A short history of Freemasonry in Gibraltar



Freemasonry has been established in Gibraltar since at least 1727 when a number of military Brethren congregated to form the first Masonic Lodge in the Garrison. The earliest recorded evidence of their Masonic activities can be traced to the Grand Lodge Minutes for the 10th May 1727 which records:


‘His Grace the Duke of Richmond proposed health and success to our brethren of the lodge of Gibraltar, which was drank accordingly.’


Accordingly we can confidently claim that in Gibraltar at least no other institution can boast a more solid or historic foundation than our own. To put this into perspective, the Casino Calpe that claims to be Gibraltar's oldest club founded as recently as 1853, 126 years after our own Order had been established on the Rock. In that time, and we are talking about well over 280 years of history, Freemasonry has seen many changes from a predominantly military character to the civil one we enjoy today, it has enjoyed periods of huge popularity and has gritted its teeth through the lean times of wavering support, but above all it has become through almost three centuries of continued and uninterrupted existence an integral part of the social fabric of our small, tight-knit community. In this short history I want to share some interesting anecdotes that has shaped our Masonic history and made us what we are today, a band of brothers, linked through the chain of continuity through almost 300 years of history.


            The first lodge established in Gibraltar was the Lodge of St. John No. 51 in the register of the Grand Lodge of England. Gibraltar at the time had been effectively under siege when the lodge was formed and the evidence suggests that although the Brethren applied to the Grand Lodge of England for a warrant, it was in fact composed by Brethren of different Masonic allegiances, particularly Masons from Ireland. Names such as Cunningham, Mulligan, Kennedy and Cockayne is evidence enough that the ‘Mother Lodge’ of St. John as it became affectionately known was a cosmopolitan lodge of Officers and men serving in the Garrison. St. John became the first known lodge to have worked outside the British Isles, however, due to the difficulties of communications as a result of the siege the lodge did not receive its official warrant until 1728 by which time the Three Fleur de Luces Lodge No. 50, in Madrid, founded by the Jacobite Duke of Wharton on the 15th February 1728 had already submitted and received approval of their own petition and therefore have been credited with this distinction. There is however absolutely no disputing the fact that the first Provincial Grand Master outside the British Isles was granted to Gibraltar also in 1727.


            The great schism of 1751 resulted in the formation of a new Grand Lodge whose members called themselves ‘Antients’ claiming that the premier Grand Lodge or ‘Moderns’ had departed from the ‘Antient Landmarks of the Order’ whereas they, by virtue of practicing masonry according to the ‘Antient Constitutions’ maintained the principles and tenets of the Craft without deviation as contained in the ‘Antient Charges’. By warranting traveling Lodges to Regiments in the British Army and Provincial Grand Lodges in the Colonies, with authority to constitute new lodges locally, the ‘Ancients’ did much to spread English Masonry abroad. It was this spread that became instrumental in the diffusion of the active Masonic principles of Brotherly love, relief and truth amongst men of different countries, colour and religious or political persuasions. Many stories of Masonic assistance to a Brother in need became well known and celebrated as Masonic legends. The following anecdote from the History of the Lodge Falkirk No. 16, now the St. John’s Lodge No. 16 S.C is well worth including for it contains particular references to Gibraltar:


