History

by Bro. M. H. Thomas

The petition for “the erection of a new Lodge” to be known as Eastern Scotia, was dated 16 December 1901 and was signed by W. Bro. D. Gillies and G.L. Anderson as Past Masters of Zetland Lodge No. 525 EC, Past District Grand Senior Wardens and affiliates of Lodge St. John No. 618 SC, followed by eight Past Masters from Lodge St. John, Lodge Naval & Military No. 848 SC, Cosmopolitan No. 428 SC (then meeting in Shanghai) and Zetland Lodge. The twenty Master Masons who subscribed included four from Zetland Lodge, mostly affiliates of Lodge St. John, and thirteen others from Lodge St. John. The resulting Lodge might be regarded as the daughter of both Lodges, St. John and Zetland, if such a birth be possible.

The accompanying letter to Grand Secretary in Edinburgh said:

“I have the honour to forward herewith a petition for the erection of a new Lodge under the Scottish Constitution, at Kowloon, together with a Bank Draft for £10.10s.0d for Charter Fees.

Kowloon is situated on British territory, about one mile from the Island of Hong Kong, and is rapidly developing into the residential suburb of the Colony. The Hon. C. P. Chater, C.M.G., District Grand Master of Hongkong and South China, E.C., has kindly offered us the use of his handsome bungalow, a building eminently adapted for the purpose of a Masonic Lodge.”

It went on to point out the presence of all the resident present and past Masters of both Scottish Lodges among the petitioners as means of obviating the need for recommendations from other Lodges. The regalia selected was “light blue with silver braid down the centre”.

This petition was duly considered by Grand Committee at its meeting held on 23 January 1902, and it was resolved that a Charter should be granted, which was duly signed and sealed on 6 February 1902.

The consecration was carried out on 17 October 1902, principally by members of the English District, the majority of whom were from Zetland Lodge, although a Past Master of Lodge Cosmopolitan No. 428 was also one of the consecrating officers. Afterwards, W. Bro. J.J. King “tendered hearty wishes, assuring the Brethren that the D.G.L. looked with pleasure on the progress of Freemasonry in Hong Kong”, while W. Bro. J.E. Main rose to assure the Brethren that “during an interview with Grand Secretary he found out that Grand Lodge took a deep interest in daughter Lodges in Hong Kong and was satisfied that good progress was being made”.

The first Master was W. Bro. William Farmer, who had been initiated in Calcutta in 1883 and who retired from active Freemasonry in 1905 with the Scottish rank of Past District Grand Warden. The first candidates were Messrs. J.J. Sibbet and G.L. Mitchell, who were initiated on 16 January 1903.

Lodge Eastern Scotia did not remain in Bro. Paul Chater’s bungalow for long. The summons for 19 February 1903, which started meetings at the Seamen’s Institute, Kowloon, merely contained a note requesting the Brethren to note the change of place for meetings: the minutes are silent on the matter. Indeed, over the years Eastern Scotia’s minutes are remarkable for an uninformative terseness that gives almost no clue as to the deeper nature of the events related.

The summons for 17 May 1906 is headed, “Opening night of new Lodge Rooms, Robinson Road, Kowloon”, with a note inside “Entrance in the Robinson Road, next door to A.S. Watson’s Dispensary”. A typically terse minute reads, “Wor. Bro. J.W. Graham then drew the attention of the Brethren that the Lodge had now got rooms to meet in and trusted that everyone would do his best to make the Lodge a success”. Installation meetings continued to be held in Zetland Hall. Since no Scottish District Grand Lodge existed during the earlier years, installations were carried out by Bro. E.C. Ray, Deputy District Grand Master of the English Constitution.

By June 1909, the Lodge had received “a letter from the Rev. Thompson … offering the Lodge the use of the Seaman’s Institute,” and the next summons for 15 July is for a meeting there. Despite apparent acceptance of this offer in 1909, a committee meeting was held on 6 July 1911 “to discuss the advisability of leasing the Hall from the Seamen Mission”. It was decided “that Lodge Eastern Scotia lease the building and run it on their own”. Thereafter the Lodge met at the Mission at least until 1922, possibly until 1924, when Zetland Hall became the property of all the Lodges in the Colony.

The location of these earlier premises can be roughly established. Robinson Road was renamed Nathan Road in 1909, because of the confusion caused between Robinson Road in Hong Kong and that in Kowloon. There was still a Watson’s Dispensary on Nathan Road in the late 1950s, possibly in the same location as the former Lodge rooms, on the site now occupied by the Miramar Hotel. The Seamen’s Institute was located on land held by the Hong Kong and Kowloon Wharf and Godown Co. Ltd., on the present site of the Hong Kong Hotel. In addition to the Temple, the Institute also provided a club and billiard room for the use of the Brethren.

Kowloon was at that time a small commuter community, with dockyards scattered on its shores. The minutes of the Lodge show that it attracted primarily men whose profession is described as, ‘Boilermaker’, ‘Ship’s Engineer’, ‘Chief Timekeeper, Kowloon Docks’, ‘Marine Engineer’, ‘Inspector of Police, Royal Naval Yard’, ‘Storekeeper’ and so on, giving the impression that the Lodge was uniquely suited to a location in the Seamen’s Institute.

