History of Lodge St John (page 2)

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Informal Masonic meetings continued during the next five years, usually held in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank compound, and in April 1905 a petition, signed by over 30 Masons, supported by the Freemasons of Singapore and by the English District, was sent to the UGLE for the erection of Lodge Menam (“Menam” being the name of the Chao Phraya River in those days). Once again fate intervened. The Master designate fell ill of fever and subsequently died. So confident had the Masons in Bangkok been on this occasion that they had purchased furniture and equipment and had started collecting funds among themselves. Indeed, one of the founding Brethren was so confident and enthusiastic that he undertook to raise a sum of 10,000 Ticals (as the Thai Baht was called in those days) to purchase land and erect a temple. The Engineering Society of Thailand and the world-famous Oriental Hotel both offered temporary accommodation to the new Lodge. But eventually, after running out of options, the Petition had to be withdrawn and the money raised was returned to those who had donated it, who unanimously agreed to use such funds for the education of a Masonic orphan.

But the problems facing the “lost” Freemasons of Bangkok were not yet at an end. One of the founding Brethren of the abortive Lodge Menam wrote to his fellow Freemasons, stating that “the Government and myself have had a great row about my shooting of elephants and the result is that I am going away”. Hardly surprising, as a similar offence nowadays would result in decades of residence in a Thai prison!

After all these failed attempts to establish a Lodge under the Irish and, especially the English Constitutions, I believe that the Brethren in Bangkok, who hailed from nine different regular Constitutions, did not have the stomach to approach Dublin and London again. And so, early in 1907, they decided to go North of the border and approach Edinburgh. In doing so they received the wholehearted support of their Scottish Brethren in Lodge Scotia in Penang, whose Lodge had been Consecrated in 1906, the oldest Scottish Lodge in Southeast Asia. Grand Secretary in Edinburgh, however, proved to be as intractably legalistic as his counterpart in London, and it took some time and a lot of waiting for correspondence backward and forward by ship before, finally, the Charter of Lodge St. John No. 1072 SC was signed in Grand Lodge on the 4th of August 1910. But the troubles had not even started!

Owing to departures from among the Brethren in Bangkok between 1907 and August 1910, this first Charter had to be returned and re-issued. And once again the old problem arose of the availability of sufficiently qualified Brethren to fill the Chairs. But at last, a very long last, the Freemasons of Bangkok were to have their Lodge. On the 24th of January 1911 Lodge St. John was consecrated, although without several names on the re-issued Charter being in their designated Offices – or, indeed, even present.

The Consecrating Officer, a very high-ranking and distinguished Mason from Hong Kong, was Worshipful Brother The Reverend Spafford. He had already been delayed by adverse weather conditions at sea in his journey from Hong Kong. Little did he expect, however, that he would be delayed in Bangkok for many weeks by very stormy conditions in Lodge St. John. If ever a man must have seriously considered throwing out the baby (in this case “babies”) with the bathwater, it must have been the good Reverend Brother. He must have had the diplomatic skills of a Buddha and the patience of Job to survive those fraught weeks that followed Lodge St. John’s almost stillborn birth. His Masonic and religious Obligations must have been strained to the limit. Just before the Consecration the Master Elect and Secretary Elect informed Worshipful Brother Spafford and the Bangkok Brethren that Lodge St. John was “their ball, and if they couldn’t make the rules, then no-one else could play”. Worshipful Brother Spafford (under which Rule in the Constitutions and Laws I definitely do not know) expelled both Brethren and (once again I cannot find out how he “legally” did so, but perhaps by cable exchange to and from Edinburgh) installed a different Brother than the one designated on the re-issued Charter. So Lodge St. John, somehow or other, was Consecrated and a Master, Wardens and Office Bearers duly took their places.

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