‘Mr. Dickson, a member of some of the lodges in Scotland, was sailing from Gibraltar to some port in Italy. During his voyage he had the misfortune to be in danger of shipwreck from a storm which over took him, which obliged him to run his ship ashore on the Spanish shore, under the walls of Terragona. Mr. Dickson and his crew were seized as King’s prisoners, and carried before the Governor of the place, Don Antonio de Pizarro, who treated them with the upmost humanity. He expressed a great deal of anxiety for Mr. Dickson, as he would be under the necessity of sending him and his crew to Cadiz, where he could not say how long they would remain, as there was no cartel betwixt Britain and Spain. After they had conversed a while, Don Antonio inquired at Mr. Dickson for several persons at Gibraltar whom he knew were Masons, which made him conjecture that Don Antonio himself was a Mason. Mr. Dickson gave him a sign, which Don Antonio returned, who afterwards treated him and his crew with the greatest affection, and he gave Don Antonio no small pleasure to find it was in his power to relieve a distressed Brother. He gave orders so that nothing might impede Mr. Dickson’s journey, whom, because of his being a Brother, he gave liberty with his crew to return to Gibraltar, and supplied him with all the necessaries for the journey. When he arrived at Gibraltar he informed the Governor of what had happened, who was so charmed with the story that he sent back sixteen Spaniards to Don Antonio, and the same night he was made a Mason. Mr. Dickson wrote home on account of the whole affair to the Grand Master of Scotland, who has with his own hand wrote a letter of thanks to Don Antonio, and ordered the story to be recorded in the books of the Grand Lodge. As this generous conduct of Don Antonio de Pizarro does honour to Masonry, the Grand Master has ordered Don Antonio to be assumed as a nominal member of all the regular lodges in Scotland.


‘The lodge having considered the above affair, unanimously consented to the same, and Don Antonio was accordingly enrolled a member of the lodge of Falkrik.’


            Unfortunately, not all anecdotes recorded in the history of Freemasonry in Gibraltar credit the Craft with similar principles. In 1767 members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Artillery constituted a Lodge in Perth, Scotland. This Lodge had been granted a Travelling Warrant by John, 3rd Duke of Atholl who was then Grand Master of the ‘Ancients’. The arrival of an ‘Antient’ lodge in Gibraltar was not received too well by the other two locally constituted Lodges, who worked under the ‘Moderns’, that is “Mother Lodge” and the Lodge of Inhabitants (not our present Inhabitant’s Lodge but one much older). The situation escalated when these two Lodges attempted to exclude No. 148 from taking part in the customary public procession on St. John’s day on the 27th December 1773 on account of this Lodge working under a ‘spurious’ warrant. It was on this occasion the Brethren of four Irish military lodges who came to the assistance of the discriminated members of No. 148. Captain Murray R.N, a senior Irish mason was also instrumental in convincing the Governor of Gibraltar, the Hon. Edward Cornwallis of the authenticity of the said Warrant. In the end No. 148 was permitted to take its rightful place in the traditional Masonic procession. In time both ‘Mother Lodge’ and the Lodge of Inhabitants ceased to exist and were eventually erased, No. 148 however would evolve into our present Lodge of St. John No. 115, replacing ‘Mother Lodge’ as the most senior Lodge in Gibraltar.


            War always throws up interesting anecdotes and the Great Siege of Gibraltar was no exception. Curiously a the time the Great Siege began, the Brethren of No. 148, all artillery men, were actually in the middle of a Masonic meeting. The Lodge was hurriedly called from labour to refreshment to man the guns and it was not until early in 1783 that the Brethren again assembled and were called from refreshment to labour. The Lodge was then closed in due and ancient form after three and a half years, a truly Masonic record! It is also recorded that the refreshments afterwards consisted of bread, cheese and beer! However, not all Masonic activities were suspended on the Rock, the Minutes of the Inhabitants Lodge which at the time was known as Ordnance Lodge No. 202 continued to meet throughout the siege despite the difficult conditions as is evident from entries in the minutes. The entry for the 15th December, 1780 records:


‘Brother Robert Young being found worthy of more wages was raised accordingly, the Lodge communicated a short lecture, as the precarious state of the Garrison did not allow for the usual formalities.’


            By the end of the Great Siege in 1783 there were no less than fourteen lodges of various Constitutions working in Gibraltar. These consisted of two Modern lodges, five Antients, six Irish and one Scottish lodge. Of particular interest is the formation of a Hannoverian Lodge (Reden’s Regiment) from serving Hanoverian military members of Ordnance Lodge No. 202 (Inhabitant’s No. 153). Robert Freke Gould Lodge is therefore the second daughter lodge that evolved from Inhabitant’s and not the first as many believe, but time does not permit for more elucidation this evening.


