Thomas Dunckerley

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Frontispiece from Sadler's biography of Dunckerley

Thomas Dunckerley (23 October 1724 – 19 November 1795) was a prominent freemason, being appointed Provincial Grand Master of several provinces, promoting Royal Arch masonry, introducing Mark Masonry to England, and instituting a national body for Templar masonry. This was made possible by an annuity of £100, rising to £800, which he obtained from King George III by claiming to be his father's illegitimate half brother.[1]

Early career[edit]

In 1735, Dunckerley was articled to William Simpson, a barber and peruke maker of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, but ran away after just two years to join the navy.[2] He is recorded from 14 April to 4 August 1742 as an able seaman on the muster book of HMS Namur.[3] On 6 January 1745, the minutes of Trinity House at Deptford record that 'Mr Thomas Dunckerley being Examin'd & found Qualify'd to be a School Master in her Majesty's Navy & having produc'd a certificate (as usual) of his Sobriety & good Affection to his Majesty, he was certify'd accordingly'.[4] He is first mentioned in Admiralty records on 19 February 1744, when not quite twenty years of age, he was appointed schoolmaster on a seventy gun ship called the Edinburgh. In 1746 he was appointed Gunner on a sloop, a term equivalent to Chief Gunnery Officer. He proceeded to posts as Gunner on larger ships, including the 90 gun Prince. From 1757 to 1761 he served on the Vanguard as both Gunner and Schoolmaster. On this ship, he saw service at the Siege of Quebec. After service on the Prince, he was superannuated in 1764.[1]

Royal paternity[edit]

According to Dunckerley, it was in 1760, while attending his mother's funeral, her neighbour, Mrs Pinkney, told him of her death-bed confession. While her husband was away on the business of the Duke of Devonshire, she had been seduced by the Prince of Wales (later King George II), who was Thomas' natural father. Being immediately called away to sea, this information was of no immediate use to him. However, on his superannuation in 1764, monies owed to him were not paid due to incomplete paperwork, and he was obliged to pay medical expenses after an accident caused his daughter to require an amputation of the lower leg. This left him in debt, and arranging for his pension to be paid to his family, he took ship with the Frigate Guadeloupe to the Mediterranean. The next year, he was put ashore at Marseilles with scurvy. On his recovery, with the help of Captain Ruthven of the Guadeloupe and the financial assistance of freemasons in Gibraltar, Dunckerley managed to lay his case before several persons of rank on his way back to England. Finally, in 1767, his mother's statement was laid before King George III, who accepted Dunckerley's claim to be the half brother of his father, Frederick, Prince of Wales, the son of George II, and provided an annuity of £100, which quickly rose to £800.[1]

Dunckerley's claim of royal paternity was not universally accepted in his lifetime. On his death at least one contemporary cast doubt on his illegitimacy. Recent studies also claim to refute his own version of his parentage.[5]

Dunckerley as freemason[edit]

Dunckerley was initiated into freemasonry at Lodge No 31, at the Three Tuns in Portsmouth, in January 1754. In 1760, he obtained a warrant for a lodge aboard the Vanguard, which he took to form London Lodge (now no. 108) in 1768. After leaving the Vanguard, he obtained a warrant for a lodge on the Prince, which he later transferred to the Guadeloupe. With the Vanguard warrant, he obtained a roving commission from the Premier Grand Lodge of England to inspect the state of the craft wherever he went, under which authority he installed the first Provincial Grand Master of Canada, Col. Simon Frasier, in Quebec in 1760.[6]

