Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library
The First Grand Lodge was established in London in 1717, followed by the Grand Lodges of Ireland in 1725, and of Scotland in 1736. A number of Masons from elsewhere, mainly Irish, took up residence in London at this period. These Masons did not approve of certain changes in the Ritual made by the First Grand Lodge in the 1740s, and they formed in London a rival Grand Lodge, designated “according to the Old Institutions Antients” which first met in July 1751. The two rival London Grand Lodges combined in 1813 to form the present United Grand Lodge of England. From these, four Grand lodges are derived, directly or indirectly, all regular Lodges throughout the world.

At no time was there any deliberate or organized attempt to introduce Freemasonry into any country. Freemasonry indeed spread very rapidly through traders who were Freemasons meeting in overseas towns, and if a sufficient number were present, they formed themselves into a Lodge. At least equal in importance were the Military Lodges of British Regiments, who initiated civilians in the towns where they chanced to be on duty for a period. These local Masons often formed a new stationary Lodge in the town concerned. The first Lodge in Australia, now Antiquity No. 1 in Sydney, was formed in this way.

Of course, a group of Masons wishing to form a Lodge were required to obtain a Dispensation from a recognized Masonic authority. The First Grand Lodge began issuing Patents to Provincial Grand Masters in 1729. These officials were not in charge of Provincial Grand Lodges, but were authorized to issue Dispensations to new Lodges in the areas under their supervision. The first Patent was issued for East India, that is Calcutta, in 1729. In Europe, Patents were issued for Saxony in Germany in 1730, for Denmark and Norway in 1749, and for other German States, Hamburg, Hanover and Brunswick later in the 18th Century. By the same means, Lodges were established in Holland, Italy, Switzerland and Russia, all before 1800. Most of these countries formed their own National Grand Lodges during the 18th Century, but in Russia the Empress Katherine banned Freemasonry in 1794.

In the American Colonies, Lodges were formed following the arrival of Military Lodges, and Provincial Grand Masters were then appointed, usually by the First Grand Lodge in London. Lodges were established in Massachusetts in 1733, New York in 1737, Pennsylvania in 1732, South Carolina in 1736, Bermuda in 1744 and in Georgia in 1735, only three years after that Colony was settled in 1732. A Lodge meeting was held in Quebec soon after its capture by the British in 1759, and the first Lodge was formed in Newfoundland in 1746. After the American Colonies declared their Independence in 1776, the Provincial Grand Lodges one by one declared their Masonic independence, in the next ten years or so. Today there is a Grand Lodge in each of the fifty States, and also one in Washington D.C., the Federal Capital. There is also a Grand Lodge in each Province of Canada, including Newfoundland from 1997.

To sum up, Lodges had been established in every Continent, except one, by 1800. That is, within a hundred years after the founding of the First Grand Lodge. The exception, Australia, established its first Lodge in 1820, just 32 years after the first white settlement. During the 19th Century, Lodges were established in most of the other countries, that is, in those not already mentioned. Even small islands, like Fiji and Western Samoa in the Pacific and St Helena in the South Atlantic were included in the spread of Freemasonry.

One last point of interest: most of the British Military Lodges in the 18th Century had Warrants from the Grand Lodge of Ireland or from the Antients’ Grand Lodge in London. When the Americans formed their own Grand Lodges, they kept their original rituals, which differ from that adopted by the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813. These differences still exist today.