ISSUE 19, October 2006
Historic: Rabbi and Mason
Travel: Morocco's exotic charm
Quarterly Communication: Address by the Pro Grand Master and Report of the Board of General Purposes
Working with Youngsters: The Grand Master goes fishing
Community Relations: Saying it with flowers
International: Spanish Freemasonry under the microscope
   Events: Grand Lodge Award; Royal Masonic Variety Show
Specialist Lodges: Masonry on the canal
Freemasonry and Society: A Churchman's view of Masonry
Education: Toast of the town and Events
Young Masons: The Universities Scheme
Library & Museum: The Freemasons's Tontine
Masonic Charities: The Grand Charity and NMSF and RMTGB and RMBI
Book reviews

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Subscribers to the scheme came to be known more commonly as “proprietors”, this being the more accurate term, as the people who initially subscribed to the tontine did not always remain involved. Often, the subscriber would die before the nominee. In this circumstance, the share in the tontine could be bequeathed to another individual in the subscriber’s will.
    Frequently a subscriber would leave their tontine share to their nominee, so that the nominee became the proprietor of the share on their own life. The proposals for the scheme state that subscribers were permitted to “assign or transfer all, or any part of his interest therein.”
    However, some shares in the tontine were actually sold. One 1793 document from the Freemasons’ Tontine archives advertises the sale by auction of two shares. One share was on the life of a “healthy gentleman aged 33 years, or thereabouts”, the other share on the life of a male, 23. Perhaps, surprisingly, the share staked on the life of the older man sold for £55, which was £5 more than that of the younger man.
    Along with the proprietors and the nominees a number of Tontine Trustees were also appointed “for securing in the most effectual manner the due payment of the … yearly interest of £250 for the benefit of the subscribers.”
    Proprietors of shares only received their twice-yearly dividends once they had proved that their nominee was still alive. A visit by the nominee to the Tontine Committee treasurer or secretary usually confirmed this. Alternatively proprietors could send certificates written by a local official such as a Justice of the Peace or church minister as proof that their nominee was still alive. Nevertheless, it must have been difficult at times to verify that nominees were still alive, especially if they moved overseas.
    Where any dividend or dividends were unclaimed for a period of 12 months or more, a letter was sent to the proprietor requiring him or her to apply for payment and to provide proof of the existence of their nominee. If the person could not be located then a notice was inserted in the London Gazette and in another public newspaper (the expense of which was deducted from the accrued dividend amount).
    Six months were allowed for the production of proof, after which the accrued amount would be divided and paid equally to the remaining proprietors. In practice, several years could pass without the dividend being forfeited.
    The first year’s dividend in the tontine was paid at Midsummer 1776. Proprietors received £2 10s (worth around £158 today). Subsequent dividends were paid in half yearly instalments. Ten years (and a few deaths) later, proprietors received an annual total of £2 13s 4d per share. In 1806 – 30 years after the beginning of the tontine – proprietors were receiving £4 6s 1d for each share they possessed. By 1816 this had risen to £4 10s 10d.
    The last extant tontine dividend book records receipts of payments up to the Christmas of 1845. At this time there were only five nominees still in existence. With only five proprietors sharing the £125 half yearly interest, they each received a dividend payment of £25, the equivalent of just over £1,000 today.
    The final survivor of the tontine was Anne Ellis. She was just two years old when her father, Sir Peter Parker, had nominated her. Parker had a successful naval career and was a great friend and patron of Horatio Nelson. As the senior naval officer, he was appointed chief mourner at Nelson’s funeral in 1805. He was a prominent Freemason, Senior Grand Warden in 1772 and Deputy Grand Master 1787-1811.
    The death of Ann Ellis, aged 89 in 1862, meant the end of the Freemasons’ Tontine. Her death was reported at Grand Lodge at a time when they were looking to rebuild the site once more.
    So was the Freemasons’ Tontine a success? It raised a large sum of money in a very short time, but proved an expensive form of finance – over the 87 years the scheme was in operation, Grand Lodge paid £21,750 of interest.

Researchers are welcome to study the tontine documents in the Library and Museum and more information about the tontine can be found in The Library and Museum book, The Hall in the Garden: Freemasons’ Hall and its place in London, available from Letchworth’s Shop ( and which is reviewed on P65.

Photograph courtesy of the Library & Museum of Freemasonry

Admiral Sir Peter Parker, whose
nominee was the last surviving
member of the Tontine

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