Civil rights advocate and art collector John Bowes seemed destined for masonic greatness. Philippa Faulks discovers the Provincial Grand Master who never was
John Bowes is best known for the magnificent Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham. Created with his wife Joséphine as a legacy for future generations, it now houses some of Britain’s most treasured artworks and has been compared to the Wallace Collection in London.
Born on 19 June 1811 in London, Bowes was the illegitimate son of John Bowes-Lyon, the 10th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. The Earl had engaged in a long affair with Mary Milner, a commoner, only marrying her 16 hours before his death in 1820, when his son was nine years old. The marriage did not prevent Bowes-Lyon’s brother Thomas claiming the title of 11th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.
Young Bowes’ legitimacy was questioned and the courts agreed that he would inherit the English estates – including the Gibside estate and Streatlam Castle – and that his uncle would come into the Scottish estates and earldom. Bowes was brought up by his mother at Gibside and later gained a BA at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1832.
Bowes had a keen interest in theatre and art, notably due to his friendship with novelist and satirical cartoonist William Makepeace Thackeray. He ventured to Paris in 1832 and returned many times, having a financial interest in the Théâtre des Variétés. It was also where he met his future wife.
Back in Britain, Bowes was responsible for the Strathmore English estates, but his other main passion was horse racing. He owned Streatlam Stud and his finest triumph came with the horse West Australian, who won the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St Leger Stakes in 1854, a feat later dubbed as winning ‘the Triple Crown’.
Politician and philanthropist
Bowes was the Liberal Party MP for South Durham between 1832 and 1847 and a political reformer. He was an advocate for civil rights, religious freedom of expression and the abolition of colonial slavery – all qualities that would complement his masonic career. Of all the biographies available, however, little or no mention is made of his curious appointment as Provincial Grand Master of Durham in 1845.
According to masonic records, Bowes was initiated into Scientific Lodge, No. 131 (now No. 88), on 19 May 1831, while at Cambridge. Duly passed and raised, he then joined the now erased Union Lodge of Barnard Castle, No. 667, in 1842. He became a member of what is now Palatine Lodge, No. 97 (formerly Sea Captains’ Lodge, No. 218), in 1845 and joined the London-based Lodge of Friendship, No. 6, the following year.
According to a paper by CE Hardy entitled ‘John Bowes, The PGM who was never installed’, in the early part of 1845 Bowes was PGM-designate for the province of Durham. However, how, when or by whom he was recommended is still a mystery.
In October 1845 it was announced by Sir Cuthbert Sharp DPGM, at a meeting of Lodge of Industry, No. 56 (now No. 48), ‘that his [Bowes’] installation would take place at as early a date as could be arranged’. The announcement was received with ‘great satisfaction by the brethren present’ and ‘a general revival of Freemasonry in the Province’ was expected to result.
Bowes, however, was never installed and resigned from the appointment in 1847. A copy of a letter from the Grand Master, Thomas Dundas, 2nd Earl of Zetland, to Bowes states that: ‘Although I sincerely regret to lose your cooperation as a mason, yet I admit that under the circumstances you are perfectly right in resigning the office of Prov GM of Durham.’
So, what was the reason behind ‘the PGM who never was’? Hardy’s research suggests a catalogue of unfortunate circumstances and miscommunications.
Around this time, Bowes was travelling back and forth to France, partly for business but more likely affairs of the heart; he was enamoured with the actress Joséphine Benoîte Coffin-Chevalier, an avid art collector. It was this liaison that would later lead to the creation of the County Durham museum.
Bowes was in the swansong years of his political career, leaving him free to pursue his philanthropy. It is probable that the delays caused by his absences, and the sudden illness of his supporter Sir Cuthbert Sharp, caused Bowes to decide that he could not fulfil the expectations of him as PGM.
Bowes’ masonic career did not stall completely with these events, however. He became a founder member of Barnard Lodge, No. 1230, in 1868, and contributed £100 towards building the masonic hall.
