History of the Royal Black Institution

The Rev Mr Harris, Grand Chaplain of the Order in England, in his evidence before the Parliamentary Committee of enquiry in 1835 said of the Royal Black Institution –

“That the objects were the same with those of the Orange Institution, but of older date than that body. It is one of the oldest Societies in England, in Ireland it is much more prevalent than Orangeism.”

In the infancy of the Royal Black Institution there are few if any recorded Book of Rules or separate Warrants of authority under which its Officers could confer Degrees until about 1820. In the early years the brethren were content to manage all their affairs under an Orange Warrant, with a few added bye-laws.

Like the Orange Association the Royal Black Institution has affiliated branches in all parts of the World.

The most authentic history of the Royal Black Institution can be collected from the Annals and Documents of the Grand Orange Lodges of Great Britain and Ireland, and these being from time to time duly placed on record, can admit of no doubt or speculation.

The first mention of the Royal Black Institution appears in the very first book of Rules of the Orange Institution drawn up in 1798, which itself proves that it must have been in existence previously and well spread to have called the attention of the framers of this book to have been fixed upon it. On page 22 we read –

“Many persons having introduced various Orders into the Orange Society which will very much tend to injure the regularity of the Institution, the Grand Lodge disavow any other Orders but the Orange and Purple, as there can be none others regular, unless issuing from and approved of by them.”

From various Forms of Certificates and Citations still preserved bearing date about this time and later we find what are called the higher Orders were known over many parts of Ireland which may in a great measure be attributed to the Military, Militia and Yeomary Corps carrying Orange Warrants. The artist who composed the ornamental heading of these documents showing the symbols of the Sun, Moon and Stars, together with the Emblem of Mortality did so under the initials of I.H.S. His identity is unknown.

The Grand Lodge of Ireland did not however approve of these ‘Higher Orders' as is well documented when the Grand Orange Lodge issued the following address in 1811 –

“The Grand Lodge would here close this congratulatory letter to the members of our Order were they not called upon by letters from the North which state……the practice of mystically initiating into Black, Red and perhaps Green Orders continues.”

The Grand Lodge of Armagh bears testimony against those innovations as appears by the following address - Grand Lodge of Ireland – “To whom it may concern . It having been reported by several gentlemen that in defiance of the Rules of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland some Masters of Lodges in different parts of the Kingdom, have initiated Orangemen into systems which they term Black, Scarlet, Blue, Royal Arch Purple, &c, Resolved unanimously – “That the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland does acknowledge no other colours or degrees amongst Orangemen but Orange and Purple, and that all other colours or names of Black, &c., are illegal, and that if any Orangeman shall presume, after public notice of this Resolution to meet in any such Black, or similar Lodges upon due proof thereof he shall be expelled, and his name sent to every Lodge in the Kingdom. Signed, D. Verner, Grand Secretary of County Armagh, November 11 th , 1811.

Owning to the above statement from the Orange Order it is no wonder there are few if any written and recorded records belonging to the Royal Black Institution in its infancy as it was very much a secretive organisation until 1820. As both organisations wished, to be known as ‘Grand Lodge'.

In the year 1819 the District of Armagh determined that they would hold meetings composed of Knight of the different Orders on the first day in January and July each year, 1820.

This was a highly significant and most important era in the history of the Royal Black Institution. From 1820 the Royal Black Institution stands independent and wholly apart from the authority of the Orange Institution.

Due to the virulent attacks made on it by the Officers of the Orange Institution, measures were adopted to place the Black Institution under a government of its own. Accordingly a meeting took place in Dublin, and a Grand Lodge was formed with power to issue warrants, on the authority of which the members of the Order could propagate its mysteries independent of any other Association.

To understand the state of parties at this time, its is necessary to pursue carefully the Rules of 1820, so great had the contention become between the disputants, that the Grand Orange Lodge inserted in this edition of their rules a clause in the obligation to the following effect :- “ That I will not make, nor assist, nor sanction, the making of any Member in any other Order purporting to be part of the Orange system, than the Orange and Purple, which are the Original Orders of the Institution. ”


The first Royal Black Warrant was signed on 16th September 1797.

