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Singapore, the Founder Of

With the same suddenness in which it began, the war with Japan in 1941 filled American papers, movies, and magazines with a continuing food of discussions and descriptions of islands, nations, cities, and men who, before Pearl Harbor, had been scarcely better known to the American public than Marco Polo or Prester John, and in doing so made us see of what importance to us had been the City of Singapore which, though a British port, cost us Americans by its fall five billion dollars and tens of thousands of men and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Coincidentally, we American Masons discovered, to our very great surprise, that Freemasonry had been at work "out there" almost as long as it had been at work here, and that it had in quietness and by peaceable means a part in Asiatic settlement beyond anything anybody could have believed possible. The discoverer and founder--a British writer says "almost the inventor"--of Singapore was Sir Stamford Rafiles. (The name has no connection with the verb "to raffle" but is the French form of the botanic name for the plant from which raffia comes.) He was born at sea July 5, 1781, the son of a merchant captain plying between England and the West Indies--the year in which Britain surrendered at Yorktown. After a small bit of schooling at Hammersmith he went to work for almost nothing in the offices of the East India Company--offices in which Charles Lamb and John Stuart Mill also were to work in after times. During the years of an iron apprenticeship in that ruthless corporation he worked as hard nights and Sundays on studying at home as he did in his office by day.

In 1805 he was sent out to be assistant-secretary in the Malay city of Penang, where he learned the native speech, came to love the people, and exhibited a religious tolerance (in that Mohammedan country) which was astonishing.

"Mahomet's mission does not invalidate our Savior's"; he wrote; "one has secured happiness to the Eastern and one to the Western world, and both deserve our veneration." (While there he studied Hebrew and Greek, the Hebrew in order the better to understand Arabic.)

In 1806 Napoleon placed his Brother Louis on the throne of Holland and sent out a French Army to occupy Java, the first step of a Napoleonic scheme to conquer the whole of Asia. (The Nazis and Japanese studied Napoleon's Asiatic plans and strategy down to the last detail.) Raffles laid before the Governor General of India, Lord Minto, a military plan to crush the French in Java, prepared the way, and with Minto in 1811 drove them out. Raffles was appointed Lieutenant-Governor.

Lord Minto was an active Mason. On a coffee estate near Batavia was a small Lodge called Virtuitis et Artis Amici (Friends of Virtue and Arts), the Worshipful Master of which was Nicolas Englehardt, a former Dutch Governor of Java. With Minto present, Raffles received the first two Degrees. On July 5, 1813, he took the Third in Lodge De Vriendschap, at Sourabaya. In the years that followed, Sir Stamford went through black hours: Java went back to the Dutch; Minto died; Raffles' wife died, and after her their children. In 1816 he received the Rose Croix Degree in Batavia.

On his jot y back to England he stopped off to visit Napoleon on St. Helena. In a few months (after a second marriage) he went back to be Governor of Sumatra, and on the way visited Lord Hastings in India--also an ardent Mason. It was there and then that Raffles proposed the building of a city and great naval base at Singapore. Space does not permit a description of his labor thereafter, among them being his founding of the London Zoology Society. He died in April, 1826.

If a Freemason writes about the power Freemasonry has to shape men, to inspire them toward tolerance and enlightenment, and to cultivate in them lindliness and friendliness, non- Masons may be tempted to discount it by half on the grounds of enthusiasm or a favorable prejudice; but if any non-Mason, and concerned only with unvarnished facts, will begin with Sir Stamford Raffles (or Minto, or Hastings) and search out the Mystic Tie in Asia as it stretched from one man to another, even across languages and in the midst of wars, and across the barriers of race (Hindus, Malays, Filipinos, Chinese became Brothers), and see how Masonry led to schools; hospitals, orphanages and tolerance, he will be forced in the end to admit that the part taken by the Craft in the bringing of civilization and culture into the Far East was astounding--and all the more so, in that it had behind it no armies, no powers of public office, no wealth, and never employed intrigue or force.

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