Have you ever wondered why your Ancestors became Freemasons? Was it because of the idea of belonging to a secret society, or perhaps a night off from the nagging wife once a week? Men join and practice Freemasonry to make themselves better human beings, and the rituals, symbolism, and teachings of Freemasonry focus on morality and ethics.
What are Free Masons?
Freemasonry is a fraternal secret society limiting its membership to adult men who believe in a Supreme Being. While it absorbed a good deal of occult symbolism from its roots in Renaissance Hermeticism, and a great many male occultists have belonged to it in the last 300 years, it is not an occult order. Similarly, while it was closely associated with liberal political causes for the two centuries after 1717,and Masons such as Louis Thiabult, Piet Retief and President Brand and Cecil John Rhodes have played important roles in political affairs and South African history, it is not a political organization. Non-members are often surprised to learn that its actual focus is self-improvement.
What do they do?
No Freemason is ever asked to perform any task or take any oath which may conflict with his duties to his God, his family or as a citizen. Freemasonry is not a religion, but it demands that every member believe in a power greater than man. It does not focus solely on charity, but strongly promotes charitable activities and encourages members to contribute to those less fortunate than themselves. It is certainly not politically motivated, but it expects its members to play a meaningful role in society.
In simplest terms, Freemasonry’s aim is to improve the world we live in by uplifting the moral and spiritual standards of the men living in it.
Freemasonry is many centuries old, the most commonly accepted theory being that it originated back in medieval times when the great cathedrals of Europe were built. The stonemasons who created these magnificent Gothic structures formed craft guilds to protect the secrets of their trade, to help one another and to pass on their knowledge to worthy apprentices.
In 17th century England, these guilds began accepting honorary members. These new members were men of learning and position who were not working stonemasons or even associated with the building trades. As time passed, they developed into a separate body, referred to as the Free and Accepted Masons, and it is from this that structured Freemasonry was formed. The earliest recorded “making” of a Freemason was in 1646, being that of one Elias Ashmole.
Formally organised Freemasonry, as we know it today, began with the founding of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717. Looking to expand their horizons, they opened foreign Lodges such as The Hague in Holland in 1734. As the Order progressed, so a number of new Grand Lodges were established, one of the earliest being the Grand Lodge National of the Netherlands in 1758. Each of these Grand Lodges then sought to spread further by establishing new Lodges both at home and in their territories overseas.
While history shows that there were a number of Freemasons living in the Cape prior to this date, it was on the 2nd May 1772, that the Dutch formally introduced Freemasonry to South Africa and 10 founding Brethren established Lodge de Goede Hoop under the Mastership of Abraham Chiron. To say that these early Brethren laboured diligently is an understatement and it is recorded that some 400 degrees were conferred in the first 9 years and that in 1775 alone, the Brethren met 32 times and conferred 53 degrees.
It is worth noting that, in the early days, the Cape’s main purpose was to provide a safe shelter and halfway-station en route to the East Indies and the Dutch East India Company played a major role in all local activities. Indeed, the Lodge depended for its existence on visitors and generally failed to attract the local residents as members, mainly because of the rigid social and religious attitudes of the confined Cape society. This consisted mainly of two broad classes, the Company official and free burgher. Due to rigid Company policy their employees were not permitted to trade or own land until they were released from their contracts, and it was only after this that they could settle in the Cape and become free burghers. The Masonic philosophy of equality in the Lodge violated the structure in the Cape where difference in rank between Company officials and free burghers was practiced. Religious interference was also widespread.
In the early 1780s, war broke out between England and Holland and, as a result, ships stopped calling at the Cape. This had a major impact on Masonic labours and contributed to the Lodge, in 1781, going into recess for a period of some 9 years. The Lodge recommenced activities in the early 1790s, this time attracting more prominent persons of the Company, such as Johannes Andreas Truter, later to become Chief Justice of the Cape. These more influential members offered some protection from the Company and the pulpit and, whereas previously almost all the members were of a transient nature, more and more of the new initiates were locally born and primarily resident in the Cape – a far more stable situation. The Lodge has now laboured, uninterrupted, for well over 200 years.
