The birthplace of The Caledonian Lodge of Uganda was Kampala – described in the British Press as an ‘African Village’, but by 1935 was in fact a well-established township, and the major centre for the development of Uganda.

Uganda was some forty years old as a British Protectorate at this time. The ‘Pearl of Africa’ had been adopted in 1894, after hitting the headlines first of all when Speke stumbled on the long-sought source of the Nile at Jinja in 1858. Uganda was, and remains, a beautiful land – 4,000 feet above sea level to temper the equatorial sun, green and fertile, and blessed by the waters of untold streams and lakes, including the mighty Nile and the vast Lake Victoria.

At least four despotic tribal rulers had to be persuaded away from their autocratic and tyrannical ways by this point; development towards a more benevolent and liberal culture was slow – schools and hospitals spread, first through independent and sometimes competing missions, but eventually with Government funds. Dirt roads began to expand communications, then came telephones and even glimmering flickers of electric light, produced at first from wood-burning generators until, much later, the Nile was harnessed at Owen falls, near Jinja. By the 1920s and 1930s, Uganda was a recognisable political entity – the African population, mostly Bantu, was around three million, with fewer than 2,000 Europeans. The railway was on its way through Kenya from the coast, but there was not yet any sign of tarmac on the streets, drainage, or anything approaching all-weather roads. Safaris were still completed on foot, occasionally helped by a bicycle. Such motor cars as appeared in these early days needed a hill or a push to start as often as a battery.

Freemasonry began in Uganda in 1911 under the English Constitution with the establishment of Victoria Nyanza Lodge, No. 3492. Outside Masonry there had been a Caledonian Society in Kampala since 1907, so there had been at least two Scotsmen running the place for quite a few years! Indeed, next door in Kenya, Lodge Scotia dates from 1906, there had therefore been Scotsmen in the area for a considerable time, but we cannot now say why they delayed so long in Uganda in seeking a foundation under the Grand Lodge of Scotland. But once the decision was taken events moved rapidly. Sponsorship from Lodge Scotia in Nairobi was dated January 1935, and in these unhurried days of leisurely surface mail, Grand Lodge reaction in producing our Charter by 2nd May in the same year was pretty smart. The Consecration Service took place on 22nd June 1935. The consecrating officer was a Past Master of Lodge St. Andrew, No. 1360, Dar Es Salaam, his deputy came from Nairobi and his other officers were English Past Masters.

Foundation Stone in Kampala

Our twenty Founder Members all had Scottish descent but were not themselves all Scottish Masons – at least some were English initiates, including the first Master of the Lodge. There must have been many debates and discussions about procedures and ritual. Harvey’s little book was chosen, but he is hardly noted for his Rubric! To begin with there was no Director of Ceremonies, and the mantle of ‘Navigator’ fell on John Calvert, our second Right Worshipful Master. John had graduated from Girvan St. John (Ayrshire), No. 237, and he continued to be our mentor, to the great good of the Lodge, for some thirty years until he retired from Uganda in the 1960s. For a long time, he was one of our few contacts with Grand Lodge. He used to visit Edinburgh on leave – pester Grand Lodge officers, take detailed notes of their advice and of Grand Lodge procedures at its Communications, and bring these notes back to Kampala – we have some of them still. In these days we were under the direct supervision of Grand Lodge so far as dues and returns were concerned, but apart from Bro. Calvert there were no contacts, inspections or official visits until 1956, when we were 21 years old. That year brought us Bro. G. D. Burrows, Grand Director of Ceremonies, and Bro. Alex Buchan, Grand Secretary (who was the originator of these overseas experiences). Bro. Alex Buchan returned in 1960, with the then Grand Master Mason, Bro. Lord Eglinton, and again in 1965 and 1969 with the respective Grand Master Masons, Bro Lord Bruce, as he then was, and Bro. Sir Ronald Orr-Ewing.

Freemasons Hall in Kampala

In our isolation as the only Scottish Lodge, we always had to ward off the surrounding English influences as their lodges had multiplied.  This also helped us become a magnet for these neighbours and invitations to attend our workings were highly prized; particularly when a 3rd degree was due. We remained in this isolated limelight until 1969, when another – the only other – Scottish Lodge was formed in Uganda. This was Ruwenzori, No. 1652, which was located some 200 miles away beneath the snows of the Mountains of the Moon, in an area which suddenly become crowded due to the copper deposits of Kilembe.

