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Histories of Space, Spaces of This article aims at exploring the role played by freemasonry in knitting Britain and its Indian empire closer together. It argues that masonic lodges played an instrumental role in facilitating the circulation of men, information, and ideas across the vast interconnected masonic network that came into being by the second half of the 18 th century. As a form of sociability, the lodges also contributed to creating a familiar environment, a reservoir of Britishness, that would contribute to making the Briton feel at home, thus creating a social and cultural continuity between the mother country and the Indian Empire, and a degree of of inteconnectedness to the Anglo-Indian world.

Studied as a transnational force linking the metropole to the colonial periphery, freemasonry brings together these two spaces within the same analytical frame. This may explain why it was so closely associated to the British Empire. In India, masonic lodges spawned in the wake of the trading agreements and territorial expansion carried out by the East India Company. Thirteen years only separate the creation of the Grand Lodge of England, the first masonic governing body, from the constitution of the first lodge on the Indian subcontinent.

The emergence of this masonic network raises a number of questions. How can the rapid development of this British institution on the Indian subcontinent be accounted for? What made freemasonry so appealing to colonial agents? How did this vast masonic network function and communicate? Why were masonic lodges so effective in channelling information?

Was this process instrumental in binding together colonial India and the mother country? With this provocative assertion, taken from his The Expansion of England , Seeley sought to encourage his fellow historians to take on the history of the British Empire and include it in the purely domestic historical narrative that had dominated the field so far. Ironically, he contributed to the emergence of an entirely new field know as imperial history, somehow even more remote from the domestic history of Britain.

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While six lodges were operating in Bombay, the remaining five were spread out throughout the province, most notably in the cantonments of Berhampore , Cawnpore and Chunar. In Madras, the register for the year mentions the existence of 8 lodges, 3 in the city of Madras, 2 in St. Thomas Mount and 2 in Trichinipoly. Freemasonry was not as prosperous in the province of Bombay as only 2 lodges seem to have been in existence Gould The exportation to and rapid expansion of freemasonry in India bears testimony to the development of networking and wider phenomenon by which the British exported their cultural institutions and forms of sociability from the mother country to the colonial periphery.

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But then how can the early development of the masonic fraternal organization across India be explained? Initially, the Grand Lodges actively promoted the export of freemasonry to the Empire by granting warrants of constitution to the masons on the spot and providing the local lodges with material support. Besides, although freemasonry adopted a strong federal organization, local lodges enjoyed a fair level of autonomy, which allowed them to adapt to the unstable colonial context, most notably to go into abeyance in times of war and be reborn in times of peace, sometimes in different locations.

The Carnatic Military Lodge No. The Masonic network thus partly owed its success to the incredible adaptability of its structures. Faced with a dramatic increase in the number of lodges under their immediate supervision, the metropolitan Grand Lodges reached a point where they had no choice but to create an intermediate body. The Provincial Grand Lodge of Cheshire, founded in , was the first to serve this purpose. They channelled information across the Anglo-Indian Masonic Empire effectively, while coordinating the activity of local lodges, providing them with an indispensable degree of cohesion.

The task was rendered extremely difficult by the vastness of the jurisdictions they were entrusted with. In fact, they managed to provide the metropolitan authorities with detailed accounts concerning the state of individual lodges within their supervision.

Empire and Globalisation: Networks of People, Goods and Capital in the British World, C.1850 - 1914

The proceedings of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Bengal for provide a good illustration. The dispatch sent to the Grand Lodge of England comprised details about the 21 lodges within the province Firminger Besides, the news sent to the Grand Lodge of England was not solely limited to masonic matters. Many members of the lodge were officers of the Indian army, which accounts for the availability of such information and the desire to share it.

The three main structures of the network — the Grand Lodge, Provincial Grand Lodge and the local lodges — were connected through a vast chain of correspondence. Local lodges had always been expected to make regular returns to the Grand Lodges, in order to forward their fees, membership lists, and periodically report on their activity.

At the turn of the 18 th century, under the Unlawful Societies Act , this customary practice became a legal obligation, as the Grand Lodges were required to list the names of all members and visitors participating. Indian lodges were not exempt, and the exchanges of correspondence that ensued, which now constitute valuable material for the study of colonial freemasonry, formed the very nerves of the masonic communication network.

They provided cohesion and connectivity to distant limbs of the same body. Despite the obvious distance-related hardships, the masonic official correspondence network was paramount in knitting together the local and metropolitan masonic forces at work.

