

Synopsis

They built some of the first communal structures on the empire's frontiers. The empire's most powerful proconsuls sought entrance into their lodges. Their public rituals drew dense crowds from Montreal to Madras.

Excerpt

In 1827 a letter from a police magistrate in the young colony of New South Wales arrived at the offices of the Grand Lodge of English Freemasonry. The magistrate’s name was John Stephen. The son of an English judge, he had migrated to Sydney less than a year before sending the letter. In the intervening months, he told Masonic officials in the metropole, he had familiarized himself with “the state of Masonry in this distant part of the World.” Stephen expressed both concern and optimism. He was worried about what he saw as an overabundance of Irish lodges in the colony as well as the lack of a centralized authority to shepherd those who wanted to affiliate with English lodges. But he was sanguine about the prospects for Freemasonry in the settlements, which were rapidly expanding with the “almost daily” influx of free emigrants. In the letter, this rather ordinary colonist proceeded to make two keen observations about the role of Freemasonry in the burgeoning British Empire of the early nineteenth century. First he observed that “the greater part of the free community have been admitted as Masons in England from the prevailing notion of the necessity of being so on becoming Travellers.” By this point Masonry had earned a well-deserved reputation for being an institution that offered its members a passport to countless benefits available in all parts of the empire and, indeed, throughout the world. Second, Stephen realized that this brotherhood had a role to play in strengthening the British Empire. The growth of Freemasonry in the Australian colonies would serve to create “an . . .

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