"The Magnanimous and Invincible Order of Royal Blackmens Association" of Lodge No. _ , held in _________, having commences on 16th September, in the year 1795, for the preservation of our Glorious King and Constitution.

We, the Right Worshipful the Grand Master, Deputy Master, Deputy Grand Master, and Grand Pursuivant, and the rest of the Grand Officers of this Noble Order meet for the sole and only purpose of relieving our distressed and oppressed loyal Protestant Brethren around the Globe, this being our Warrant. Given under our hand and seal.

Long live our Glorious King and the Memory of our Glorious Deliverer, William III.

Signed -

Joseph Tineman, Grand Master - 16th September 1797
Benjamin Goodman, Deputy Grand Master - 17-09-1797
Thos. Tinley, Grand Pursuivant - 17-09-1797
Daniel Maulang, H.P. - 17-09-1797
George Dobson, D.H.P. - 17-09-1797
John Ladd, G.S. - 17-09-1797
Alfred La Grues, D.G.S. - 17-09-1797

Locus Sigili.

The Seal is the same that used at present.


From the above names we can conclude that the Grand Officers, at least some of them, were members of No. 1 or that it constituted the Grand Lodge.

The Grand Royal Black Institution then proceeded to issued warrants not only in Ireland, but also to the Colonies. The Orange Society tried to counteract this new found enthusiasm, and issued a new Book of Laws. Several Orange Districts in County Armagh who were admirers of the higher Order, protested against the new edition to the following effect :- “We, the undersigned, requests all Masters and Officers of Lodges throughout Ireland, who are determined to support and maintain the original Orange Institution as formed in 1795, to meet at Armagh on the 10th July next, then to enter into such regulations as may be deemed necessary for the further support of our glorious Institution.

Given under our hands at Portadown, 5 th June, 1820.

Thomas Seaver, D.M. Camlough.

It is worth mentioning songs and squibs where published on both sides calculated to stir up ill feeling, they did however abound with much wit and humour.

In 1823 the Grand Lodge issued their 25th Warrant to Royal Black Association – Lodge No. 25 held in Warrenpoint, County Down. The signatures on the warrant are as follows :- Wm. Leedom, G.M.; John Moran, D.G.M.; Daniel Maulang, H.P.; Alfred La Grues, G.P., G.S.; John Patterson, G.P.

The records from 1823 to 1834 were either lost or destroyed as much cannot be said of the working of the organisation in this period. In 1834 however the Grand Lodge appears to have new officers, and are as follows :- Wm. Freeman, G.M.; G. Boyd, D.G.M.; J. W. Higgins, G.S.; John Ekan, G.T.; Hans Sloan, G.P.

We now arrive at the period when we must place on record the formation of the present Grand Black Chapter of Ireland. This was achieved under the following circumstances :- “A few Brethren in Armagh having heard of the existence of some of the foregoing mentioned lodges at Tandragee, Killyman, Belfast, Sligo, Bandon, Cork, and Co. Down, wrote on the subject of amalgamation, and the propriety of conferring together for that purpose. In pursuance of that object a meeting was held at Portadown, County Armagh, on Monday, 14 th September, 1846, when representatives from all parties were present and joined in the formation of a Grand Black Lodge, the Officers being selected equally from all parties – Thos. Irwin, G.M.; G. Whitten, D.G.M.; Edward Rogers, G. Reg.; G. D. Hughes, G. T.; Rev H. G. Hamilton, G.C.; Wm. M'Kelvey, G. P.; Rev J. B. Scriven, G. Cr. Copies of these proceedings are still in possession of many of our Brethren. At this meeting the Grand Registrar was deputed to draw up a Book of Rules, Form of Warrant and Certificate, all of which were duly submitted and approved of, and ordered to be printed at a general meeting held in Lisburn, in March, 1847, when the motto Tria Juncta un uno descriptive of the Union was first adopted. The subsequent proceedings of the body being duly registered in the Reports admit of no notice here, and we have only to explain the nature of two important officers, one of which (Censor) was added to the original list.

