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The Deputy Grand Masters of the Netherlands

This article is based very largely on an article entitled “Brief Review of History of Netherlandic Freemasonry in South Africa” which was included in “A Guide for the Apprentice Freemason”, and was originally published in 1932. The article itself was written by R W Bro Christian Silberbauer who, in his own right, played such a leading role in our history.

It was under the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands that Lodge de Goede Hoop was consecrated in 1772 and the Netherlandic constitution remained a part of Masonic life in the Cape of Good Hope for 189 years. Indeed, nearly all of the Lodges now operating under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of South Africa, were consecrated during this time and it is a reality that many of the “super-heroes” of South African Freemasonry made their enormous contributions as Netherlandic Masons.

Abraham van der Weyde, a ship’s Captain and senior officer in the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands, was instrumental in initiating the formation of our first Lodge, while Abraham Chiron was, of course, the first Presiding Master. van der Weyde, incidentally, met with an untimely death when during a fall-out with one Captain Philip Cassel they “crossed swords” and van der Weyde died of his wounds. This was some 9 months after inaugurating Lodge de Goede Hoop and would have resulted in what was, in all possibility, the first Masonic funeral at the Cape. During the first 9 years of its existence, the Lodge initiated some 140 new members, nearly all of whom were seafaring men. Circumstances at the time then saw England and the Netherlands at war, resulting in a dramatic reduction in shipping passing through the Cape. Inevitably, this created a problem for a Lodge with no settled membership and, as a result, they had to return their charter in 1781.

In 1790 the Lodge recommenced its Labours, this time focusing on attracting permanent residents as members. Francois Duminy, who is described as having “intense Masonic fervour”, had a major influence on the Lodge’s progress during this phase and would inevitably have played a part in the decision to acquire the garden “Domburg” and erect on it the world renowned Temple in which we still have the privilege of assembling on a regular basis.

As a result of a desire by British soldiers to have English workings, a new Lodge was then formed and quickly evolved into Lodge de Goede Trouw, which was duly consecrated in 1800. Interestingly enough, de Goede Trouw was initially named de Goede Verwachting, but this name seems to have been very short-lived for some reason or other.

At this stage it is perhaps worth mentioning the interesting reality that, of the 4 constitutions present in South Africa up until the mid 20th century, only the Netherlandic appointed a single Brother to formally represent the Supreme Authority throughout the whole of its South African jurisdiction. His title was the Deputy Grand Master National of the Netherlands. Over the next 160 odd years, this prestigious but extremely challenging position was held by no more than 9 men – and it is these men that we will be exploring in this article.

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Jacob de Mist

It was in the years around 1800 that the first Deputy Grand Master of the Netherlands appears in our records and, indeed, he had an enormous impact in laying our Masonic foundations. Jacob de Mist was Commissary General of Batavia and was sent to Cape Town to “form a Government” and “promote the prosperity of the people”. He was renowned as a far-seeing Statesman while, at the same time, he performed exceptional Masonic work amongst the Brethren involved in the Lodges at the time. Described as “a determined though mild revolutionary”, de Mist was a man of extremely high principles and impeccable integrity. During the few, very successful years he spent here, he promoted fraternal interaction, formalised the Lodge structures and consecrated the Temple – which had been built at a cost of some £10,000 or the equivalent of some R20,000. Interestingly, amongst his many profane accomplishments, he was also responsible for Cape Town’s coat of arms and, by the time this “man of imposing figure” finally took his leave of the Cape at the beginning of 1805, he had left a legacy never to be forgotten.

Before de Mist left the Cape, however, he appointed and invested Sir Johan Andreas Truter as his successor - and Truter was the Deputy Grand Master National for over 40 years, until his death in 1845. Truter came from a family that had settled at the Cape in 1722 and was well established in the local community. He exhibited exceptional talents at an early age and was sent to Leyden University where he completed a Doctor of Law. On returning home, he played a leading role in local affairs and was much respected for his opinions and advice. In 1812, Truter was appointed as the first Chief Justice of the Cape and, in 1820, was knighted for his services – this making him the first ever native South African to receive that distinction from the British Sovereign. He was highly respected as both a Mason and as a man and enjoyed the affection and respect of the fraternity at large. He also spent some 9 years as the Provincial Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England and is the only local Brother to have simultaneously headed 2 different Constitutions. Truter was also the first Brother to complete 50 years of membership of Lodge de Goede Hoop. In a tribute on his passing, the editor of the “Zuid Afrikaan” wrote of Truter, “He died as he had lived, calm, quiet and serene”.

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Sir Christoffel Brand

In 1847, Sir Christoffel Brand was appointed as the new Deputy Grand Master National and he held the position for some 27 years. In his article, Silberbauer writes that “no Brother can be said to have exercised so great an influence on the destinies” of our Constitution – and Brand certainly left a great deal to be remembered by. He was a grandson of one of the founders of Lodge de Goede Hoop and was from a well respected Masonic family. Brand is credited with “adjusting matters in the Symbolic and High degree branches of his jurisdiction”; played a major role in developing the long-term relationships between the Constitutions and was a great Masonic coloniser, travelling far and wide in his support and promotion of Netherlandic Freemasonry. Lodges such as Aurora (Pretoria), Unie (Bloemfontein), De Morgenster (Kroonstad), St Jan (Malmesbury) and la Belle Alliance (Swellendam) were examples of Lodges opened during his term of office – and he visited them all on an extended tour through the Cape Colony, the Free State and Transvaal in his 73rd year. Taking into account the travel facilities at the time, this was a truly remarkable expedition.

