Early Provincial Grand Masters
The first masonic Lodge in Caithness was the Mason Lodge of Thurso, usually known as St John's Lodge, which was chartered by Grand Lodge in 1741.
William Budge of Toftingall, Writer to the Signet, was initiated in Lodge Drummond Kilwinning from Greenock, an Edinburgh Lodge long since dormant, but affiliated to Lodge Canongate from Leith, which is now Lodge St.David No.36. He became Master of the latter Lodge in 1757 and Senior Grand Warden in 1756 and 1757. William Budge was appointed Provincial Grand Master of Caithness in 1747.
Sir William Dunbar, Second Baronet of the Hempriggs line, was entered, passed and raised in Canongate Kilwinning Lodge No.2 on 20th November 1754. Probably by arrangement with William Budge, he was appointed in 1756 as Provincial Grand Master over the Lodges in the north of Scotland.
Old Kilwinning St.John,Inverness
It is unlikely that Sir William paid much attention to most of these Lodges but he supported the Lodge of Thurso around 1760 the period of the only surviving minute book, and was Master for 1761. The evidence suggests that he was not active in Masonic affairs after this time although he lived for at least another thirty years and kept up his political interest into old age.
The first proposal to found a Lodge at Wick dates back to about 1791 when the herring fishing was just beginning to build up and the Ancient Royal Borough was enjoying a new prosperity . The matter was not pursued then but in 1793 a petition was presented to Grand Lodge and a Charter was granted. The Lodge, St.Fergus's Lodge at Wick, was consecrated in December 1795.
In 1801 Sir George Stewart MacKenzie, 7th Baronet of Coul, was appointed Provincial Grand Master of Orkney. A later minute shows that Caithness was included in his territory and Ross & Cromarty were added at his request.
Sir George was Provicial Grand Master until 1825 but the only connection with Caithness known to me is that, when the Wick brethren wished to revive their Lodge in 1803 the petition was addressed to Sir George. The petition was successful and St Fergus's Lodge at Wick began a short but happy career.
In 1820 a third Lodge was chartered in the county.
Sir George's successor in Ross & Cromarty does not appear to have had Caithness allocated to him, and for over fifty years there was no authority between Grand Lodge and the daughter Lodges in the county.
During this long interregnum the old Lodges at Thurso and Wick died out, the Lodge of Thurso around 1830 and St.Fergus's Lodge at Wick around 1840. St.Peter's was kept alive more by the interest in the benefit fund than in Freemasonry itself. In the second half of last century there was a nationwide renaissance of Speculative Masonry.