            We now move into the 19th Century and in particular to 1813 and the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England after the amalgamation of the ‘Antients’ and ‘Modern’ Grand Lodges. All lodges were required to apply for a Union number in the new United Grand Lodge and this resulted in a frenzied scramble to prove, even by dubious means, the authenticity and seniority of the particular lodges. In England for example warrants were bought and sold and lodges amalgamated simply to obtain a lower, and hence a more prestigious number and position in the roll of registered lodges. In Gibraltar, Artillery Lodge No. 148 adopted the name St. John as the most senior Lodge after the demise of the original ‘Mother Lodge’, Ordnance Lodge No. 202 adopted the name Inhabitants after another defunct Lodge constituted in 1762 and Friendship amalgamated with Calpean Lodge, using the name Friendship but working under the name and number of the older lodge. These changes have caused a lot of confusion in the history of the various lodges in particular Inhabitants who as a result lost their original warrant for many years and only through a stroke of luck found the original many years later as we will see later.


            The relationship of the Craft and the local Catholic Church had always been cordial, not least due to the fact that many prominent Catholics and benefactors were also Freemasons. This all changed with the appointment of first Roman Catholic Bishop, the Rt. Reverend Henry Hughes. It was to be the death of the local Lodges’ Tyler Giacomo Celecia, a member of Calpe Lodge No. 325, on the 26th August 1840 that sparked the first action by the Catholic Church in Gibraltar against Freemasons. The controversy broke out when a Masonic emblem (square and compass) was found on the exterior of the coffin, the officiating priest immediately retired and refused to proceed with the internment. When Bishop Hughes was informed of the occurrence he desired the emblems of Masonry to be effaced, which was instantly compiled with. He then made further objections, and at length refused positively to give the body Christian burial because it was the body of a Freemason. For three days his body laid in the Church of St. Mary the Crowned whilst a frantic solution was negotiated but to no avail, Bishop Hughes remained defiant and uncompromising. In the end the body was buried thanks to the intervention the Provincial Grand Master of Gibraltar the Rev. Dr. Burrows who was also Bishop of the Anglican Church. The Lodge of Friendship would later vote a pair of candelabra to the Provincial Grand Master in thanks for having assisted in the burial of Brother Celecia after his own Church had refused him Christian burial. The Bishop’s reign as Head of the Apostolic Church in Gibraltar was always plagued with controversy especially with his uncompromising methods used in relation to the administration of Church finances and running of local schools. He was even imprisoned briefly for contempt of Court. However, the damage as far as the relationship between the Church and Fraternity on the Rock had been done and has still not healed fully.


            In 1858 the moribund Inhabitants Lodge was revived by two men, Lt. Robert Freke Gould and Sergeant Francis George Irwin. Both men would enjoy a long and illustrious Masonic career, however Irwin who succeeded Gould as Worshipful Master set about to sort out the papers of the lodge and made a startling discovery. Informing WBro. W.G. Clarke D.G. Sec of his find he wrote:


I felt much surprised on making a careful examination of the nearly obliterated Warrant of 178 to find it named the Ordnance Lodge, on searching amongst the rubbish I discovered the real Warrant, much to the surprise of the oldest member of the Inhabitants’ those who were members in 1828, worked on the Warrant we are now using without having discovered this mistake – I enclose copies of each, and send for further instructions.