Censor - His authority is very extensive, in fact upon the office of Censor depends, in a great degree, the good order, conduct, discipline, regulation and conservation of the manners of the fraternity. He presides over Committees of Appeal, Explusions, &c. It is also his duty to see that an Enrolment of the Members be made every five years, and properly registered in a book denominated the “Censor Book.” His seat of office is in the committee room, and he may be recognised by the letter “C” embroidered on this scarf.

Pursuivant – The duty of this office is to attend to marshalling and ordering proceeding, solemnities, funerals and interviews. His badge of office is a wand or truncheon, and his place standing behind or on the right hand side of the Throne, that he may hear and proclaim aloud the orders of the Grand Master or his representative.

Below is a circualar written by Edward Rogers, Grand Register, Armagh for the meeting held in Lisburn, 1 st March 1847.

“Grand Black Orange Lodge of Ireland

‘Tria Juncta in uno'.

According to previous arrangement the Grand Officers and Members of the above Association, held their Half-Yearly Council in Lisburn, on Monday, the first of March, for the purpose of amalgamating the differences, and concentrating the force and sinews of three contending parties, each bearing the name of Grand Lodge.

Never was there manifested a greater unanimity of purpose; all gave way to the proper feeling, that there should be but one head, one mind, and one ruling power, to which all should refer for counsel and protection. The late grand officers were, with some slight alterations, unanimously elected; and the association now stands a noble and imposing edifice; complete in every point of ancient architecture and magnificence; and the proceedings of that day must ever be remembered in the annals of the institution, as a day of rejoicing and triumph.

Representatives were in attendance from the counties Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Down, Monaghan, Sligo, and Tyrone. Letters of apology for non-attendance were received from the brethren of Cork, Dublin, Louth, Fermanagh, Mayo, Leitrim, and Wicklow. Thus the remaining hand has been laid to the work, and it now remains with all parties bearing that name and dignity to come forward immediately, and enrol themselves under the colours that body has unfurled for the protection of such as may avail themselves of the many privileges now presented to them, and the advantages arising therefrom.

Edward Rogers Grand Register, Armagh – Printed at the ‘Guardian' Office, Armagh

List of Grand Masters and Grand Registrars - since the formation of the Grand Black Chapter of Ireland in Carleton Street, Portadown, 14 th September, 1846,

Grand Masters

1846 – Sir Knight Thomas Irwin, G.M.; County Down

1849 – Sir Knight Morris W. Knox,

1850 – Sir Knight Thomas H. Johnson, G.M.

1857 – Sir Knight William Johnson, G.M.; Ballykilbeg

1902 – Sir Knight Hunt W. Chambre, County Tyrone

1914 – Sir Knight Rt. Honourable W. H. H. Lyons, D.L. Antrim

1924 – Sir Knight Lt. Col. Sir W. J. Allen, D.S.O.; Armagh

Grand Registrars :-

1846 – Sir Knight Edward Rogers, G.R.; Armagh

1850 – Sir Knight Thomas Johnson, G.R.

1855 – Sir Knight Hunt W. Chambre, G.R.

1888 – Sir Knight Rev. J. M. Moutray, L.L.D.; G.R.

1908 – Sir Knight James S. Briggs, G.R.

1920 – Sir Knight W. N. Cross, G.R.

The Grand Black Chapter from its formation, assumed the title of “Grand Black Chapter of Ireland” until June 1921 , when the following title was unanimously adopted – “The Imperial Grand Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth” (Instituted in Ireland, 1797).

"The History of the Royal Black Institution above was recorded and provided by Sir Knt Edward Rogers, in November 25th 1857. Sir Knt Edward Rogers, was the Grand Registrar of County Armagh in 1846. To be in so high an office Sir Knt Edward Rogers, would have been a member of the Royal Black Institution well before 1846. We are greatly indebted to Sir Knt Edward Rogers, whose record of historical events above have added to our knowledge of events and names from within the Royal Black Institution before 1846."