‘He was an advocate for civil rights, religious freedom of expression and the abolition of colonial slavery.’
Bowes and Joséphine married in 1852 and oversaw work on the museum, although neither lived to see its completion. Joséphine laid the foundation stone in 1869, despite being gravely ill, and died in 1874; Bowes died on 9 October 1885. He would have been heartened to know that the 1892 opening was ‘attended by local lodges in full masonic regalia’.
In April 2009 the museum added another masonic connection. During restorations, a local stonemason found an old beer bottle with a note inside:
‘I wonder if this flue will ever be reopened? If it should be, and this bottle should still survive, the finder may be interested to find this brief record…
I, the writer, am the second curator of the museum, and have held the appointment for nearly 22 years. I am 54 years of age – a Churchman and Conservative, and a Past Master of the Barnard Lodge of Freemasons, No. 1230.’
Signed in 1906 by one Owen Stanley Scott, it is a fitting reminder of a legacy built on Freemasonry.
With grateful thanks to Adam Lamb, Provincial Museum and Library, Sunderland; Martin Cherry, Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London; and John Acaster
Embracing tolerance and approaching life with an open mind, it’s no coincidence that the Duke of Sussex played such a pivotal role in shaping modern Freemasonry, writes Malta Grand Inspector Dr Lawrence Porter
The Duke of Sussex, Grand Master from 1813 to 1843, is a towering figure in the history of English Freemasonry. He played a pivotal role in the unification of the Premier and Antient Grand Lodges to form the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813. It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of his influence on the structure and status of modern English Freemasonry. Without his vision, energy and, above all, his sense of tolerance, the United Grand Lodge of England would not exist in its present form. Just imagine if we still had two competing Grand Lodges and how this would dampen the effectiveness of English Freemasonry throughout the world.
Augustus Fredrick was born a Royal Prince on 27 January 1773, the ninth of the fifteen children of George III and Queen Charlotte. On 27 November 1801, at the age of twenty-eight, the King made him Duke of Sussex.
Augustus had a reputation for open-mindedness and was considered the most liberal of his siblings, being something of a social reformer. He was educated abroad, entering the University of Göttingen in 1786 at the age of thirteen. He was the only one of the princes not to pursue a military career, although some commentators have attributed this to the fact that he suffered from asthma rather than his well-known liberal propensities.
In opposition to the views of some of his older brothers, in particular the Duke of Cumberland, Augustus favoured Catholic Emancipation. He was also, despite his devout Christianity, a strong supporter of the Jewish community. In 1815, the Duke accepted patronage of the Jews’ Hospital and Orphan Asylum, which survives to this day as the charity Norwood.
He also lent his influence to promote various benevolent schemes and was once referred to as ‘the most charming beggar in Europe’.
Augustus was a prominent supporter of the arts and also of scientific research and progress. He became president of the Society of Arts in 1816 and president of the Royal Society in 1830. An active president of the Royal Society, Augustus hosted many parties at Kensington Palace, often at great personal expense.
Augustus was initiated into the Lodge of Victorious Truth in Berlin in 1798 while studying in Germany.
He took rapidly to masonry, eventually occupying the Chair of his German Lodge. Back in England, in 1800 Augustus joined his brother George’s Prince of Wales Lodge, now No. 259. The Duke joined the Lodge of Friendship, No. 6, in 1806 and Antiquity, No. 2, in 1808. In 1814, he was instrumental in the resuscitation and, later, amalgamation of several lodges to form Royal Alpha Lodge, No. 16 – which was the Grand Master’s personal lodge and remains so until this day.
In 1813, Augustus was elected Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge while his elder brother, the Duke of Kent, became Grand Master of the Antients, and they became involved in the completion of the negotiations for the unification of the two Grand Lodges.
The Articles of Union were finalised at the end of 1813 and on 27 December 1813, the Duke of Kent graciously stood aside for his younger brother to take the reins of the new Grand Lodge. Augustus remained Grand Master for thirty years until his death in 1843. He referred to the union of the two Grand Lodges as ‘the happiest event of my life’.