Yours respectfully

F.G Irwin

WM Inhabitants’ Lodge

9th August 1859


            Irwin never realized it at the time, but he had in fact discovered the original Warrant of the Lodge of Inhabitants’ constituted in 1763 under the authority of the Modern’s Grand Lodge. Irwin however was to further confuse the issue by adopting his newly discovered Warrant as the real Warrant of the Lodge and retaining the other, that of Ordnance as his own personal property, believing it to be no more than a Masonic antiquity of a previously lapsed military Lodge in the Garrison. When he left the Rock a few years later, he took the Ordnance Warrant with him. As a result the Lodges’ most valuable treasure remained lost for a quarter of a century. In the interim, the Inhabitants Lodge and applied for and obtained on the 1st October a Centenary Warrant and special jewel much to the surprise if not a little consternation from the members of St. John No. 132, who quite rightly disputed the legality of the said Warrant. The matter was referred to the District Grand Lodge for arbitration and from there to Grand Lodge who finally issued Inhabitants with a copy of the original warrant. It was only through a stroke of good fortune that the original warrant was re-discovered.


            It was the newly appointed District Grand Master, Sir Henry Burford-Hancock a subscribing member of the elite Quator Coronati Lodge No. 2076 and a close friend of the Masonic historian James Hughan that led to the discovery of the missing warrant. According to the minutes of the Inhabitants Lodge the discovery originated when Bro. Hughan visited his friend and fellow Quator Coronati Brother Major Irwin P.M of 153 at his Bristol residence in September 1885, it was there whilst perusing through the personal library of Bro. Irwin that he made a startling discovery, finding the long lost Warrant of the Inhabitants’ Lodge amongst a collection of old Masonic papers. On being informed of the significance of the discovery Bro. Irwin had no hesitation in entrusting the priceless Warrant into the hands of Bro. Hughan, who wasted no time in communicating the same to his old friend Sir Henry Burford-Hancock the District Grand Master of Gibraltar. At an emergency meeting arranged for Friday 4th December1885 that the warrant was finally returned by Sir Henry Burford-Hancock to a very grateful lodge.


            In 1882 another Masonic schism threatened the Rock when the number of competing jurisdictions in the Sultanate of Morocco was increased by the establishment of a Lodge under the authority of the Grand Lodge of Manitobia (Canada). The “Special Deputy” entrusted with a warrant for the formation of the Lodge in Tangiers granted the founders permission to assemble temporarily in Gibraltar. This action almost immediately brought the new Lodge in direct confrontation with the District Grand Lodge of Gibraltar and the other Lodges in its sister Constitutions. The District Grand Lodge of Gibraltar was successful in opposing the establishment of the Tangier Lodge within its jurisdiction and the Lodge was subsequently removed to San Roque, Andalusia before transferring to Tangiers. The Tangier Lodge therefore not receiving any official support from the English Constitution it was left up to the Brethren from the Scottish Constitution in the St. Thomas Lodge to support the fledgling and apparently struggling Lodge. Less than a year later the Tangier Lodge surrendered its Warrant issued by the distant Grand Lodge of Manitobia and took out a new one under the authority of the Grand Lodge of Scotland as Lodge Al Mogreb Al Aksa No. 670 S.C. The establishment of a second Scottish Lodge in Gibraltar made possible the appointment in 1884 of Bro. Thomas Joseph Haynes, the founder of St. Thomas Lodge as the first Provincial Grand Master of the Scottish Constitution in Gibraltar.


