Provincial Grand Lodge of Caithness


The Province of Caithness




Provincial Grand Lodge of Orkney,Caithness and Zetland

George Hunter MacThomas Thoms was an advocate who became Sheriff of Caithness, Orkney and Zetland in 1870. He held the post then as now, a part-time one until 1899. He was a keen church man supported St.Giles in Edinburgh and St.Magnus in Kirkwall and was largely responsible for the restoration of both buildings. For the benefit of St.Magnus Cathedral he left a bequest of £70,000.

Thoms was initiated in Lodge St.David No.36 but affiliated to the Lodge of Holyrood House ( St.Luke's ) No.44 in 1853. In the latter Lodge he was Junior Warden in 1857 and 1858, Senior Warden in 1859 and Substitute Master in 1867 and 1868. From 1878 to 1888 he was a member of Grand Committee.

At the end of 1882 Sheriff Thoms became Proxy Master for St.Peter's Operative. In August 1883 he laid the foundation stone of the new harbour works at Lerwick with Masonic Ceremony. On the preceding day a deputation from Grand Lodge had consecrated Viking Lodge No.671 at Lerwick. This occasion is important in Caithness history because the degree  ( or ceremonial ) of Installed Master, which Grand Lodge had introduced in 1872, was conferred on, among others, Dr.John Craven, Master of St.Peter's Operative.

There were now six Lodges in the Sheriffdom:
Kirkwall Kilwinning No.38bis
Morton's Lodge No.89,Lerwick
Mercantile Marine No.453,Stromness
The two Caithness Lodges and the new Lodge

In December 1885 they petitioned Grand Lodge to be recognised as a Province under Sheriff Thoms. The Grand Master Mason,Walter Henry,Earl of Mar and Kellie, inaugurated the Provincial Grand Lodge of Orkney, Caithness and Zetland and installed the Provincial Grand Master on 20th August 1884. He also laid the foundation stone of the Municipal Buildings and Kirkwall Kilwinning's new hall and attended a Masonic service in St.Magnus.

For the next seven years the new Provincial Grand Master was quite active considering that he normally lived in Edinburgh. From 1891, however, he seems to have left Caithness to James Honeyman Henderson ( of Rosebank, Wick ) First as substitute Grand Master and then as Depute Grand Master for the Province. Sheriff Thoms resigned his commission in 1896 when he had attained the age of 65 years. He died a few years later.

His successor was Major Henderson, who was appointed in 1897. He was an initiate of St.Fergus and became Master, as Captain Henderson, in 1887. He served five consecutive years as Master and also two consecutive years later. For most of his period as Provincial Grand Master he was Colonel Henderson.

Colonel Henderson was interested in all branches of Freemasonry. He received the degree of Installed Master in Thurso in April 1887 and would, no doubt, introduce it later in St.Fergus. He was founding First Principal of John O' Groat Royal Arch Chapter No.230, occupying the chair from 1881 to 1901. He was a member of the Preceptory of the Temple in the Lothians which meets in Edinburgh and also of the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite bodies meeting there. He became a member of the 32nd Degree in 1915.

Colonel Henderson continued as Provincial  Grand Master until 1920 . So far as Caithness was concerned he was virtually in charge for nearly 30 years. The Thurso records show that he took his duties seriously. This was the period when Grand Lodge was consolidating its recently won grip on the Daughter Lodges. Deliberate and frequent flounting of the Constitution & Laws was now a thing of the past and the next stage was that of standardising the administration of Lodge affairs In Caithness, this was done under Colonel Henderson, gradually, and with little friction. Up to the beginning of the 1914-18 war visitations were made annually but there do not seem to have been any public appearances.

The province of Orkney, Caithness and Zetland broke up when Colonel Henderson retired. Robert Slater was appointed Provincial Grand Master but Orkney Lodges petitioned that Orkney and Zetland should be dis-joined from Caithness. It would appear that this was agreeable to the Caithness end because negotiations were already under way with the Lodges in Sutherland-shire.

St.Gilbert No790, in Dornoch, and St.Donan No.933, in Helmsdale, sent representatives to a meeting with the Masters and Secretaries of the Caithness Lodges. Indeed St.Peter's went so far as to name William Manson Brims as its nominee for the office of Provincial Grand Master. The scheme fell through, however, and Caithness came once again directly under Grand Lodge.

A deputation from Grand Lodge visited the Province in 1923. It was headed by Joseph Inglis, Past Senior Grand Warden. A second visit was paid in 1925. This time it was led by James Watson, Grand Bible- bearer, because Inglis was unable to attend. This deputation consecrated Lodge John O' Groat No.1333, Castletown, on 27th January. With the erection of this Lodge the minimum requirements for a Provincial Grand Lodge were fulfilled. The third deputation, led in 1926 by Joseph Inglis, then Substitute Grand Master, no doubt laid plans towards the formation of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Caithness.



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