William Graeme

Cooper (see “literature“) gathered some information about William Graeme, the most likely donor of the Kirkwall Scroll. Below is a summery of that information. For more details, you should buy the book. I have added a little digging of my own.

According to Cooper, Graeme was an Orkney native, but moved to London: “where he plied his trade as a house painter. After residing there for a number of years he secured the post of Keeper of Customs at Kirkwall and duly returned home.”

Even though Smith suggests that the name is misspelled for “Graham”, there is more reason to believe that William was really named “Graeme”. The website of lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning (1) has a list of past “Right Worshipful Masters” which includes a “Mungo Graeme” twice. In their history, they call the man: “Bro. Munro Graeme of Graemeshall” and say that: “Munro Graeme was the father of Alexander Graeme, the Orkney Admiral who was one of Britain’s foremost naval officers of his day, a contemporary and an intimate friend of Lord Nelson.”
“Graemeshall” is a place on Orkney. I think it is save to assume that “Graeme” is a (fairly) normal name on Orkney. It does seem that the name has been ‘modernised’ in time even officially in some families.

As we saw Graeme is listed in the lodge minutes of late 1785 as a visitor from an “Antient” lodge who wants to join the Kirkwall lodge. According to the minutes of the lodge from that time:

Bro. William Graeme, visiting brother from Lodge no 128 Ancient Constitution of England was at his own desire admitted to become a member of this Lodge, and he accordingly signed the articles and Rules thereof

About the lodge, Smith writes:

Lodge 128 wasn’t in Yorkshire, as Sinclair thinks, or Bury in Lancashire, as others have suggested.  According to Lane’s standard work on masonic records (1894 edition) it was at an unknown location in the West End of London.

And Cooper:

an Ancients Lodge in London (No.128) which met at a variety of taverns in Lodnon from the time of its foundation in 1767 until its disappearance in 1793.

Both refer to John Lane (2). It is not easy to find the information in that work and I even had the luck to be able to search for very specific information. Lodge numbers have been changed several times. I think this is the record Smith and Cooper are talking about:

So a lodge without a name, which existed from 1764 until 1793 after which it “lapsed”. Now how do I see that this was an “Antient” lodge? Here and there the records mention the jurisdiction. A random example:

No such mention about lodge no.128. I guess we’ll have to the Kirkwall lodge minutes’ word for it.

Unfortunately Cooper says only in passing that “[Graeme] had been made a Freemason in one of its [Ancients Grand Lodge] lodges”. Even though it is likely that the unnamed London lodge is Graeme’s mother lodge, there is nothing here to prove that. Nor do we know when Graeme was initiated. If the unnamed lodge was his mother lodge, this must have been after 1764.

It is also somewhat disappointing that neither Smith nor Graeme say anything about when exactly Graeme lived.

Who was William Graeme (more correctly Graham)? Paul Sutherland has written an entertaining account of Graham’s career, in a dissertation which should be published as soon as possible. He was a son of Alexander Graham, the Stromness merchant who waged a famous legal battle with Kirkwall notables in the 1740s and 1750s. ‘For a time’, two of William’s enemies wrote later, ‘[Graham] was employed as a journeyman house-painter in London. He returned to Orkney in poor circumstances, but Mason-mad.’ (Smith)

Could this Paul Sutherland have better information about Graeme? Wouldn’t have Smith used that information if it was in that dissertation? Neither Smith nor Cooper say anything -for example- about when William Graeme was born and died.

Graeme senior is a bit better known than his son, but -unfortunately- again much better known is his namesake “Captain” or “Admiral” Alexander Graeme (1741-1818), the son of Mungo Graeme who led the Kirkwall lodge twice.

I found mention of the father of William Graeme using the Act of Union of 1707 (to form the United Kingdom) for mercantile reasons in the 1740’ies (3). Therefor he must have been born around 1720 the latest. According to a fountain raised in his memory (4) he died on 16 April 1783, so 1720’ies is not unlikely. William Graeme -therefor- I suppose was born in the 1740’ies or 1750’ies.

Cooper describes how in 1790 six friends of William Graeme tried to join the Kirkwall lodge that Graeme had joined late 1785. They were rejected. If this was the reason is unknown, but soon after William Graeme asked the Grand Lodge of Scotland for a charter for a new lodge called St. Paul’s. Cooper doesn’t say where this new lodge was to be founded, but he does mention that Graeme asked his old lodge for help, so St. Paul’s probably wasn’t far away. The request was declined and Graeme “was expelled from Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning later in 1790.”
For the next 14 years Graeme was the master of the St. Paul’s lodge. The lodge stopped being active after that time. Perhaps the lodge did not survive the death of its founder.

Graeme was also active in a religious rebellious group (the “Anti-Burgher Faction”). Graeme used (the members of) his lodge for that initiative. The faction was successful enough to be able buy a building for which the lodge laid the first stone. Later the link between the Faction and the lodge were severed.

Cooper calls Graeme “deeply religious” which, he suggests, is the reason for the overtly Christian symbolism on the Kirkwall Scroll. Religion and Freemasonry combined in one artwork, perhaps another argument for appointing Graeme the creator of the scroll.

An open question is if Graeme had received all the degrees that are (likely) displayed on the scroll, and if so, where? Since the scroll appears to be more likely English “Antient” than Scottish, perhaps Graeme already had the degrees when he moved to Kirkwall.


(1) Lodge Kirkwall Kilwinning 38.2: Lodge Roll of Right Worshipful Masters, accessed 29 February 2024
(2) Masonic Records 1717-1894 by John Lane, 1895. The records are available from Archive.org (accessed 29 February 2024), but also as a searchable database (accessed 29 February 2024).
(3) Civil Disobedience in Stromness: Alexander Graham – The Orkney News (accessed 29 February 2024)
(4) Alexander Graham & Non Payment of Unfair Taxes – The Orkney News (accessed 29 February 2024)