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The Masonic correspondence network is a case in point. This report sheds light on two of the main specificities of the British population in colonial India. Firstly, it was rather limited, especially when compared to that of the settlement colonies. At the end of the 18 th century, Calcutta numbered approximately 6, European residents, Madras 3,, while Bombay had a little more than 1, Clark Secondly, the British population was defined by the high mobility of its members.

Unsurprisingly, the composition and activity of local lodges mirrored this particular context. In , Lodge Star in the East No. Besides, many local masons travelled to and from the presidency towns and the mother country. On their return home, they often literally became news dispatchers, being personally entrusted with the correspondence of the Provincial Grand Lodge. Therefore, it adopted a set of rules and regulations that made it possible for the lodge to operate as its members moved from one building site to the next Prescott 6.

This piece of personal identification acted as a passport, offering instant recognition and a right to assistance to its holder. The importance of masonic membership in facilitating the circulation of men from Britain to India ought not to be underestimated.

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In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the British who were sent to serve under the banner of the East India Company were well aware of the benefits that could be derived from being a mason. The fact many of them joined a lodge on the very eve of their departure for India, tends to confirm the practical nature of their initiative. The circumstances in which Sir Charles Napier, one time commander-in-chief and then Governor of the province of Sind , was initiated into freemasonry are quite representative of this trend.

In fact, Napier sought masonic membership on the eve of embarking for Lisbon, where he was to integrate the 50 th infantry division.

He most likely knew how beneficial it would be in the long military career he had ahead of him. In fact, the practice of joining a lodge before leaving the mainland was so commonplace that in , the Provincial Grand Lodge of Madras wrote a letter to the Grand Lodge of England to complain about it:.

We think it our indispensable duty to acquaint the Right Worshipful Master the Grand Lodge, that with concern we have seen persons possessed of certificates granted by regular lodges, who we are sorry to say are utter strangers to any knowledge of freemasonry, proceeding from their being precipitately made, passed and raised, on the eve of their departure from Europe, to the great discredit of the Craft.

The overwhelming majority were administrators, military men or merchants of the East India Company. All three categories of members played a major part in diffusing information in the sense that they were key political and economic actors who often travelled extensively across the Masonic network. Based on this account, it becomes tempting to suggest that masonic membership offered great opportunities in terms of access to the great variety of intelligence transiting through the masonic network.

Besides, the high concentration of merchants amongst Indian lodges turned them into a highly prized social venue for the quantity of up-to-date commercial information made available, especially regarding the East Indian market. According to its membership list, lodge Perfect Unanimity No. One can easily imagine that it offered the kind of commercial opportunity mentioned by Hancock. In commercial ventures, trust was of the essence, and shared masonic membership could act as a form of guarantee.

The establishment of the first joint stock bank of Madras, in June , is a case in point. Out of the 8 founders of what came to be known as the Carnatic Bank, one of the first British private banks of India, at least five were masons. This further confirms that masonic membership could serve as a form of backing for commercial ventures. Much has been written about freemasonry as a form of assistance to mobility and more particularly to emigration. But colonial lodges were also instrumental in creating a familiar environment, a reservoir of Britishness that could contribute to making Britons feel at home by creating a sense of belonging to a British community, cultural and political, that transcended the distance separating Britain from its Indian Empire.

Freemasonry was an integral part of this phenomenon. Of course, masonic lodges were not the only form of sociability on offer in colonial India. Towards the end of the 18 th century, a growing number of coffee houses and punch houses were created alongside several clubs and societies.

In fact, many of these clubs and societies shared the same members and contributed to federating the colonial local elite. Several Governors-General, including the Earl of Cornwallis , the Marquess of Wellesley , the Marquess of Hastings , and the Marquess of Dalhousie , were also high-ranking masonic officials.

Besides, joining a masonic lodge involved both local and international networks. In India, from the constitution of the first lodges all the way into the 19 th century, freemasonry held centre stage in the growing colonial public sphere Clark Masonic lodges organized processions, cornerstone layings, and banquets on an unequalled scale, receiving wide coverage in the local Indian newspapers. Most masonic events were advertised in the press. In the province of Madras, local lodges went as far as to advertise their meetings in the Madras Times Malden The editor, Charles Allen Lawson, was probably not too difficult to convince, as he was a mason himself.

One of the first lodges of the kind was named lodge Eastern Star No. For such a highly mobile class of Britons, the masonic lodge could then provide a structure binding men together around a common imperial experience, especially as such forms of imperial sociability seem to have been in high demand. Akerlof, G. Princeton: Princeton University Press, Google Scholar.

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