Augustus was a very hands-on Grand Master, resolving ‘to rule as well as to reign’. He attended some of the meetings of the special Lodge of Reconciliation (1813-1816), personally chaired the Board of General Purposes and was involved in the detail of all of the major Board decisions. The Union did not proceed quite as smoothly as it might appear from our vantage point, two hundred years further on. Indeed, Augustus faced significant resistance to the changes necessary to bring together two proud organisations with similar aims and ceremonies, but with important differences.
‘Augustus astounded the nation by becoming the first royal to be buried in a public graveyard. After his death in 1843, he was laid to rest in Kensal Green Cemetery.’
Demonstrating his independent thinking, Augustus astounded the nation by becoming the first royal to be buried in a public graveyard. After his death on 21 April 1843, and following the instructions recorded in his will, he was laid to rest in Kensal Green Cemetery in North London. Such a choice of burial place by a royal prince required the permission of Queen Victoria. He had been the Queen’s favourite uncle and gave her away at her wedding to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840. The Spectator of 29 April 1843 wrote: ‘Her acquiescence in his selection of a place of burial may be received as an indication that she understood as well as loved him.’
A visit to the Kensal Green Cemetery is worthwhile. After the Duke’s burial there, and later the burial of his sister, Princess Sophie, the cemetery became fashionable and many famous people followed suit. However, the inscription on the tombstone is now difficult to read and I believe that Freemasons would do well to pay more attention to the final resting place of our Grand Master.
When England took control of Mauritius in 1810, first British governor and Freemason Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar brought unity to the island, writes Mary Allan
On the wall of the Mauritius Turf Club, the oldest turf club in the southern hemisphere, there is a portrait of a man in his prime. He sits framed between winged caryatids. His attire has a faded grandeur, while his expression is subdued, almost quizzical. Around his neck is a blue ribbon from which hangs a masonic jewel. The man is Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar, who in December 1810 became the first British governor of Mauritius after its capitulation by the French.
Born in 1776, Farquhar attended Westminster School, where in 1789 he became a King’s Scholar. Just before his seventeenth birthday, he left formal education and set sail for India, where he took up a position as a writer with the East India Company. It was the beginning of a career that saw him progress rapidly through the company until 1804 when he was installed as Lieutenant Governor of Prince of Wales Island (Penang). In 1810, Farquhar was declared Governor of Mauritius and, apart from one further home leave, spent more than a decade dealing with the problems of an island where French colonial ways continued much as before the British takeover.
Farquhar’s career has proved relatively easy to research but his masonic trail was harder to piece together, not least because it did not begin in India, where lodges were already in existence. Nor did Farquhar join at any other point in the Far East. Instead, he waited until his first home leave, when his brother, Thomas Harvie, an active member of the Lodge of Friendship, No. 3 (now No. 6) proposed his nomination on 11 December 1806. This ancient lodge, constituted in 1721, held its meetings at The Thatched House Tavern, St James’s Street, London, a mere stride from his brother’s No. 16 residence.
Farquhar’s initiation took place on 12 February 1807 and although he rarely attended masonic meetings over the next two years, records show that he went through his second and third degree ceremonies on the same day, 9 February 1809, prior to his return to India. Lodge minutes for May of that year state: ‘Robert Townsend Farquhar having sailed to India was ordered that he be considered an Honorary Member during his absence.’
Members of the lodge included HRH the Duke of Sussex, politicians, bankers and high-ranking military men, several of them noted as ‘abroad’. The lodge’s status is further emphasised by a donation of fifty guineas in 1812 towards a ‘jewel’ for Lord Moira to mark his service as Acting Grand Master.
