Dr Thomas Barnardo, whose many
orphanages made his name famous
Dr Thomas John Barnardo (1845–1905), nicknamed ‘The
Doctor’, was a leading reformer of the 19th century on a par
with Sir Robert Peel, Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale.
Single-handed, over a period of four decades, he improved
the life of hundreds of thousands of destitute children.
His first home opened in the East End of London in 1870.
At his death, in September 1905, there were nearly 8,000
children in 96 of his residential homes. Some 1,300 had
disabilities and 4,000 were ‘boarded out’, namely placed with
foster parents. An additional 18,000 children, controversially,
had been sent to Canada and Australia.
Relatively late in his busy philanthropic career, in
November 1889, Thomas Barnardo became a Freemason in
London at the mature age of 44, being initiated into Shadwell
Clerke Lodge No. 1910 at the Hotel Cecil in the Strand.
The Lodge, warranted on 22 April 1881, was founded in
November 1882 in honour of Colonel Shadwell H. Clerke,
who had been appointed Grand Secretary of the United
Grand Lodge of England two and half years earlier.
Barnardo’s progress through the three Degrees took place
in the old-fashioned way: one degree a year. He was passed
on 23 June 1890 and raised on 8 October 1891. Barnardo did
not take office, although he continued his full membership
to his dying day.
It is interesting to speculate as to what may have induced
him to become a Freemason. In his youth he had been an avid
reader of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), the positive
Swiss-born French [only from 1741 onwards, before moving
to Luxembourg in 1757, fleeing to Switzerland in 1762 and
then to England and back to Paris in 1767, but died insane]
philosopher and writer and of Thomas Paine (1737–1809),
the English intellectual, political and religious thinker.
Both men, although not Freemasons, advocated
philosophies with which Masonic thinking, fashionable
in the 1880s, not least because of Royal patronage, would
be in sympathy. Indeed, Thomas Paine published his own
theory on the origins of Freemasonry, which today remains
only of interest as an historical curiosity.
More importantly, however, a greater influence on
Barnardo to become a Freemason may have emanated
from his friendship with Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome
(1853–1936) the American-born British pharmaceutical
entrepreneur. Here was a dedicated and very active
Freemason, whose closeness to Barnardo was, at a later
stage, greatly enhanced when, in 1901, Wellcome married
Gwendolin Maud Syrie, Barnardo’s daughter.
Curiously, Henry Wellcome’s excessive Masonic
activities, inter alia, were cited by his wife as to the cause
of the separation between the two, which ended in a divorce
in 1915, with W. Somerset Maugham being named as a
co-respondent…but that is another story!