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Dunckerley, Thomas

No one, among the Freemasons of England, occupied a more distinguished position or played a more important part in the labors of the Craft during the latter part of the eighteenth century than Thomas Dunckerley, whose private life was as romantic as his Masonic career was honorable. Thomas Dunckerley was born in the city of London on the 23d of October, 1724. He was the reputed son of a Mr. and Mrs. (Mary) Dunekerley, but really owed his birth to a personage of a much higher rank in life, being the natural son of the Prince of Wales, afterward George II, to whom he bore, as his portrait shows, a striking resemblance. It was not until after his mother's death that he became acquainted with the true history of his birth; so that for more than half of his life this son of a king occupied a very humble position on the stage of the world, and was sometimes even embarrassed with the pressure of poverty and distress.

At the age of ten he entered the navy, and continued in the service for twenty-six years, acquiring, by his intelligence and uniformly good conduct, the esteem and commendation of all his commanders. But having no personal or family interest, he never attained to any higher rank than that of a gunner. During all this time, except at brief intervals, he was absent from England on foreign service. He returned to his native country in January, 1760, to find that his mother had died a few days before, and that on her death-bed she had made 3 solemn declaration, accompanied by such details as left no possible doubt of its truth, that Thomas was the illegitimate son of King George II, born while he was Prince of Wales. The fact of the birth had, however, never been communicated by the mother to the prince, and George II died without knowing that he had such a son living.

Dunckerley, in the account of the affair which he left among his posthumous papers, says: "This information gave me great surprise and much uneasiness; and as I was obliged to return immediately to my duty on board the Vanguard, I made it known to no person at that time but Captain Swanton. He said that those who did not know me would look on it to be nothing more than a gossip's story. We were then bound a second time to Quebec, and Captain Swanton did promise me that on our return to England he would endeavor to get me introduced to the king, and that he would give me a character; but when we came back to England the king was dead." Dunckerley had hoped that his case would have been laid before his royal father, and that the result would have been an appointment equal to his birth. But the frustration of these hopes by the death of the king seems to have discouraged him, and no efforts appear for some time to have been made by him or his friends to communicate the facts to George III, who had succeeded to the throne.

In 1761 he again left England as a gunner in Lord Anson's fleet, and did not return until 1764, at which time, finding himself embarrassed with 3 heavy debt, incurred in the expenses of his family, for he had married in early life, in the year 1744, knowing no person who could authenticate the story of his birth, and seeing no probability of gaining access -to the ear of the king, he sailed in a merchant vessel for the Mediterranean. He had previously been granted superannuation in the navy in consequence of his long services, and received a small pension, the principal part of which he left for the support of his family during his absence.

But the romantic story of his birth began to be publicly known and talked about, and in 1766 attracted the attention of several persons of distinction, who endeavored, but without success, to excite the interest of the Princess Dowager of Wales in his behalf.

In 1767, however, the declaration of his mother was laid before the king, who was George III, the grandson of his father. It made an impression on him, and inquiry into his previous character and conduct having proved satisfactory, in May 7, 1767, the king ordered Dunckerley to receive a pension of 100, which was subsequently increased to 800, together with a suite of apartments in Hampton Court Palace. He also assumed, and was permitted to bear, the royal arms, with the distinguishing badge of the bend sinister, and adopted as his motto the appropriate words Fato non merito, meaning By destiny, not merit. In his familiar correspondence, and in his book-plates, he used the name of Fitzy George.

In 1770 he became a student of law, and in 1774 was called to the bar; but his fondness for an active life prevented him from ever making much progress in the legal profession.

Dunckerley died at Portsmouth in the year 1795, at the ripe age of seventy-one; but his last years were embittered by the misconduct of his son, whose extravagance and dissolute conduct necessarily afflicted the mind while it straitened the means of the unhappy parent. Every effort to reclaim him proved utterly ineffectual; and on the death of his father, no provision being left for his support, he became a vagrant, living for the most part on Masonic charity. At last he became a bricklayer's laborer, and was often seen ascending a ladder with a hod on his shoulders. His misfortunes and his misconduct at length found an end, and the grandson of a king of England died a pauper in a cellar at St. Giles.

Dunckerley was initiated into Freemasonry on January 10, 1754, in a Lodge, No. 31, which then met at the Three Tuns, Portsmouth; in 1760 he obtained a Warrant for a Lodge to be held on board the Vanguard, in which ship he was then serving; in the following year the Vanguard sailed for the West Indies, and Dunckerley was appointed to the Prince, for which ship a Lodge was warranted in 1762; this Warrant Dunckerley appears to have retained when he left the service, and in 1766 the Lodge was meeting at Somerset House, where Dunckerley was then living. In 1768 the Vanguard Lodge was revived in London, with Dunckerley as its first Master, and it exists to the present day under the name of the London Lodge, No. 108.

In 1767 he joined the present Lodge of Friendship; in 1785 he established a Lodge at Hampton Court, now No. 255. In 1767 he was appointed Provincial Grand Master of Hampshire, and in 1776 Provincial Grand Master for Essex, and at various dates he was placed in charge of the provinces of Bristol, Dorsetshire, Gloucestershire, Somersetshire, and Herefordshire. In Royal Arch Masonry Dunckerley displayed equal activity as in Craft Masonry; he was exalted at Portsmouth in 1754 and in 1766 joined the London Chapter, which in the following year became a Grand Chapter.

He was especially active in promoting Arch Masonry all over the country and was in charge of the English counties of Essex, Hants, Kent, Wilts, Dorset, Devon, Somerset, Gloucester, Suffolk, Sussex and Durham.

He was also a most zealous Knight Templar, being in 1791 the first Grand Master of the Order when the Grand Conclave was formed in London.

He was also a Mark Mason. A Charge, or Oration, is still extant, which was delivered by him at Plymouth in April, 1757, entitled The Light and Truth of Masonry Explained. He was also the author of A Song for the Knights Templar, and of an Ode for an Exaltation of Royal Arch Masons. These will be found in Thomas Dunckerley--his Life, Labors and Letters, by H. Sadler, 1891. Brother Hawkins in submitting the foregoing article points out that it is often asserted that Dunckerley revised the Craft Lectures and reconstructed the Royal Arch Degree, but there is no proof forthcoming of these statements. However, we may add to the comment by Brother Hawkins an observation by Brother Sadler (page 224) where he tells us that the publication of the various Charges, etc., by Brother Dunckerley are of such a character that they not unlikely thereby originated the tradition that he had revised or remodeled the Craft Lectures; but to Brother Sadler it seemed more than probable that the compiler of the Lectures made a very free use of Dunckerley's brains in the work of compilation.

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