Was the jewel among Lord Moira’s luggage when he visited Mauritius on his way to take up his new position as Governor-General of India in 1813? Did he wear it on 19 August when he, together with Farquhar and the island’s Freemasons, paraded through the capital, Port Louis, to lay the foundation stone of St Louis Cathedral?
a lodge in his honour
Farquhar had fully embraced the concept of Mauritian fraternity from the moment he stepped ashore on 4 December 1810. By 1816 the first British lodge had been founded, Faith and Loyalty, No. 676, and Farquhar was recognised as Provincial Grand Master.
There is no record of Farquhar attending his lodge when he returned on home leave between 1818 and 1820, but following his resignation from governorship in 1823 he signed the Tyler’s Book of the Lodge of Friendship, No. 3 on 11 December. This was his last appearance at the lodge and his subscription to the United Grand Lodge of England ceased in 1824. In the lodge notes on officers holding high rank, Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar of Bruton Street, London, is listed as Provincial Grand Master of Mauritius. His rank as ProvGM, patented 1811, is confirmed in the Masonic Year Book. This patent was awarded during Lord Moira’s term as Acting Grand Master on behalf of the Prince Regent.
In the 19th century the appointment of a Provincial Grand Master did not presuppose the existence of a lodge or lodges in the county or territory for which he was appointed. There are instances that show that an appointment of a Provincial Grand Master was occasionally simply ‘an honour conferred’ and nothing more. The issue of a Patent of Appointment was almost certainly all that was necessary for Farquhar to be established in the office.
In 2010, to mark the bicentenary of the British takeover of Mauritius and to honour the first British Governor and Provincial Grand Master, the then first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mauritius, Lindsay Descombes, consecrated a new lodge, Sir Robert Farquhar Research Lodge, No 16. In his inaugural speech, he saluted Farquhar for bringing unity to Mauritius: ‘History tells us that [Farquhar] did a remarkable job to bring entente cordiale, peace and understanding between the French settlers and the English rulers.’
Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar is the subject of a book, "The Man and the Island" by Michael and Mary Allan, which was published to coincide with the bicentenary of the British takeover of the island
In New Zealand, many of Wellington’s citizens will be aware of a perfectly ordinary road called Majoribanks Street running out of town from Courtenay Place. They may perhaps know that it should correctly be spelled Marjoribanks and pronounced Marchbanks. However, they are less likely to know that it commemorates a man who, although having never visited the island country in the Pacific, may truly be numbered among the founding fathers of the nation.
Stewart Marjoribanks was the third of five sons of Edward Marjoribanks of Lees, just north of the Scottish border with England, all of whom distinguished themselves in their various fields. The eldest brother, John, remained in Scotland, became Lord Provost of Edinburgh (twice), an MP and Depute Grand Master of Scotland. Campbell, Stewart and Edward all came to London around the turn of the century, while James became a judge in India.
Campbell twice became chairman of the East India Company, Stewart a most successful owner of a fleet of merchantmen and Edward a senior partner in Coutts & Co. Bank. It is, incidentally, perhaps in the family friendship with Thomas Coutts that the key to their extraordinary and sudden prominence lies. They were in any case a very talented group, but a helping hand never comes amiss.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to pin down Stewart’s early career to precise dates, but a letter from 1820 mentions that in that year he was expecting to be returned unopposed as MP for Hythe. This election conferred on him the ancient title of ‘Baron of the Cinque Ports’ (founded originally to defend the coast from the French) and the right to bear the canopy at the coronation of George IV while girt with a sword (which is still in possession of Watford Lodge).
Involved and Influential
Stewart’s masonic career began in February 1811, when he was initiated into the Lodge of Friendship, No. 6, a ‘Moderns’ lodge of great prestige meeting in Bond Street. Although the final achievement of the union was still a couple of years in the future, concrete steps were already being taken, in which members of this lodge took a leading part. Stewart made his masonic reputation as a member of this lodge, for he became Senior Grand Warden in 1823, the year before joining the equally prestigious Royal Alpha Lodge. This is traditionally the lodge of the Grand Master and in due course Stewart served as Deputy Master to the Duke of Sussex.