It is not the objective of this article to concentrate on a single Lodge, and little more will be said about Lodge de Goede Hoop itself, although it is impossible to ignore the very major role it has played in all aspects of the history of South African Freemasonry. Indeed, in one way or another, every single one of the Lodges operating in this country can trace its foundations back to the Mother of all our Lodges.
In the late 18th century, after the year of the British occupation in 1795, there were a large number of members of overseas Lodges living in Cape Town. De Goede Hoop allowed them to use their facilities, with certain restrictions, and they functioned as irregular Lodges. One of these was Goede Verwachting, which was duly warranted as a lawful Lodge in the early 1800s. In the process of ratification, the name was changed to de Goede Trouw, now our Number 2 Lodge.
Further impetus was given to Freemasonry in the Cape by the take over of the Batavia Republic in 1802, and, after that, with the arrival of Jacob de Mist, a Deputy Grand Master in Holland, who then became the 1st Deputy Grand Master, National Netherlandic Constitution in the region. He had been sent out to re-establish the Dutch presence in the Cape and one of the important avenues he used was Freemasonry.
The 2nd British occupation of the Cape Colony saw the return of the British Military Lodges. The Commander in Chief was a Freemason and, seeing him as an ally, the Deputy Grand Master National welcomed him into Lodge De Goede Hoop as a protector.
However, the influx of English speaking members into the Lodge brought its own tensions. Almost inevitably, the English speaking members broke away in 1811 and formed the British Lodge, this being the 1st permanent Masonic involvement in the territory by the United Grand Lodge of England.
Political circumstances triggered off the Great Trek when thousands of burghers moved North. Coupled to the general economic climate, this adversely affected Freemasonry at the time. Relative prosperity in the 1850s, however, resulted in an influx of English settlers and the development of the Eastern coast and the Natal Colony. The Craft was revitalised, with English Freemasonry spreading to the Eastern part and Dutch Freemasonry towards the newly formed Republics of the Orange Free State and Transvaal. Once again, the use of English in the Dutch Lodges created tensions and in 1860 resulted in the formation of the very 1st Lodge under the Scottish Constitution, that being Lodge Southern Cross. The 1st of the local Irish Lodges, St Patricks, was formed in 1897. There were now four Constitutions at labour in Southern Africa.
As early as 1875, there were calls for a United Grand Lodge to be formed, where all Masons would be able to find a common home and there was a similar move in 1892, when the proposal was narrowly defeated. While no unification has yet been successfully pursued, it must be said that the 4 Constitutions have almost always worked together in great harmony, have shared many projects and have always promoted the common cause of Freemasonry.
There have been some extremely testing times, such as during the Anglo-Boer war, and there are many tales of Masons from opposite sides remembering their Masonic oath and saving their Brethren. It is also noted that Temples were often spared from destruction.
Perhaps as a result of political circumstances, the upsurge of Afrikanerdom and a growing campaign for a South African Republic, the striving for a South African Grand Lodge again gained momentum. The failure to make any progress in establishing a United Grand Lodge resulted in some of the Brethren of the Netherlandic Constitution forming an entirely South African “Grand Lodge” in 1952. As it was irregular, however, the 4 Constitutions operating in South Africa prohibited members from attending the meetings.
The 2nd World War heavily disrupted the world’s Masonic structures and, once the war had ended, the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands was forced to re-establish itself. In so doing, they had decided to accept Grand Orients which did not comply with ancient land marks, the 2 most important being the belief in a living God and the presence of a Volume of Sacred Law during the labours of the Lodge.
This resulted in grave disagreements with the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland who threatened to withdraw recognition from the Netherlands – a serious problem for the Netherlandic Lodges in South Africa who worked in close cooperation with the various Lodges under these Constitutions.
