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Freemasonry in South Africa Prior to 1863

By Right Worshipful Brother John Smith OSM

Published in the 2013 GLSA Southern Division Spring Ball Magazine

​Bate, in his book The Lodge de Goede Hoop, states that during the late 1700s the settlement at the foot of Table Mountain, which is known today as Cape Town, had a small European population which was mainly dependent on the Dutch East India Company and its seaborne trade. Table Bay was an open roadstead, filled with ships of all description, which stopped here on their voyages between Europe and the East Indies.

Freemasonry in England, Ireland, Scotland, France and Holland had made significant progress since the formation of the Grand Lodge of England during 1717 and there were many Masonic Brethren on board these ships. Abraham Chiron became a resident at the Cape in 1769. He had been a member of Lodge Zur Einigkeit at Frankfurt on Main and he played a significant role in the formation of the first Lodge at the Cape.

It was however Abraham van der Weijde, a member of Lodge Salomon in Bengal who, with the assistance of the brethren Abraham Chiron, Jacobus Alexander de Febre, Pieter Soermans, Jan Coenraad Gie, Christoffel Brand, Petrus Johannes de Wit, Johannes Adriaanus van Schoor, Barend Hendrik Rheede van Oudtshoorn, Oloff Gotlieb de Wet and Johannes Snyders, established the first Masonic Lodge in South Africa under the jurisdiction of the National Grand Lodge of the United Netherlands by the formation of Lodge de Goede Hoop in Cape Town on 2 May 1772.

When the British took occupation of the Cape Colony in 1795 several military Lodges, which were attached to the British naval and army units, held intermittent meetings in Cape Town. During 1800 the second permanent Dutch Lodge was established in Cape Town, namely Lodge de Goede Trouw. It was also during this time that the members of Lodge de Goede Hoop purchased land in what is today the centre of Cape Town and plans were drawn to build the first Masonic temple in Southern Africa. At the Peace of Amiens during 1802 the Cape was returned to the Batavian Republic and during 1803 this temple was consecrated by Jacob Abraham de Mist, the Commissary – General and the Deputy Grand Master National of the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands. The population in Cape Town had increased significantly since 1772 and Bate reports that there were between five and six thousand inhabitants living in Cape Town at that time. This increase in the population saw an increase in the permanent membership of the two Lodges and more than 200 brethren attended the consecration ceremony.

When de Mist returned to Holland during 1804 he appointed Johannes Andreas Truter, a Past Master of Lodge de Goede Hoop, as the Deputy Grand Master National over all the Lodges in the Batavian Colony at the South Point of Africa. During 1806 the Cape of Good Hope was again occupied by the British, which resulted in a large influx of both military personnel and English citizens to the Cape and the Freemasons amongst them found homes in the Dutch Lodges de Goede Hoop and de Goede Trouw.

During 1811 a number of Brethren, the majority of whom were members of or who had been initiated in Lodge de Goede Hoop, submitted a petition to the Grand Lodge of England to establish an English speaking Lodge in Cape Town under jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of England. The petition was granted and a warrant was issued and the British Lodge, the first Lodge under the Grand Lodge of England, was duly established in Cape Town.

Apart from the many and temporary Military Lodges which held meetings at the Cape, further permanent Lodges under the Grand Lodge of England were established, namely the Union Lodge during 1821 in Cape Town and the Albany Lodge during 1828 in Grahamstown. Cooper, in his book The Freemasons of South Africa, states that the United Grand Lodge of England requested Truter to also assume authority over the English Lodges in South Africa and he duly established the English Provincial Grand Lodge during 1828 in Cape Town.

The third Lodge under the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands was established in Graaff-Reinet during 1834, namely Lodge de Vereeniging. The years 1834 to 1850 however saw continued conflict on the eastern frontier between the farmers and the ethnic peoples, political and social unrest due to the introduction of certain legislation, the abolition of slavery and the use of English as the only official language in schools, the church and the government’s administration. These were some of the reasons for the exodus of thousands of persons from the Cape Colony during the “Groot Trek”. Truter died during 1845 and Clerk Burton was appointed as the English Provincial Grand Master. Christoffel Brand, a grandson of one of the founders of Lodge de Goede Hoop, was appointed as the Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands.

From about 1850 the economy at the Cape started to improve and several Lodges under the Englis
Constitution were thereafter established, namely Lodge Zetland in Fort Beaufort during 1852; Lodge Goodwill in Port Elizabeth during 1857; Lodge Port Natal in Durban during 1858 and St. John’s Lodge in Grahamstown during 1860.

Several members of Lodge de Goede Hoop who were of Scottish descent petitioned the Grand Lodge of Scotland during 1860 to establish a Lodge in Cape Town under this jurisdiction. The petition was granted, a warrant was issued and Lodge Southern Cross was duly established in the de Goede Hoop temple. Brand (now Sir Christoffel Brand), was requested to officiate at the festivities surrounding the formation of this Lodge. During 1862 the Royal Alfred Lodge was also established in Cape Town under the Scottish Constitution.

In the meantime further Lodges were established under the English Constitution during 1861, namely the Midland Lodge in Graaff- Reinet; the British Kaffarian Lodge in King William’s Town; the Good Hope Lodge in Port Elizabeth and the Joppa Lodge in Cape Town. During 1862 the Union Lodge and Lodge Star of the East were established in Knysna and Queenstown respectively.

It was arguably the result of the expansion of Freemasonry under the English and the Scottish Constitutions that prompted Brand to undertake the first of his three journeys into the interior of the country to promote Freemasonry under the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands. During 1862 he established Lodge Rising Star in Burghersdorp. During 1863 he established Lodge Star in the East in George; Lodge L’Astre de L’Orient in Stellenbosch and Lodge Unie in Bloemfontein. Brand thereafter requested permission from the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands to constitute a Provincial Grand Lodge to assist him with the management of the Lodges now under his control.

This Provincial Grand Lodge retained its name until 1906 when the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Transvaal was constituted. The name was then changed and it was thereafter known as the Provincial Grand Lodge of Southern Africa (except the Transvaal) until 1961 saw the formation of the Grand Lodge of South Africa. It is now known as the Provincial Grand Lodge, Southern Division and it has been in continuous existence for 150 years.