ISSUE 16, January 2006
Historic: Sherlock Holmes incarnate
Travel: In the Footsteps of the Incas
Sport: Batting for England
Grand Lodge: Pro Grand Master's speech and Quarterly Communication
Supreme Grand Chapter: First Grand Principal's speech and Committee of General Purposes
Royal Masonic Girls' School: Stories in windows
Specialist Lodges: Brotherhood of the Angle
    Napoleonic Wars: A Mason's Word
International: Macedonia: New Grand Lodge consecrated and Enthusiasm unbound
Grand Lodge: Development of Freemasons' Hall
Masonic Rebels: Rise and fall
Bristol Museum: A Phoenix from the Ashes
Freemasonry and Religion: United in diversity
Library and Museum: Most glorious of them all
First Aid: Masons learn to shock
Education: The Third Degree and Forthcoming events
Masonic Charities, Letters, Book Reviews, Gardening

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© Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Frederick Seddon was hanged for the murder of his lodger, Eliza Barrow, in 1912
        Judge Darling, who presided at the main court hearing, was not a Freemason. John Hurd, however, the witness at the Assize hearing, and Tunnard Moore, chairman of the Bench at the magistrate’s court hearing, as well as William Rees, the foreman of the jury, all belonged to Loyal Hay Lodge. Armstrong was found guilty of the murder of his wife and hanged on 31 May 1922. He had had a successful Masonic career by any standards. Bro. E H Cleese, who was in the same solicitors’ practice as Oswald Martin, introduced him to Loyal Hay Lodge in Hay-on-Wye in 1906. Armstrong served as Master in 1912, Chaplain in 1920 and was appointed a Past Provincial Senior Grand Deacon for the Province of Herefordshire in 1921.
    The second case involving a Freemason is here being considered out of chronological sequence because of its greater significance to Freemasonry. It is the well-known case of Frederick Henry Seddon, who was tried, convicted and subsequently hanged at Pentonville Prison on 18 April 1912 for the murder of his lodger, Miss Eliza Mary Barrow. On being asked by the clerk of the court if he had anything to say as to why the sentence of death should not be passed against him, Seddon replied at length and appealed to the judge, as a brother Mason and in the name of ‘The Great Architect Of The Universe’ for a reversal of the jury’s finding.
    According to some sources, he gave the First Degree sign, begging for mercy. Judge Bucknill, a prominent Freemason, is recorded to have said, with some emotion:
It is not for me to harrow your feelings – try to make peace with your maker. We both belong to the same Brotherhood, and though that can have no influence with me this is painful beyond words to have to say what I am saying, but our brotherhood does not encourage crime, it condemns it.
    Then he pronounced the sentence of death. Spilsbury, very much a key player in seeing justice done, was still a young practitioner and not yet himself involved in Freemasonry. His colleagues who provided forensic evidence, however, were Masons.
    Dr William Henry Wilcox, medical adviser to the Home Office who, as already mentioned, was a member of the Craft, having been initiated on 13 March 1906 in Sancta Maria Lodge, of which Spilsbury was later to become a joining member. So was Dr John Webster, senior official analyst to the Home Office, initiated on 8 June 1909.
    The Seddon case remains one of considerable controversy. Aged 40 at the time of his trial, Seddon was seen to be an avaricious man whose only motive for the cruel murder of Eliza Mary Barrow was financial gain. He was accused of poisoning her with arsenic obtained from fly strips. The case against him was weak and depended almost entirely on the evidence of Spilsbury, whose expertise even this early in his career was instrumental and impressive.
    The trial Judge, RW Bro Thomas Townsend Bucknill, Provincial Grand Master for Surrey from 1903 to 1915, was initiated in 1873 in Lodge of Good Report No. 136. As to Frederick Seddon, he was initiated in Stanley Lodge No. 1325, Liverpool, in 1901 and resigned a year later to travel south. In 1905 he is named as a founding petitioner of Stephens Lodge No. 3089, Bourne End in Buckinghamshire. He resigned from both Lodges in 1906.
    As successful as his career had been, Spilsbury faced tragedies through his life. In 1940 he suffered a stroke and this was the start of the decline in his health. He had the shocking experience of hearing of his son’s death by way of a note of condolence from a colleague and not knowing which of his two sons had been killed.
    It was his son Peter, whose passing was announced without comment in open Lodge on 3 February 1941, the meeting at which Bernard Spilsbury was elected Master. It is said that Spilsbury was a changed man thereafter. He lost the spring in his walk and there was a marked decline in his mental alertness. He was a man fatigued and worried with the continuous pressure of unwholesome work. It finally led to his taking his own life on 17 December 1947. His remains were cremated at the Golders Green crematorium.
    Bernard Spilsbury’s standing as a staunch supporter of truth and justice, those special Masonic characteristics, and as the greatest forensic doctor of all time, will never be erased from memory.

Bibliography & credits

Ashby, John F, Death and the Freemason, AQC 108:11
Browne, N E & Tullett E V, Bernard Spilsbury: His Life and Cases, London 1951
Dewhurst T L, St Mary Magdalen Lodge No. 1523: 1875-1975
Wright, John, Sancta Maria Lodge No. 2682 1897-1997 – A Short Centenary History
Young, F, The Trial of the Seddons, AQC (1914) 108:27n;
Young, F, The Trial of H.R. Armstrong, AQC (1927) 27n
Also Bros Gordon Bourne, Michael Pugh, Bob Calderan, Zivanovic Srboljub, Trevor Dutt and, as ever, John Hart, for their helpful assistance

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