In 1767, he was appointed Provincial Grand Master of Hampshire. At that time, the office of Provincial Grand Master had fallen into disuse, but Dunckerley would personally revive it in several counties, although the exact chronology is hard to establish. He is known to have been the Provincial Grand Master for Essex at least from 1776, and a document of 1786 appoints him Provincial Grand Master for the Counties of Dorset, Essex, Gloucester, Somerset and Southampton, the City and County of Bristol and the Isle of Wight.[6] In 1785, Dunkerley founded the Lodge of Harmony number 255, at the Toy Inn at Hampton Court, presumably as his own home lodge.[7] It was at Dunckerley's request that the Province of Bristol was created, still unique in English Freemasonry as the only province confined to a single city, and having all of its lodges meeting in the same building.[8]

In 1766, the Moderns who worked the Royal Arch degree formed a Grand Chapter with Lord Blayney at its head. He made Dunckerley his Grand Superintendent, in which capacity he authorised chapters, and toured his provinces creating new chapters and Royal Arch masons, frequently (according to some historians) exceeding his authority.[1] Although Dunckerley belonged to the Moderns Grand Lodge, he leaned towards the Antients in ritual, making him a natural ambassador for Royal Arch Masonry in his own Grand Lodge. He was one of the signatories on the original charter of the Moderns Grand Chapter.[9]

The first evidence of Mark Masonry is in 1769, when Dunckerley, at a Royal Arch Chapter, made several brethren Mark Masons and Mark Masters. It is possible that Dunckerley created the degree.[10]

In 1791, Dunckerley became the Grand Master of the first national Grand Conclave of English Masonic Knights Templar. His energy and organisational zeal contributed to the growth of the order until his death in 1795. After this, the institution became moribund until revived by the Duke of Kent almost a decade later.[11]

The encyclopedist Albert Mackey blamed Dunckerley for inventing Royal Arch Masonry, and splitting the third degree in the process, removing the true word of a mason to the new degree, and losing the original "pure" form of the ritual forever.[12] This is unlikely, as the Royal Arch degree was worked for at least a decade before Dunckerley's initiation.[9]

He published a number of charges, lectures and songs related to different branches of freemasonry. Together with Grand Secretary Heseltine and William Preston, he campaigned and raised funds for the first dedicated headquarters of English freemasonry, the first Freemasons' Hall. During his lifetime he held various high masonic offices: Past Senior Grand Warden of England, Provincial Grand Master for the Counties above mentioned, and Past Grand Master and Grand Superintendent of Royal Arch Masons over eighteen counties.[1] His major contribution was to the emerging "higher degrees", the Templar, Royal Arch, Ark Mariner, and Mark degrees. Not only did he successfully promote them, he organised them, standardised their ritual, and forced them to keep proper records.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e Thomas Dunckerley, his life, labours, and letters by Henry Sadler, London, 1891
  2. ^ Susan Mitchell Sommers, Thomas Dunckerley and English Freemasonry, London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012, pp. 39-40.
  3. ^ Ron Chudley, Thomas Dunckerley: A Remarkable Freemason, London, Lewis Masonic, 1982, p. 64
  4. ^ Susan Mitchell Sommers, Thomas Dunckerley and English Freemasonry, London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012, p. 43
  5. ^ Susan Mitchell Sommers, Thomas Dunckerley and English Freemasonry, London, Pickering & Chatto, 2012
  6. ^ a b Southchurch Masonic Study Circle Clifford Wyatt, The Life and Times of Thomas Dunckerley
  7. ^ Middlesex Mark retrieved 29 August 2013
  8. ^ Province of Bristol The Canynges Lodge of Mark Master Masons, retrieved 27 October 2012
  9. ^ a b Phoenix Masonry Bernard E. Jones, Freemason's Book of the Royal Arch, revised Carr, 1966, retrieved 1 November 2012
  10. ^ Pietre Stones The Mark Degree, Craig Gavin, The Square Magazine Vol 25, September 1999
  11. ^ a b Dr. Susan Mitchell Sommers, The Revival of a Patriotic Order: Knights Templar in England and New York, Knight Templar Magazine, 2 January 2011, retrieved 2 November 2012
  12. ^ Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry Entry on York Rite, retrieved 2 November 2012