            We now move on to the 20th Century and another anecdote of particular interest to members of St. John No. 115. In 1936 Spain was plunged into Civil War. Throughout the period of conflict, Gibraltar observed strict neutrality as dictated by British Foreign Policy of non-intervention in the Spanish conflict. Local freemasons particularly the members of the Lodge of St. John No. 115, once again took on the role of fraternal custodian, lifesaver, protecting and aiding by all possible means the ‘Sons of the Widow’ [Freemasons] of the Campo Lodges.  The emblematic phoenix identified with the Lodge of St. John once again symbolized hope, a flicker of light amidst a sea of darkness, which had once again descended on the Iberian Peninsular.  The assistance, however general that was offered by local Freemasons to their Spanish counterparts became a source of increasing worry to the District Grand Master Lt. Col. Ellis who saw the political implications of any such assistance as contrary to the directives from Grand Lodge. He had already reminded the Brethren of the District as early as 1936 ‘to observe the Constitutions very strictly in regards to visitors and members, particularly in the present time.’ The Lodge of St. John however, continued to maintain fraternal contact with Spanish Masons exiled on the Rock and in 1944 the members were stunned to find that their Lodge’s privilege of conducting the business of the Lodge in Spanish, historically maintained since 1827 was withdrawn by order of the Grand Master. The decision of the Grand Master to withdraw this privilege has never been explained but it does appear that the Grand Master acted on the advice of the District Grand Master, Lt. Col. Ellis who constantly advocated against Masonic interaction with Masonic Bodies from the unrecognized Spanish Constitutions. The membership of the Lodge of St. John resorted to a silent but dignified protest against the perceived injustice to their treasured privilege. As an act of defiance the Lodge henceforth refused to comply with the new instructions by not initiating any new members to the Lodge, thereby not having to act in accordance with the directive either. No degree was conferred on any candidate for the next twelve years, the Officers and members of the Lodge assembling only for the purpose of fulfilling their obligation of opening and closing the Lodge during their monthly regular meetings.  Despite a worrying decline in membership to the Lodge the Brethren remained firm on their convictions and persisted in their resolute stand until the privilege was restored in 1956 on the advice of the then Deputy District Grand Master Anthony Mena, member of St. John. Ironically Mena had been a very senior member of the Grand Lodge of Spain before the Civil War; he would succeed Ellis as District Grand Master of Gibraltar four years later.


            The last anecdote worthy of mention occurred not in Gibraltar but in Morocco soon after it gained its independence from France in the mid 1950’s. The new Moroccan authorities suspicious of all Western influences refused to recognize Freemasonry in that country and both New Friendship Lodge No. 4997 and Coronation Lodge No. 934 Scottish Constitution were forced into temporary dormancy until arrangements could be made to transfer the Lodges to Gibraltar once again. Lodge No. 4997 was revived and renamed ‘Gibraltar Lodge’ at the same evening it was proposed and agreed to transfer the lodge to London where it still works and bears that name today. The Gibraltar Lodge No. 4997 became a popular choice for Gibraltarian Freemasons residing in London and their regular meetings were still included in our G.M.I Masonic Lodge Calendar well into the late 1990’s as I am sure many of you may well remember. The successful revival of the New Friendship Lodge in Gibraltar probably inspired the Scottish District Grand Lodge of Gibraltar to attempt a similar transfer of the Coronation Lodge Charter to Gibraltar. On the 20th September 1964, the Grand Lodge of Scotland agreed to the request and authorized the transfer. In February 1965, Coronation Lodge held its first Installation Ceremony with Bro. Anthony J. Segui becoming the first Master of the Lodge in Gibraltar.  For the next twelve years Coronation Lodge did not initiate any candidates in order not to compete with the other two Sister Lodges of the Scottish Constitution. It would not be until the 25th March 1977 that Bro. Mario Chipolina Master of the Lodge initiated the first local candidate Joseph Louis ‘Tich’ Olivero and Coronation once again became a full working Lodge.


            As you can see Brethren, the history of Freemasonry in Gibraltar is long and colourful. It has had an illustrious history that would be regarded with envy by many other Masonic jurisdictions anywhere in the world. It has survived internal schisms, wars, epidemics and even social and religious intolerance at various periods of its existence. However, it has survived them all, and despite what we may think or say today, it continues to thrive. We have more Lodges, Chapters and other Side Degrees than at any other time in our history. We have three strong and ably led Districts and Inspectorate and still maintain the calibre of men with the determination, ability and confidence to steer Freemasonry well into the future. I am sure Brethren, that they will be many more anecdotes and events of interests still to record for posterity.




WBro. Keith Sheriff

Lecture delivered in the St. Bernard’s Lodge of Research

7th February 2008