The Battle of Waterloo bi-centenary was marked on June 18th 2015. It is of interest to note that a Masonic artifact of that time is presently owned by Victoria Lodge No. 56, GRC, in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.
At a regular meeting of Victoria Lodge No. 56 on June 6, 1933, an interesting and historic presentation was made to Victoria Lodge by W. M. Lowery in the form of a Masonic Lodge Seal which had been in the possession of the family of the donor’s wife for over 115 years. The Seal is now in a display case and bears the following inscription: “Masonic Seal of the 71st Regiment, Gordon Highlanders presented to Victoria Lodge No. 56 by W. M. Lowery June 6, 1933. This Lodge disbanded after the Battle of Waterloo by order of the Government. The Seal has been in the possession of the Treas. George McPherson’s Family since that time. This attached ribbon is the same as used on Waterloo Medals presented by King George III in 1815.”
It is this Lodge Seal that is the subject of this blog. I hasten to add that I could sub-title this blog “Ongoing research” for as I’ve reached out to others to confirm specific details, I’ve learnt that errors can, and have, crept into the story of this Masonic Lodge Seal.
First I shall remind you of the significance of a Lodge Seal. Seals are ancient instruments of identification, rank, and authority. A seal is used to prove authenticity, or attest to the accuracy of a document. In English, the term has come to mean both the instrument used to make the seal, and the seal itself.
Sealing wax is seldom used now. Instead, seals are commonly a device to emboss paper, leaving the desired image standing out on the page. The seal may be applied over an official signature, or a decorative foil shape may be applied to the page and embossed with the seal.
The Seal is circular, with a braided edge within the circumference. A large Triangle shape is inscribed 71st REGT LODGE No 895 MEMENTO MORI; which is Latin and is simply translated as “Remember your mortality”. The 3 spaces between the triangle shape and the edge each bear 4 identical emblems, for a total of 12 emblems. Within the triangle are recognizable symbols including a ladder of many staves, skull and bones, and a coffin. A Mason (even one who has had his degrees conferred in a different Ritual in another jurisdiction) will recognize such things as a ‘cable tow’, Jacob’s Ladder from scripture, emblems of mortality, and the grave of one of the first Grand Masters of our Fraternity. The other items should provoke a sense of wonder, and respect, for the traditions and Ritual they represent.
The information given about the Lodge Seal is that it was owned by The Gordon Highlanders. It is reasonable to ask “Who Are the Gordon Highlanders?”
There is a wealth of additional information about the military history of the Gordon Highlanders stored, appropriately, at the Gordon Highlanders Museum. The museum is located in Aberdeen, Scotland. Some wonderful information is shared online.
The Gordon Highlanders were an active regiment at the time of the Battle of Waterloo. Stirring legend has it that the Gordons and the Greys together charged the French column, crying “Scotland Forever!” and with the Gordons hanging on to the stirrups of the cavalry horses. Who would not want to be connected in some way with such a history?
Available information shows that The Grand Lodge of Ireland issued Warrant 895, on 2nd April 1801 to the 71st Foot, Highland Light Infantry. A duplicate warrant was issued the 3rd of May, 1808. The warrant was returned to the Grand Lodge “in obedience to order of Commanding Officer, 3rd December, 1835.”
The Grand Lodge of Ireland was the first to issue what is called a Travelling Warrant to Masons serving in the military.
There is available to us this information: that a warrant was issued to the 71st Regiment. And the Warrant number was 895. These numbers appear on the Lodge Seal with us today.
Please note as well that this reference speaks to a duplicate warrant issued in 1808, and the warrant being returned. And the story accompanying the Lodge Seal states that the Lodge was disbanded after the Battle of Waterloo by the government.
BUT – there are inconsistencies. While the Gordon Highlanders are quite famous for their role at the Battle of Waterloo, the present Seal does not belong to them. The 71st Regiment was not part of the Gordon Highlanders. The 71st Regiment is the Highland Light Infantry.
So, now some additional research is required. We cannot accept the presented information at face value!
Fortunately the British Army has maintained a tradition of keeping detailed records. And histories of various regiments have been prepared and made available by professional historians or zealous volunteers and supporters of some regiments. So we can trace the history of the 71st Regiment from 1758 forward.