When a break in the relationship between the Netherlands and the 3 Grand Lodges became imminent, the English Grand Secretary advised Districts in South Africa of the situation. The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England wrote to Colonel Colin Graham Botha advising him that, in the circumstances, it would probably be prudent to break away from the Netherlands. As a result, in 1961, the Grand Lodge of Southern Africa was duly established.
Today, the Grand Lodge Centre is based in Orange Grove, Johannesburg. 5 Provincial Divisions have been established over the years, being Southern (1863), Northern (1906), Central (1962), Eastern (1977) and Eastern Cape (2002). The harmonious interaction between the various Divisions, as well as that enjoyed with the Sister Constitutions, plays a very positive role in the overall development of South African Freemasonry.
This article draws extensively on a paper which was presented by M Wor Bro George Groenewald and appreciation is extended to him for his efforts. It is also acknowledged that material has been drawn from various brochures produced by our Sister Constitutions.
The focal point of social life in the later 8th and early 19th century for masons, and many non-masons, was the Lodge De Goede Hoop’s Society Rooms, a building adjacent to the main lodge.
As early as 1794, these rooms offered recreation and relaxation – meals, a library, billiards, bowls, skittles and “Kolf” played on a small course in the grounds. But all games of chance were prohibited. Similar facilities were offered when the lodge moved to its new property in the Garden Domburg on Bouquet Street in 1803.
There were few other venues in Cape Town for men to meet for serious discussion or recreation. One of the earliest social clubs was the Society Concordia in Concordia Gardens on Bouquet Street. Founded in 1797, it offered meals and a small library but the members “principally drank, smoked and gamed”. In the first British occupation in 1795 the African Clubhouse in the Heerengracht, another exclusive social body, was formed, later to change its name to Society Harmony. It also offered a library, billiards, cards and meals.
After the second British occupation in 1806, Cape Town could boast of other clubs, the New Clubhouse, Union Club and De Vriendschap. All had limited membership. While several masons were members of these clubs, the majority supported the De Goede Hoop Society Rooms, which grew in importance with the passing years, particularly as members often met three to four times a week for lodge business and adjourned afterwards to the rooms for evening refreshment and relaxation or used the society facilities at weekends.
The golf “course” and bowling green at De Goede Hoop Lodge created much interest and, after the first quarter of the 19th century, periodical golf matches were held followed by beefsteak dinners. A floating trophy of a silver golf club was awarded but so enthusiastically had this game been taken up that, in 1848, its playing on Sunday was prohibited. The golf “course” was in effect a pitch and putt course, the only course of its kind in the environs of Cape Town.
De Goede Trouw and British Lodges, both of which owned land on Bouquet Street, followed De Goede Hoop’s example and opened flourishing society rooms. While De Goede Hoop Lodge Society Rooms were open to guests, the lodge ensured privacy for members by holding “Society Days” on Thursdays and Saturdays. All Effective Members had to be present on one or both of these days or they were fined.
The Society Rooms were rebuilt in 1814 at a cost of £4 000 and included a large hall 104 ft. (31,6 m) long and 20 ft. (6 m) wide which later became the meeting place of the Cape House of Assembly for many years.
“Discord, disunion and animosity” among members led to the dissolution of the Society Rooms in 1834. But this seems to have been a device to get rid of some undesirable members for, a month later; the Society Rooms were reformed, though under stricter regulations. At the end of 1842 non-masons were admitted to membership of the society and the lodge made admission to the society an easy way of obtaining initiation.
The billiard room was, however, kept solely for use of members who individually bought shares in the “Biljard Tafel”.
Use of the Society Rooms was offered to members of the Cape House of Assembly when the Assembly met in the hall from 30 June 1854. The Assembly made alterations to the premises during its lease of the building, which lasted to 1874.
In the meantime the lodge opened its extensive gardens to the public for promenade concerts and theatrical performances. The grounds were illuminated, a vegetable garden uprooted and gravelled and a stage erected while concerts were held until the end of 1875. Lodge members were issued with free vouchers while the public was charged a small entrance fee and proceeds went to charities.