Much more is known about Stewart’s membership of Bamborough Lodge, No. 580, which he joined in 1830, and which was eventually renamed and numbered as Watford Lodge, No. 404. Here he is well remembered as an assiduous, authoritative and kindly member, and can be recalled physically through his portrait by John Lennell, which still hangs in the Temple in the west. He came to Watford when he and Campbell bought Bushey Grove House as their country seat. Stewart joined the Royal Arch in Cyrus Chapter, No. 21, in 1813 and became a founder of the Chapter of Friendship, No. 3 (now No. 6), in 1824, in which year he became Assistant Grand Sojourner (AGSoj).
As a member of Watford Lodge, Stewart was a distinctly big fish in a moderate pond. He apparently introduced a number of well-known men to the lodge, culminating in the agreement of the Duke of Sussex to become an Honorary Member. He was Worshipful Master for two consecutive years from 1835 to 1836 (the lodge numbered some seventy-one masons) and was elected again in 1841, although ill health appears to have prevented his installation. He is said to have been regular in attendance except when his Parliamentary duties kept him away, though with advancing years he was unable to play a very active part after turning seventy. He married a lodge widow, Lady Rendlesham, but the union produced no children. He appears to have been a popular and effective member of the lodge and promoter of its interests.
It is worth remembering that Stewart’s masonic career coincides with the first generation of the United Grand Lodge of England after the resolution of the schism between the Moderns and the Ancients which had so marred the half century previous to 1813. The Duke of Sussex, as Most Worshipful Grand Master, must have felt that Stewart, with his easy personality and well-reputed integrity, was an ideal friend and support.
Meanwhile, Stewart’s business expanded apace from his premises in King’s Arms Yard. At first it appears that he traded mainly with India and China, which fitted in well with the interests of his brother Campbell and Thomas Coutts; but before long he turned to the Australia run (he invested substantially in the Australian Agricultural Company) and the growing interest in New Zealand through the New Zealand Company. We have evidence from one of his captains – Cole of the ‘Mellish’ in 1822 – that he was very much looked up to as a model for emulation, while in 1826 his captains clubbed together to present him with a gift of silver plate ‘in view of his much appreciated way of conducting himself towards them’.
As far as New Zealand was concerned, Stewart was very much the right man in the right place at the right time. He was well placed to win government contracts for the transport of troops and stores, but his major role seems to have been in implementing the official policy of encouraging emigration after the Treaty of Waitangi by transporting potential settlers of all classes, especially from Scotland. Here he was assisted by his distant cousin Alexander Marjoribanks of that ilk, chief of the family – it was not then recognised as a clan. Alexander’s prestige stood a great deal higher than his character warranted, but he did take ship to New Zealand and then on to New South Wales in 1840-41 and wrote very readable books about both colonies. To judge by the volume of Scottish settlers, the publicity gained was well worthwhile.
Round Peg in a Round Hole
As it happens, one of the ship’s officers kept a diary of the first leg of this trip and most entertaining it is – he makes clear that he is torn between respect for Alexander’s rank and contempt for his unworthy behaviour. He records with disapproval Alexander’s marriage on board to his maid and it is notable that no such marriage is officially recorded anywhere, nor did the lady proceed to New South Wales.
Bearing in mind the savagery of the Mãori wars that followed, one could be in two minds about the effects of Stewart’s work on New Zealand. However, the impression is of a diligent, conscientious and kindly businessman, ‘a round peg in a round hole’. As the 1840s progressed, ill health drove him into virtual retirement. Campbell had died in 1840 but Stewart lived on to the age of eighty-seven. Childless, he left Bushey Grove House to his nephew Edward (my great-grandfather), who promptly bankrupted himself by destroying it and building a monstrosity
in its place. And the explanation of the spelling and pronunciation of Majoribanks Street? A mystery, lost in the mists of history. Even the Marjoribankses themselves have no convincing explanation.