History of Lodge St John

The establishment of Freemasonry in the Kingdom of Thailand

Over the last hundred years, our Lodge has enjoyed practicing speculative Masonry in Bangkok, Thailand, although as may be found within the historical synopsis below, interest in establishing Freemasonry in Thailand preceded the initial Consecration of Lodge St. John in 1911 by many years.

Early trials

Group Photo 1913

As trade between Thailand and Europe increased, Bangkok became the second home for Expatriates, many of whom worked for Shipping Companies, Law Offices, Trading Companies and Banks. They brought with them their own customs and culture. That included Freemasonry, as can be seen by the Masonic symbols on some of the old headstones in the Christian Cemeteries.

The main push for the establishment of a Lodge in Bangkok came from the English, Irish & Scottish seafarers plying the Singapore Bangkok Singapore route as they were involved in Lodges in Singapore and wanted to have the same access in Thailand. In the late 1870s, they tried to find like-minded Brethren in Thailand by announcements in the Bangkok press and by personal contact but, by the early 1880s, it was decided there was insufficient response for any formal progress. Interest went dormant for some years but re-surfaced in 1898, when a message was sent from Bangkok to the Grand Lodge of England asking Grand Lodge if they could offer advice to the Masons from English, Irish, Scottish, Danish and German Constitutions, who were living in Thailand and who wanted to establish a Lodge.

Grand Lodge did offer advice, which arrived in 1890. It was from the Grand Secretary, Sir Edward Letchworth, and included the following sentence:

In view of the great distance of Bangkok to England, and the Complications which might arise in attempting to establish a Lodge in a Foreign State, the Most Worshipful Grand Master could not be recommended to grant a Warrant.

This dampened enthusiasm but not spirit. Furthermore, the English District Grand Lodge in Singapore continued to support the efforts of the Masons in Thailand and, by 1905, a Petition to the Grand Lodge of England was drafted, stating the desire to establish a new Lodge. This time, the Brethren felt it beneficial to prepare and submit a draft of regulations to be upheld, including:

  • Lodge Name: Lodge Menam, which is the old name for the river flowing through Bangkok.
  • Office Bearers: Names of Brethren proposed to fulfill roles as Lodge Officers.
  • Lodge Fees : for example, proposed dues were 60 Ticals per annum (Tical was the name for the Thai currency until 1925).

It is of note that the funding pledges for the establishment of Lodge Menam in Bangkok (the budgetary target was ten thousand Ticals) were given by Brethren who were Members of Lodges under the American, Tientsin, Hong Kong, Burmese, Irish, Scottish, Australian and German Constitutions.

Included in the Petition was the phrase:

We have the assurance of high Siamese Government officials that they will welcome the Introduction of Freemasonry into Siam and exclude it completely from the Secret Society Act.

However, during the time the Petition was being finalized, the Master-Elect took ill and died. This meant that the Petition had to be re-drafted, with a new Master-Elect. By late 1906, the earlier enthusiasm had dissipated, the concept of Lodge Menam was shelved and the Petition was not sent.

Consecration of Lodge St. John

Group Photo 1926

Not all was lost as a decision to change to the Scottish Constitution emerged and it was agreed that overtures be made to the Scottish Grand Lodge in Edinburgh, to establish Lodge St. John in Bangkok. After another series of difficulties, the Charter of Lodge St. John 1072 S.C. was signed in Edinburgh in August 1910 and the Lodge was consecrated in Bangkok on 24 January 1911. It has met continuously since, except for the Second World War years of 1942–1945.

When it was Consecrated, Lodge St. John reported direct to the Grand Lodge in Edinburgh but, in 1954, it was agreed that it should be part of the Scottish District Grand Lodge of the Middle East, based in Kuala Lumpur. That meant that Lodge St. John became the second oldest Lodge in the District, after Lodge Scotia 1003, which was formed in 1906.

We feel it will be of interest to note that the oldest English Lodge in our District was Lodge Neptune 441 – it was Consecrated in 1810 but is now in darkness.

Lodge St John “wandered around” Bangkok as it searched for a permanent home. Among the places it met were:

  • The premises of Gerson & Sons in Silom Road
  • A rented house in Soi 39, Sukhumvit Road
  • The British Club

The Masters of the Lodge were Expatriates up to 1967 when Vilas (Joe) Bunnag became the first Thai to be elected to the Chair. Since then, it has been a mixture of Thai and Expatriate.

Due to the strong desire within the Lodge to have their own Temple, a plot of land was arranged by a Lodge Brother and the Lodge raised considerable funds from the Brethren, in Thailand. In addition, very generous contributions were made by Brethren from other parts of the District. The Building was designed by, the late, Brother Krisda Arunvongse, PM and was constructed under Masonic Brethren specialist supervision. Lodge St John settled into their new Temple Building in Bangkok and it was Consecrated in 2004.