FREEMASONRY IN BENGAL
On 27th December 1728, George Pomfret was authorised by Most Worshipful, the Grand Master, Lord Kinston, to introduce Freemasonry into Bengal in Calcutta and in 1729, Capt. Ralph Farwinter was appointed the first Provincial Grand Master for East India in Bengal. The first Lodge established in Bengal is mentioned as Lodge East India Arms constituted in 1730 and the place of Meeting was the Old Court House situated at the North East Comer of Dalhousie Square. Thereafter a number of Lodges, including Military Lodges, were consecrated in Bengal. Meetings were held at the Old Court House till 1792 when the Craft shifted to a building in Lal Bazar till 1840. Thereafter, for 64 years, Lodges were held at the Town Hall, No.55, Bentinck Street and in 1904 finally shifted to the premises No. 19, Park Street (then No.54, Park Street). The Corner Stone of the West Wing of Freemasons Hall was laid in 1911, by the Deputy District Grand Master, W.Bro. W.A Dring, who was the Agent of the East Indian Railway.
For a number of years, after Freemasonry was introduced into Bengal, membership to Lodges was exclusively for Foreigners, but that attitude eventually changed and Indians were admitted as members of the order. The first Indian admitted was Bro. P.C. Dutt, initiated in Calcutta in Lodge Anchor and Hope, (then No. 234), under the English Constitution. A number of other eminent personalities were subsequently admitted as members of the Order, amongst whom were Sri Narendra Nath Dutt (later His Holiness Swami Vivekananda), His Majesty Habibullah Khan, Amir of Afghanistan, Sri W.C. Bonnerjee, Sri MotiLal Nehru and Sri C. Rajagopalachari, Rajas, Maharajas, I.C.S. Officers, Jurists, Doctors and Statesmen.
The Provincial Grand Lodge of Bengal existed up to 1862 but with the death of the Provincial Grand Master, Major-General A. H. E. Boileau. Bro. Hugh David Sandeman was appointed to the office in the same year and by a change in title, he became the first District Grand Master of Bengal.
Freemasons in Bengal can proudly boast of having as its Provincial and District Grand Masters a number of eminent personalities, which included H.E. the Rt. Hon’ble Roger Drake, H.E. the Rt. Hon’ble Baron Carmichael of Skerling, the Hon’ble C.R. Lindsay, and Major-General James Ramsay. Brig. General A.G. Yateman-Biggs, the Hon’ble H.T. Prinsep. The Hon’ble Sir James Stanley, Sir Lawrence Jenkins, Chief Justice of India, H.E. Rt. Hon’ble Earl of Ronaldsay, Bro. Eric Studd, Bro. A. Barr-Pollock, and more recently Bro. Archibald Edwards, Bro. L.O.H. Desilva and Bro. Iqbal Ahmed who was Installed on 17th October, 1998.
Freemasons in Bengal also had the proud distinction of laying the Foundation Stones with Masonic solemnities of a number of important edifices which till date, stand out as landmarks in Calcutta and Howrah. These include, amongst others, St Andrew’s Church, Old and New Customs House, St. Peter’s Church in Fort William, Hindu College, and Metcalfe Hall. Bethune College, Howrah Hospital, and the surgical Block of Medical College Hospital, Calcutta.
Freemasons of Bengal were also associated with the building in 1709 of the first English Church in Calcutta which was dedicated to St. John but the name was changed to St.Anne’s in honour of the reigning Queen. The Church was unfortunately destroyed in 1856, culminating in the present St. John’s Church which was consecrated in 1887.
At one point of time, the District Grand Lodge comprised of 91 daughter Lodges which extended from Chunking in Southern China in the East to Muttra in the West, Mussorie in the North, to Port Blair in the South. Though a number of those, Lodges either surrendered their Warrants or were erased, with the formation in 1961 of the Grand lodge of India by the three parent Grand Lodges of England. Scotland and Ireland, 34 Lodges in the District opted to join the Grand Lodge of India and as a result, the number of Lodges in this District was reduced considerably and there now remain a total of eighteen, extending from Calcutta to Kanpur, of which 18 Lodges hold their meetings at Freemason’s Hall, Calcutta.