The 71st Regiment served in a number of campaigns, in Europe and North America. During the American War of Independence the Regiment was known as the Fraser Highlanders.
In 1801, when the Grand Lodge of Ireland issued Warrant No. 895, the Regiment was in India.
1802 the 71st Regiment returned to Scotland. But in 1806 they were shipped to South Africa when Great Britain annexed the Cape Colony. Their role was to provide security to new colonists.
But almost immediately they were off to South America and engaged in the battles for Buenos Aires and Montevideo. These battles were disasters. Many men were killed. Many more were captured and held prisoner for a while. The regimental colours were captured. So too were the Masonic jewels of the Lodge 895.
When negotiations for the release of prisoners were successful, the British Army withdrew from South America. The Regiment was shipped to Portugal in 1808 to join the Peninsular Wars in Portugal and Spain.
The Regimental history notes that new Colours were presented in April of 1808. Recall as well that the Grand Lodge of Ireland issued a duplicate warrant in May of 1808. This point of convergence of the timing of something significant for the Regiment as well as something significant for the Lodge must be noted.
It is a matter of official record that in 1815 during the Battle of Waterloo, Sir Henry Clinton led the 2nd Division, including the 71st Regiment Highland Light Infantry. His troops helped to defeat and pursue Napoleon’s Imperial Guard at the end of the battle.
As an aside, the community of Clinton, Ontario, derives its name from a connection to Sir Henry Clinton.
For the purposes of this short presentation, it is sufficient to note that the 71st Regiment was at the Battle of Waterloo. The 71st Regiment lost 16 officers and 171 men at Waterloo.
The 71st Regiment, the Highland Light Infantry, have evolved since the Battle of Waterloo. The Regiment now proudly carries the name The City of Glasgow Regiment. There is an active Association maintaining the history and traditions of the Regiment.
Many Masons were present at the Battle of Waterloo. Three key military leaders were Masons: the Duke of Wellington leading the British, Field Marshal Michel Ney leading the French Napoleonic army and Field Marshal Gehard von Blucher leading the Prussians. Napoleon was not a Freemason; and he lost.
I will turn now to the ribbon on the Seal. It is described as being that of The Waterloo Medal.
The Waterloo Medal and ribbon are well-described in several sources.
What is of note is that this medal was the first award issued to all ranks, and set a precedent for the issue of campaign medals. It was awarded to all those who served at the battles of Ligny, Quatre Bras and Waterloo 16th-18th June 1815. Some 36,000 medals were issued. Masons might be impressed that on that occasion, all ranks met and left on the level.
The ribbon for the Waterloo Medal is crimson, with dark blue edging. Thus it is certainly understandable that the ribbon on our Seal could be from one of the issued medals.
But there is another error in the information handed to us when the Seal was received by Victoria Lodge No. 56. The plaque within this display case states that Lodge 895 for the 71st Regiment was disbanded after the Battle of Waterloo by order of the Government.
Worshipful Brother Gerry McAuley, a Past Master and Lodge Historian for Lodge HLI No. 1459 in Glasgow, Scotland, prepared a history of the Lodges of the 71st Regiment. He found the letter sent by the Lodge Secretary to the Grand Lodge of Ireland that accompanied the Warrant when it was returned. In November 1835, the Commanding Officer of the 71st Regiment would not allow a “Secret Society” to exist in the Regiment under his command. Thus, the warrant was surrendered not by order of the Government, but by order of the commanding officer.
We can conclude:
- The 71st Regiment of the Highland Light Infantry held Warrant No. 895 from the Grand Lodge of Ireland at the time of the Battle of Waterloo.
- This Regimental number and Lodge number appear on our Seal.
- The Highland Light Infantry fought at the Battle of Waterloo
- The Battle of Waterloo medal has a ribbon that looks like the ribbon on our Seal.
- We can speculate that this Seal was present with the Highland Light Infantry at the Battle of Waterloo.
- We can speculate that this artifact is over 200 years old and is the oldest item in Sarnia District — with a clear history — that represents Masonry.
We can be assured that this artifact will be respected for many years to come.