FREEMASONRY IN SRI LANKA (CEYLON)

With acknowledgement to the comprehensive study of Masonic history in Sri
Lanka by Bro. J.R. Dashwood, PGD; entitled “NOTES ON FREEMASONRY IN
CEYLON”; which is reproduced in its entirety in the book “100 Years of
Freemasonry in Sri Lanka”.

The Masonic history of Ceylon, compared with that of other countries, is of
late growth; but in spite of that the early years are very sparsely documented.
Freemasonry in Ceylon reaches back to Dutch times. In the last 26 years of
their occupation of this country, they founded three lodges – two in Colombo
and one in Galle. Information about the two lodges in Colombo is scanty.
However the centenary volume of the Colombo Municipal Council by H.A.J.
Hulugalle published in 1965 records the following facts:
"Slave Island contained a mud village, an excellent parade ground and two
gentlemen s villas. One of these had been built by the Dutch as a
Freemasons lodge.

It may be reasonably assumed therefore that from these times, Freemasonry
was a pursuit of the elite whose many mansions dotted the Beira Lake area.
The earliest Minutes now extant are those of Sphinx Lodge, under the Irish
Constitution, beginning with the preliminary meeting in November 1860, and
though for the earlier years we have documents at intervals which help to bridge
the gaps. considerable periods must be filled in by inference or even supposition.
Unfortunately, most of the records, including minute books and membership lists
from the mid to late 19th century are missing. If the old books of St. John's Lodge
of Colombo from 1838 to 1864 should ever be discovered they might throw an
invaluable light on the history of those early days. Since St. John's was the heir of
Union Lodge of Colombo, it would probably also confirm or refute a theory that
French Union Lodge of Colombo was in its turn the direct heir of Dutch Lodge
Union dating from 1794.

THE DUTCH ERA
Freemasonry in Ceylon owed its inception to the Dutch who, in the last 26 years
of their occupation of the coastal districts, founded three Lodges – two in Colombo
and one in Galle. Information about the two Lodges in Colombo is very meagre,
but we have a few more particulars about the one at Galle Maarschalk, the Dutch
Masonic Historian, says that "obviously with the cession of the Island to England,
it (Dutch Masonry) automatically came to an end". This however is not the case,
for he himself goes on to speak of two of the Lodges as having ceased to function
in 1806, i.e., ten years after the British occupation.

By way of continuation, it is possible that the Dutch Union Lodge may have
changed its Constitution. Around 1810, the Netherlands was incorporated into the
French Empire and the French Grand Orient claimed authority over over the
Dutch Lodges.

UNION LODGE OF COLOMBO
There is not much information about the French Lodge than about the Dutch one,
but it emerges from obscurity momentarily in the pages of the Freemasons'
Quarterly Review in 1835. Again, in the same Review three years later we have
the account of William Granville about to sail for England, vacating the Chair and
installing as his successor J.J. Staples.

The wording of the report states that Mr Granville takes with him an application
from the Union Lodge of Colombo to the National Grand Lodge for an English
Warrant, its present warrant having been obtained from the Grand Lodge of
France.” This petition from the Union Lodge as a whole to come under the
English Constitution led to the warrant for St. John,s Lodge of Colombo in 1838.

THE MILITARY LODGES
Military Lodges played an important part in the early development of
Freemasonry, for the Regiments carried their Lodges with them to the four
corners of the globe, and wherever they went they initiated members of the
civilian community, who remained behind when the Regiment moved on, and
who then founded stationary Lodges.

Unless the old Dutch Lodges continued to exist unofficially, there is little evidence
of stationary Lodges in Ceylon between 1806 and 1821. During these fifteen
years Freemasonry on the Island must have been represented solely by such
visiting Military Lodges as chanced to come along.

DARK AGES AND REVIVAL
The latter part of the 19th Century was a period of turbulence in the history of
Ceylon Masonry. The Minutes of all Lodges during this time make very
depressing reading and express the tragic depths to which Masonry in Ceylon
had sunk. However, it must be remembered that this was a period of economic
upheaval in the island. The leaf-blight known as devastating Emily had swept
through the coffee plantations and a large proportion of the people in Colombo
and the planting districts were faced with ruin. It is hardly surprising that tempers
should be short and actions often unreasonable.

Considering these factors, it seems amazing that the recovery should have been
so rapid. In August, 1890, every Masonic body in Colombo, with the exception of
the Lodges Leinster and Bonnie Doon, had gone into abeyance, and those two
Lodges seem to have survived only because they had their own separate

meeting place in Slave Island. One effort had been made towards the end of
1891 to resuscitate St. George: but only two meetings were held in odd places,
and then the attempt came to an end probably for lack of a suitable place to
meet. Yet within two years a wave of Masonic enthusiasm was sweeping not only
over Colombo, but throughout the Island. In Kandy, St. John’s Lodge of Colombo
had begun to work again as long ago as 1879, followed by the Kandy Newera
R.A. Chapter in 1883.

Together with the new profitability of tea planting, the initiative for the revival
appears to come from a number of individual Masons who arrived in Ceylon with
various Military units. They seem to have been mainly with the Royal Artillery and
the Royal West Kent Regiment.
The revival of Freemasonry was undertaken with such fervour that a curious
incident on the St. John's Lodge Summons for December 1883; "That all Ceylon
Lodges be brought under one Constitution, similar to Lodges in Australia". The
motion was withdrawn, and consequently was never debated in Lodge, so we do
not know how it was proposed to effect the union, or whether the idea was to
form a Sovereign Grand Lodge for Ceylon!
Nevertheless, many of the Sri Lankan Lodges currently in existence originate
from this period of resurgence and their individual histories can be more further
explored in the section of this website titled “About the District”.