Other lodges – British and De Goede Trouw, for instance – were not so much in the public eye, not having the grounds to offer these recreational amenities. But their presence in Cape Town society did not go unnoticed by the public for, in common with De Goede Hoop, their members paraded through the streets every St John the Baptist’s Day, 24 June, the occasion of the installation of their new master, or on public ceremonies.
For masons’ families, St John’s Day was also a time of entertainment after the new master had been installed. The first recorded festivity was on St John’s Day in 1 775 when De Goede Hoop members held a concert to which ladies were admitted and the entertainment lasted to 4 am.
These concerts, followed at times by supper, were to become annual features on that day but apparently, during the Dutch East India Company rule, no dances were held. This changed under the first British occupation as a result of the presence of military lodges.
Africa No. 1 Lodge, formed by the 98th Regiment and others in 1798, held a Masonic ball in 1801. Lady Anne Barnard on 4 January 180 wrote to the Earl of Macartney: “Tomorrow there is a great Ball in town at which I don’t appear nor any of the English ladies of fashion at the Cape whose husbands are not masons. There is much taste for masonry here.”
She complained that the married ladies had been invited, presumably as companions for the military, but not one non-mason husband.
When the British regiments departed, these functions ended and the social occasions for masons again became evenings at lodge society rooms or all-male banquets following Masonic ceremonies.
As military lodges returned with the second British occupation, Masonic balls again became a feature, principally held by English lodges, both in Cape Town and the Eastern Province.
A Masonic “dress ball” was held by British Lodge in June 1844 at the George Hotel, 36 Heerengracht, setting a yearly pattern.
Lodge anniversaries were also occasions for jollity. British Lodge celebrated its jubilee on 9 August 1861 with a Grand Ball, which was described as “one of the gayest affairs that had ever taken place”. Both Dutch and English masons attended and Sir Christoffel Brand, the Netherlandic Deputy Grand Master, gave a special address.
The masons’ families were not forgotten. Entertainments for them included concerts, musical soirees and the inevitable suppers. Often the men dined in one room and their families in another.
Origins and Connections of Freemasonry
Founded: Some time before 1590 in lowland Scotland
Actual Origins: Evolved out of Scottish medieval craft guilds of stoneworkers.
Legendary origins: Almost infinitely varied
Ancient Free and Accepted Masons; the Craft; Free and Accepted Masons, Masons; the Royal Art
Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry
Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine
Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids
Ancient Noble Order of Gormogons
Ancient Order of Druids
Ancient Order of Druids in America
Beneficent Chevaliers of the Holy City
Benevolent Protective Order of Elks
Builders of the Adytum
Druid Circle of the Universal Bond
Emperors of the East and West
Fraternal benefit societies and orders
Germanenorden; Hell-Fire Club
Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
Improved Order of Red Men
Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross
Knights of Columbus
Knights of Pythias
Ku Klux Klan
Loyal Orange Order
Order of Mopses
Order of the Amaranth
Order of the Eastern Star
Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross
Ordo Templi Orientis
Patrons of Husbandry
Priory of Sion
Rite of Memphis
Rite of Memphis and Misraim
Rite of Misraim
Rite of Strict Observance
Rosicrucian Order of the Crotona Fellowship
Royal Order of Scotland
Royal Oriental Order of the Sat B’hai
Royal Society; Societas Rosicruciana in America
Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia
Society of Eight
Society of the Inner Light
Sublime Perfect Masters
Ancient Noble Order of Gormogons
Roman Catholic Church
Sources and Acknowledgements
Grand Lodge of South Africa
Provincial Grand Master RW. Br. Alf Rhoodie
Standard Encylopeadia of South Africa
The Element Encylopeadia of Secret Societies by John Michael Greer
The Freemasons of South Africa by Dr.A.A. Cooper