The Temple of Caledonian Lodge of Uganda 1389 in Kampala

With the emergence to power of Idi Amin in early 1971, meetings continued to be held under increasingly difficult conditions. The final meeting in the Kampala Lodge rooms took place on 28th July 1972. The last meeting in Africa was held on 19th July 1973 in Nairobi. Thereafter meetings were suspended.

In all of our years in Uganda fewer than half-a-dozen members were under 30 years of age when they joined us. Among the Brethren were accountants, bankers, lawyers, doctors, engineers with a variety of skills, tea and cotton experts, coffee stators, dentists, teachers, salesmen, several judges (including a chief justice who became our Master) and men of many another accomplishment. From our beginnings our roll carried men of sense and maturity – fortunately, perhaps, for the Lodge had to stand virtually on its own feet, with little direction from Grand Lodge, and without a District Superintendent or District Grand Lodge to support us in maintaining our own Scottish standards vis-à-vis the several Lodges operating under the English Constitution. Indeed, there were only two others in the whole of East Africa, and they were out of regular touch – one was 400 miles away in Nairobi and the other over 1,000 miles distant in Dar es Salaam.

Members undertook the task of removing the Lodge property from Uganda, at considerable risk to themselves, along with good friends and helpers, from the marauding squads of undisciplined soldiers. Many an unexpected location was used to foil the soldiers, including the internals of a mechanical digger! Unfortunately, during this operation one life was lost.

In the end, the Lodge lost some records and furnishings, but the Charter, along with nearly all the office-bearers’ aprons and collars and the Altar Bible were recovered. After considerable wanderings several trunks of Lodge furnishings appeared in North Berwick, and feelers began to go out – could the Lodge be brought back to life in Scotland?

It may have been an omen, but on 1st March 1975, Scotland beat Wales by 12 points to 10 in a grossly overcrowded Murrayfield. Later that same day, a party of ex-Uganda folk assembled in Edinburgh, and from that gathering a few of our 1389 Brethren considered the feasibility of re-opening the Lodge, with thoughts on enlistment and recruitment in a new home. That meeting led to others over the next year or two. Following these meetings, and after a great deal of dedicated secretarial work involving several District Superintendents and District Grand Lodges in East and Central Africa, Grand Lodge agreed to re-designate our Charter for Edinburgh in 1977. The first Regular Meeting in Scotland was the Installation Ceremony on the 25th November in that year.

Thereafter all that voluminous correspondence began to bear fruit; some Affiliates rallied to our ranks from widely scattered Lodges – some Scottish, some Irish, some English  – from Kenya, from Tanzania and from a cluster of Zambian Lodges – a flashback to Ruwenzori and the copper mines – which carried melodious names like Mufulira, Chingola, Chililabombwe.

After the dispersal all over the world from the Uganda troubles of so many of our bold Brethren, and without the backing of these newcomers to our ranks we could well have gone under. Perhaps in the ‘Overseas Influence’ they found some common ground with us, and we are deeply grateful for the stimulus they have provided.

Now, in Edinburgh, we have tried to retain our old landmarks, initially sifted and winnowed in Kampala; we have screened and adopted some others; we have been given staunch support from members old and new. We have tried to preserve and concord, and of continuing fealty to the Grand Lodge of Scotland.

On our fiftieth birthday, on 2nd May 1985, we were honoured by the Most Worshipful the Grand Master Mason, Brother Marcus Humphrey, who presided over our Re-Dedication Ceremony, in the Chapel of St. John, Edinburgh, and who pointed the Lodge towards its centenary. We begin that journey with hope and humility under the guidance of the Great Architect, and we pray too for God’s rest for us all.

Adapted from ‘A history of The Caledonian Lodge of Uganda, No. 1389’ by Bro. Ian D. Gunn, P.M. which was produced to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Lodge and appeared in the 1986 Year Book of The Grand Lodge of Scotland.

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