On 5 January 1904, the three Scottish Lodges in the Colony petitioned Grand Lodge for the formation of their own District Grand Lodge. On 22 February 1904, Lodge Eastern Scotia voted the sum of four hundred dollars to the District Grand Lodge funds, but it was not until 3 November 1904 that the District Grand Lodge of Scottish Freemasonry in Hong Kong and South China was inaugurated. The first District Grand Master was Bro. Gregory Paul Jordan, a nephew of R.W. Bro. Sir Paul Chater, who had been initiated in the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel) No.1 in 1879.

As at 19 September 1922, the date of the last existing pre-war minutes, Lodge Eastern Scotia was still meeting at the “Kowloon Masonic Hall”, and the minutes do not refer to any proposed transfer to Zetland Hall. It must however have crossed the harbour by 1924, as the ‘Hong Kong Masonic Calendar and Year Book’ for 1938-1939 stated :

“In terms of Ordinance No. 23 of 1922, revised by Ordinance No. 5 of 1924, Zetland Hall is now the property of the following Lodges … Eastern Scotia, 923, S.C. and is managed by a board of Trustees consisting of one representative from each Lodge.”

During the occupation of Hong Kong by Japanese forces from December 1941 until August 1945 most of the Lodges lost all their records, together with regalia and furniture, due to the destruction of Zetland Hall by Allied bombing, the building also being thoroughly looted. The Lodge minute books for 1903-1909 and 1911-1922 were however later recovered, while the Charters of all the Lodges had been placed in the vaults of the French Bank for safe custody and were all recovered intact on 10 December 1945.

The revival of the Scottish Lodges in Hong Kong after the Pacific War was slow, Grand Secretary being informed on 10 September 1945 that only seventeen Scottish Constitution Brethren were left in the Colony, one of whom, the pre-war District Grand Master and a Past Master of Lodge Eastern Scotia, Bro. J. Carson Ferguson (who had held the office of Master on three separate occasions), passed away just two days later. Grand Lodge was unwilling to sanction the resuscitation of the three Scottish Lodges until assured “that things are sufficiently settled down in Hong Kong and that the Chinese authorities are fully alive to the resuscitation of our Lodges”, apparently being unaware that Hong Kong was still a British Colony.

Approval was however eventually given for the resuscitation of the District Grand Lodge and the three Scottish Lodges, Lodge Eastern Scotia holding its first post-war meeting on 19 February 1946. The first meeting in the present Zetland Hall on Kennedy Road was held on 13 February 1950.

A Past Master of Lodge Eastern Scotia, Bro. Arthur A. Dand, was appointed District Grand Master in 1947, to be succeeded in 1950 by another Past Master of the Lodge, Bro. David S. Hill, who held the office until 1965. Other Past Masters of the Lodge who have held the office of District Grand Master since the Pacific War are Bros. George Arliss, from 1970 to 1975, Prishotam (Peter) N. Harilela, from 1995 until his untimely death in 1999, and Arjun J. Hotwani, the current District Grand Master, who has held the office since 2005. Thus Past Masters of Lodge Eastern Scotia have held the highest office in the District for twenty-nine of the past sixty years.

In 1952, the Lodge celebrated its jubilee with a banquet, a church service and the production of a commemorative booklet, which was compiled by Bro. Thomas W. Fripp, after painstaking research both in Hong Kong and in the Grand Lodge archives at Freemasons’ Hall in Edinburgh, while on leave in the United Kingdom.

Bro. Fripp later became District Grand Secretary, in which capacity he compiled a ‘Brief History of the District Grand Lodge of the Far East’ from its inception up to 1961, to mark the first visit of a Grand Master Mason to Hong Kong at the beginning of that year. He is now the longest-serving member of the Lodge, having been initiated on 15 November 1949.

The Lodge was also instrumental in assisting Lodge St. Andrew in the Far East No. 493, which transferred from Shanghai in 1953, to re-establish itself in Hong Kong, Bros. Thomas W. Fripp and Arthur A. Dean having been elected Distinguished Service Members of that Lodge in recognition of their outstanding service in connection with the transfer of the Lodge, Bro. Fripp on 28 October 1954 and Bro. Dean on 28 February 1957. Lodge Eastern Scotia rendered similar assistance when Lodge Cosmopolitan No. 428 transferred from Shanghai in 1963, Bro. Cyril R.J. Donnithorne, a Past Master of Lodge Eastern Scotia and the then District Grand Secretary, being the first Master of the Lodge after it was re-established in Hong Kong.

The second visit by a Grand Master Mason to Hong Kong took place in 1967, when Bro. Major Sir Ronald Orr Ewing visited the Colony, attending meetings of both Lodge St. John and Lodge Eastern Scotia. Reporting on his visit in the Grand Lodge of Scotland Year Book, the Grand Master Mason noted, “ … the purpose of all this was to enable us to attend that evening the postponed meeting of Lodge Eastern Scotia, No. 923. This we were able to do comfortably, and with Brother Cyril Donnithorne in the chair, we witnessed a very good Third Degree. I was glad that Brother David Hill took part in the Degree as this was his last association with the Lodge in Hong Kong after a period of over thirty years. At the delightful harmony which followed, Brother Arliss demonstrated his ability as a Dutch auctioneer, and produced in a matter of minutes a substantial sum for our Masonic Homes”.

The Lodge celebrated its centenary in February 2002, with a Ceremony of Rededication conducted by the then Grand Master Mason, Bro. Sir Archibald Orr Ewing.