As with his predecessor, Brand had a Doctor of Law degree from Leyden. He evolved into politics and was the first Speaker in the Cape’s House of Assembly, holding that office from 1854 to 1874 and being knighted in 1859 in recognition of his work. The first meeting of the Cape parliament, incidentally, was held in the Lodge de Goede Hoop banqueting hall. In 1874, Brand relinquished the reins of office and on 19 May 1875, passed to the Eternal East. A painting of Sir Christoffel Brand is to be found on the wall on your right as you enter the Temple itself, while a hand-written letter from him is to be found in the Masonic Museum area being established above the PGL offices.

In 1874, Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr was appointed Deputy Grand Master, this being the same year that the Government appointed him as Master of the Supreme Court. In the early years of his 18 year tenure, he opened 15 new Lodges, but the Depression of the 1880s saw Brethren moving from the towns to the cities and several Lodges being closed. Hofmeyr’s professional duties precluded him from the travel tendencies displayed by his predecessor and, while he seems to have felt personally responsible at the loss of each Lodge, the reality is that the circumstances forced the situation and there is little that he could really have done to change events. Hofmeyr was a reserved man, with a deep love of everything Masonic. In 1892, the “great fire” which destroyed so much of the de Goede Hoop Temple had a profound effect on Hofmeyr, who died a few months thereafter. His photograph is to be found in our Masonic Museum, while the 3 statues so splendidly representing Wisdom, Strength and Beauty within the Temple, were all erected in Hofmeyr’s honour after the Temple had been reconstructed. Hofmeyr is not to be confused with “Onze Jan”, his namesake and the father of Afrikaans, whose statue stands in Hofmeyr Square. “Onze Jan”, according to the Dictionary of South African Biography, was one of Hofmeyr’s 12 children.

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Rev David Faure

The next Deputy Grand Master was highly educated and literate, but often somewhat controversial. He was a Clergyman and Journalist, the Rev David Faure, who is described as “wielding a powerful pen” and being “richly endowed with scholarly attainments and abilities as a public speaker”. He had received theological training in Holland and joined the Dutch Reformed Church but, after a dispute with the Synod, he withdrew from the Ministry and entered journalism. He was the Supreme Court Interpreter, where he caused an uproar when he publicly challenged what he had seen as an injustice done and he was also taken to task within the Masonic order over some of his theological observations. Brother Faure’s installation on 27 April 1893, was combined with the reopening of the Temple and was the largest ever meeting in the existence of the Lodge. Amongst his Masonic achievements was his resistance of attempts by the Netherlandic Grand Lodge to reduce the authority of Lodges overseas – and he continued to rule his Lodges unhindered. Faure’s age was against him, however, and the duties of Deputy Grand Master were simply too exacting for a man of his years. He resultantly retired in 1897. In his relatively short term in this office he was acknowledged as having performed much good work on Masonic rituals, laws and documents.

In 1897, Prof Charles Edward Lewis, was duly installed as Deputy Grand Master. He was a leading academic who, after a distinguished career at South African College (now UCT) and Cambridge University returned to the Cape to be placed in a professorial chair and have a Doctor of Laws degree conferred on him. He joined de Goede Hoop in 1891 and 3 years later attained the Master’s Chair, an accomplishment previously unheard of. Lewis was the first Deputy Grand Master since Brand to visit the Transvaal and the Free State and this had a very significant effect on cementing the bonds within local Netherlandic Masonry. Lewis also made an outstanding contribution in the field of Masonic education, particularly with regard to the Education Funds.

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Christian Silberbauer

1904 saw Conrad Christian Silberbauer installed as Deputy Grand Master, a position he then held for some 40 years. Like several of his predecessors, he was a well respected lawyer and is described as being “a man of very large heart, always kindly, tolerant and tactful”. He was recognised as a wise administrator who made very few mistakes. Shortly after he had settled into his new position, the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Transvaal was formed and his term of office saw the opening of a large number of new Netherlandic Lodges. He was known as the Masonic poet and, together with his brother C Fred Silberbauer, was an accomplished Masonic writer. Between them they penned many articles and hymns which are still regularly used today. Tradition has it, incidentally, that Silberbauer always attended formal Masonic occasions in full court dress – tailcoat, lace shirtfront, knee breeches, silk stockings and silver buckled shoes. Were you to be standing at the door of the main Temple facing East, a painting of Silberbauer is to be found on the left hand wall of the outer vestibule of the Lodge. It is also an interesting fact that, no more than 20 years ago, his 2 great grandsons were concurrently the Masters of Lodges de Goede Hoop and de Goede Trouw.

Silberbauer’s passing saw a distinguished military man, Col John George Rose DSO, take over as the new Deputy Grand Master and he served in this role for the next 12 years, during which a number of new Lodges were opened.

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Lt Col Graham Botha

In 1957, Lt Col Colin Graham Botha was installed as the last Deputy Grand Master National of the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands. Botha, a Lawyer by background, had established and been the much respected Master of the National Archives and a historical writer of note. He also used his skills as an archivist to recover many of our historical records and was held in high regard as a leader by the heads of our Sister Constitutions.

It was during Botha’s term of office, of course, that the misguided efforts of the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands to bring about unity in Europe in the post World War II years, saw the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland threatening to sever their ties with that of the Netherlands. For the Netherlandic Lodges in South Africa, this would have been disastrous. The result was a decision to break away from the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands and to form the Grand Lodge of South Africa – with Lt Col Botha, whose portrait, incidentally, is to be found on the right hand wall of the outer vestibule of the de Goede Hoop Temple, being installed as its first ever Grand Master!

Those of us privileged enough to be members of the Order today, indeed tread in very big footprints. Our forefathers, who did so much to create the structures we are now blessed with, included some extraordinary men. Men who left their legacy not only in Freemasonry but in all spheres of our society. They were men to look up to – and men to follow!

R W Bro Geoff Edwards