Origins of Royal Arch
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The Masonic jurisdiction of the English Constitution in South India, is referred to as the District of Madras, which comprises all the present States of South India, cities from Hyderabad to Trivandrum.  It originally took its name from the eponymous MADRAS PRESIDENCY as did the Masonic jurisdictions of the BENGAL and BOMBAY Presidencies which constituted the main administrative entities of direct British rule in India until 1947.

Chapter working in Madras commenced as far as we can ascertain, with the consecration in 1811, of the Chapter School of Plato No.150 in the Registers of the Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of England.  It is now the oldest surviving Chapter outside the British Isles and within the next few years will be entitled to celebrate its bi-centenary.

Originally the Chapter School of Plato was formed for the benefit of the Brethren of the Lodge of Perfect Unanimity No.150, consecrated in 1786.  Later on after P.U. had sponsored, the formation of the Archibald Campbell Lodge, this Chapter was attached to the Lodge in addition to P.U.

During its early years, both Craft and Chapter had only expatriate (British) membership and the difficult conditions of the time, with constant wars, disturbances, difficulties of transport and movement, did pose problems in maintaining continuity of Lodges and Chapters.

To give some idea of the conditions prevailing – travel from Britain was only by the Oceans, and via the Cape of Good Hope, and its perilous waters, in sailing ships.  Madras had no harbour till 1896, and so ships were anchored off the coast, in the ‘roads’.  Internal travel was by horses, ponies and palanquins, and the ‘Dauk’ – or postal service was good only in parts.

Meeting places in the early days were difficult to find and arrange – in many cases, over-night accommodation had to be provided in these places for at least some of the Brethren.  However, through all these difficulties our early Masonic confreres met, and kept alive the spirit and structure of Masonry.

Other Chapters were added to the District – Excelsior (1871), Chapter Benson (1892), Pitt Macdonald (1893),  Chapter Rock at Trichinopoly, (1907), Chapter Southern Brotherhood (1909), Chapter Ampthill (1919), Chapter Cauvery (1927), Chapter Minchin, Trivandrum (1929), Kerala Chapter (1942), Chapter Cochin (1946), Chapter Quilon (1949), Chapter John Miller (1963), Chapter Universal Charity (1965).  The last two named Chapters had their predecessors opt for the Indian Constitution in 1962 and thereafter took their later forms.  The District now has 15 Chapters and 18 Lodges.

The History of the individual Chapters in the District needs to be more carefully researched as unlike in the Craft there do not appear to be the ubiquitous Souvenirs and such to draw upon for ready information.

However, as far as the Chapter School of Plato is concerned there is some very interesting early history.

For example, although the Chapter School of Plato was founded in 1811, it could not claim a Centenary Warrant in 1911 as they had lost the Original Warrant.

Originally warranted No.170 by the Supreme Grand Chapter (Moderns) in 1811, and subsisting as the oldest Chapter outside the British Isles, it was refused a Centenary Warrant when it applied to Supreme Grand Chapter for one in 1926, on the grounds that no names of Chapters were registered prior to 1853.

A Register of Chapters was later found in the Grand Lodge vaults which record showed that  the Chapter had earlier applied for a Centenary Warrant but never received it, although the record also showed that the Chapter had made a substantial donation to Charity during the affected period.

Later, another certificate issued to Chapter School of Plato turned up miraculously as it were, in Australia through a Companion STROMBOM who had apparently carried it with him on a ship which seems to have been wrecked on the high seas.  His Grandson – Mr. S.C.M. BROAD not a Mason, sent the Certificate found with the ancestor’s salvaged belongings, to the Grand Lodge library.  The Certificate was issued to Chapter School of Plato, No.1 (sic).

In 1948, all this came to light when a petition was submitted to Supreme Grand Chapter, for a Centenary Warrant by the then Scribe ‘E’ of the Chapter School of Plato, E.Comp. P. Appu Nair.  A Centenary Warrant was belatedly issued by Supreme Grand Chapter in 1948, after much research of these old records.

The Chapter School of Plato now awaits its Bicentenary which it is hoped will not suffer the delay that its Centenary Warrant experienced.

Our Chapter St. Johns was lost also to the G.L.I. in 1962-63, and therefore Chapter Golconda now provides the comfort of H.R.A. working to the Brethren of the English Constitution in Secunderabad – to both members of its Craft Lodges – St. John and Golconda.

All 15 Chapters in the District of Madras are working satisfactorily, and now await the amended workings of the H.R.A. ritual proposed by the Supreme Grand Chapter, for adoption later in the year 2004.