St John Evangelist Preceptory No. 281
Secretary John Ellis
4th Friday in February
4th Friday in September
4th Friday in November
The early years
The start of Leeson Chapter is in January 1866 when Supreme Council in London received a letter from a Colonel Alexander John Greenlaw requesting authority to form a Chapter. The Warrant was issued on the 10th July 1866 to Colonel Greenlaw and others to hold a chapter named Leeson Chapter Rose Croix in Rangoon, British Burma.
Henry Beaumont Leeson. who in April 1846 became the third member of Supreme Council 33° as Grand Chancellor, Lieutenant Grand Commander in 1850 and Sovereign Grand Commander in 1851.
He was, born in 1803, a lecturer in forensic medicine at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London for many years, who died at his home, The Maples, Bonchurch, Isle of Wight in 1872 having retired from the Order in 1868.
From the Masonic Diary of Burma printed in 1900 we see that the first meeting of Leeseon Chapter Rose Croix is record as the 28th January 1868, nearly two years after the Warrant was issued, when Col. Greenlaw was Most Wise Sovereign (MWS), assisted by Col. A.W.O. Saunders and H. Prince, perfected 9 Brethren: Burma was at that time under the Masonic domain of Bengal for Craft Masonry. However, in 1868 Burma became a separate Masonic District with Brother Greenlaw its first Grand Master; the year he is MWS of Leeson Chapter.
On the 3rd November 1869 Colonel Greenlaw together with three of the newly perfected brethren from the January 1868 meeting of Leeson Chapter were in Madras consecrating the Cormondel Chapter No.27, with Greenlaw its first MWS.
The Chapter started to grow steadily in numbers, being able to draw on members from the English, Irish and Scottish Lodges which met in Rangoon, although the 120 copies of Leeson By-Laws requested in 1887 must have been in anticipation of better times to come.
Life in Burma
The Rose Croix Chapters in “British Burma” were by 1894 made up of Leeson No.21 meeting in Rangoon, Mount Calvery in the East No.47 meeting in Singapore and Salween No.131 meeting in Moulmein, who all came under the direct control of Supreme Council.
The Chapter celebrated its Jubilee in 1918 giving credence to the ‘first meeting on record being 1868’. This was also the Jubilee year of the District Grand Lodge of Burma and in a letter dated 24th June 1918 the MWS of Leeson Chapter wrote
By 1941 Rangoon was a city with a population of half a million but of course War had already broken out. It was December 1941 that the invasion of Burma began. The city of Rangoon was evacuated by March 1942 and although two craft lodges, Rangoon No.1268 and Ormond-Iles No.4270 (now amalgamated as The Rangoon & Ormond-Iles Lodge No.1268) with whom we share much of our history, managed to hold a few meetings in exile in Calcutta, all other Masonic activity ceased until members started to return to Burma in February 1946.
The membership of Leeson was then shown as 30 but the actual members in Rangoon were few, so it was not until 1947 that meetings were able to resume. No Warrant was to hand and it was only after a petition from Cecil Reading, the MWS of 1941, and seven other brethren, a Warrant of Confirmation dated the 14th March 1946 was issued, endorsed that it was issued due to the original Warrant (of we assume 1894) having been lost due to enemy action
Life in Burma as elsewhere could never be the same again, Burma was granted Independence on the 4th January 1948, Freemasonry was at first able to exist within the new structure, indeed Leeson had 38 subscribing members in 1948, and the Chapter made progress for many years, meeting four times a year, with members being drawn from the resident as well as the expatriate communities.
By 1955 membership had reached 47 and following its meeting of February 1961 held what we believe could be its first ladies night function.
The Chapter celebrated its Centenary on Thursday 18th August 1966 followed by a twelve course Chinese banquet in Freemasons’ Hall, 65 Goodliffe Road, Rangoon.
The political situation in Burma proved difficult for all associations and societies after General Ne Win came to power in 1962 and installed a military revolutionary council. Freemasonry was fortunate to have as the District Grand Master Bro. Lao Htin Si, also a member of Leeson, he was well known and respected by Ne Win, and meetings were able to continue with some normality, due to his standing with the authorities. However, the DGM. died on the 14th May 1970 and it was clear that Freemasonry would soon go the way of such groups as the Scouts, the Lions and other clubs and associations in being prohibited.
Leeson Chapter had only admitted two new members during the period of November 1966 and May 1970, both of whom were Europeans. One craft lodge, The Rangoon & Ormond-Iles Lodge No.1268 had in 1968 seen what was likely to occur and had transferred back to London. Some of their members were also members of Leeson and it was not long before preparations were being made to return Leeson to the United Kingdom.
At the meeting of November 1970 it was proposed “That this Leeson Chapter No.21 be transferred to the UK owing to the present paucity of its members in Burma and owing to the fact that the greater portion of its members are resident in the UK”.
The first meeting in England under the acting MWS., Bro Richard Rushall, was at Southgate Masonic Centre on the 29th November 1972, by dispensation of Supreme Council, the Warrants and Books of the Chapter having been handed back to us on the 3rd November. The meeting consisted of 5 members, 6 visitors and 1 past member, who re-joined at that meeting. The visitors consisted of 5 members of Southgate Chapter and the District Recorder of Middlesex, Ill Bro. Peter Poynter, who acted as Prelate for the meeting and went on to render very great service to assist our establishment in England.
We know from a letter dated November 1972 from a Burmese member of Leeson, resident in Rangoon, that the funds of Leeson were still in Burma unable to be transferred. The letter described them as “quite a substantial sum” and that the property of the Chapter had been put into store at Freemasons Hall, Goodliffe Road.
The next meeting took place 12 months later on the 23rd November 1973, this time under the authority of a dispensation from the Inspector General of Middlesex. Discussions had taken place during the interim period on a permanent home for the Chapter and we now took our place under the District of Middlesex, based at Southgate Masonic Centre. Our official visitors were Most Ill Bro. Elgood, Grand Treasurer General, Most Ill Bro. Lt. Col. The Rev. Brocklebank, Grand Prior, Very Ill Bro’s Dr. Colenso-Jones, Grand Director of Ceremonies, Very Ill Bro. Burnett-Brown, Inspector General of Middlesex. and Ill Bro Col. Stuart Horner.
Having approved the Chapter’s new By Laws, the members enthusiastically elected to Honorary membership those who had assisted matters over the last three years. This included the official visitors present, six members from Burma and also the reigning DGM of Burma. It was not until 1974 that it was realised that the DGM was not a Rose Croix Mason and his name unfortunately had to be withdrawn from the list of Honorary members on our summonses.
Meetings were arranged for the Friday prior to the Saturday meeting in London of Rangoon & Ormond-Iles Lodge No 1268. There were three meetings a year, in November, February and September. This enabled those who were members of both, many of whom were spread around the country, to make a single journey to town for their Freemasonry.
In October 1984 the Burmese Government served notice that Freemasonry had to be dissolved and the District Grand Lodge of Burma ceased functioning on the 13th November 1984.
One of the traditions which visitors to the Chapter will notice today is the final toast at the festive board which is to ‘Burma – the land of our origins’ This was introduced in 1986 being adapted from the required first toast at all Masonic festive boards in Burma since the 1950’s that to ‘ Burma (or the Union of Burma) – the land we live in’.