The Gormogons

The Antient Noble Order of the Gormogons had a brief existence in the eighteenth century; they left few records or accomplishments, and there is no indication as to their true purpose other than to parody and degrade Freemasonry, and perhaps further the Jacobite cause.

Rev. A. F. A. Woodford, editor of Kenning’s Masonic Cyclopaedia, described it as;


a secret and ridiculous society, which was established about 1724, in opposition to and ridicule of Freemasonry

 

The first communication of the Gormogons was published in the London Daily Post on 3 September 1724:

Whereas the truly ANTIENT NOBLE ORDER of the Gormogons, instituted by Chin-Qua Ky-Po, the first Emperor of China (according to their account), many thousand years before Adam, and of which the great philosopher Confucious was Oecumenicae Volgee, has lately been brought into England by a Mandarin, and he having admitted several Gentlemen of Honour into the mystery of that most illustrious order, they have determined to hold a Chapter at the Castle Tavern in Fleet Street, at the particular request of several persons of quality.

This is to inform the public, that there will be no drawn sword at the Door, nor Ladder in a dark Room, nor will any Mason be reciev’d as a member till he has renounced his Novel Order and been properly degraded. N.B. — The Grand Mogul, the Czar of Muscovy, and Prince Tochmas are entr’d into this Hon. Society; but it has been refused to the Rebel Meriweys, to his great Mortification.

The Mandarin will shortly set out for Rome, having a particular Commission to make a Present of the Antient Order to his Holiness, and it is believ’d the whole Sacred College of Cardinals will commence Gormogons.

Notice will be given in the Gazette the Day the Chapter will be held.

This instantly set the scene that this new ‘Society’ was firstly, rather eccentric, and secondly, having an immediate poke at Freemasonry.

It purported to be descended from an ancient society in China, founded by the first Emperor of China Chin-Qua Ky-Po, and Confucius as their original Oecumenicae Volgee (Grand Master).

A mysterious ‘Mandarin’ then travelled to England and admitted several ‘Gentlemen of Honour’ into their ‘most illustrious order’.

The word ‘Gormogon’ is – according to The Freemason (Nov. 16, 1895) – a ‘compound Chinese word consisting of “Gor”, signifying “Brother or Friend”; “Mo”, a “word of Eminence”; and “Gon”, signifying “Antiquity”, or that the province of “Mo-Gon”, in China, denotes “The Most Excellent and Most Ancient Kingdom”’.

Other sources have variants of the etymology of the name. In Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang it states that the word is a contraction of ‘gorgon’ and ‘dragon’, whereas the Oxford English Dictionary describes it as ‘meaningless: pseudo Chinese’.

In the humorous 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, the word ‘gormagon’ [note the variant spelling] is listed as:

A monster with six eyes, three mouths, four arms, eight legs, five on one side and three on the other, three arses, two tarses [penises], and a *** upon its back; a man on horseback, with a woman behind him.

No Freemason was welcome to join until he had ‘renounced his Novel Order and been properly degraded’, something that was reiterated in several articles which followed: one on Monday 14 September in which an article and then several letters appeared in The Plain Dealer.

But the fullest account of the Order is given in the second edition of the Grand Mystery of the Freemasons Discovered, published October 28th, 1724. Robert Freke Gould states in his Concise History of Freemasonry (1904), that the text contained:

 

‘Two Letters to a Friend—the first, concerning the Society of Free Masons; the second, giving an Account of the most Ancient Order of Gormogons’.

In the latter, Verus Commodus—whose signature is attached to both—observes, ‘I cannot guess why so excellent and laudable a Society as this of the GORMOGONS, should think it worth their while to make it an Article to exclude the Free-Masons. . . .

Except there be any Truth in what I have heard reported. . . . The Report is this.

That the Mandarin [Hang Chi] has declared, that many years since. Two unhappy busy persons who were Masons [Anderson and Desaguliers], having obtruded their idle Notions [Book of Constitutions] among the Vulgar Chineze, of Adam, and Solomon, and Hiram . . . being Crafts-men of their Order; and having besides, deflower’ d a venerable OLD Gentlewoman [taken unwarrantable Hberties with the Operative Charges and Regulations], under the Notion of making her an European HIRAMITE (as they call’d it) . . . they were hang’d Back to Back, on a gibbet. . . . And ever since, it has been an Article among the Gormogons, to exclude the Members of that Society, without they first undergo a solemn Degradation. …

If ever you hear from me again on this subject, it will be in a few REMARKS on that empty Book called The Constitutions, etc., of the Free-Masons, written, as I am told, by a Presbyterian Teacher, and pompously recommended by a certain Orthodox, Tho’ Mathematical Divine.”

Then, a few months later in the British Journal (December 12, 1724) this missive appeared:

We hear that a Peer of the first Rank, a noted Member of the Society of Free-Masons, hath suffered himself to be degraded as a member of that Society, and his Leather Apron and Gloves to be burnt, and thereupon enter’d himself as a Member of the Society of Gormogons, at the Castle-Tavern in Fleet Street.



Portrait of Philip Wharton, 1st Duke of Wharton (1698-1731)
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The reference to ‘a peer of the first rank, a noted Member of the Society of Free-Masons’ is believed to be Philip, Duke of Wharton (21 December 1698 – 31 May 1731).

Wharton was a politician with strong Jacobite leanings. He was held to be the founder of one of the notorious Hellfire Clubs in London, a satirical gentleman’s club, which mocked religion and upheld the trend of blasphemy that was engulfing Britain at the time.

Wharton also founded an offshoot of the Hellfire club based in Twickenham – called The Schemers – which leaned more towards debauchery than blasphemy.

In 1721, the clubs were disbanded at the behest of King George I, who, influenced heavily by Wharton’s political enemy Robert Walpole, announced a bill against immorality specifically aimed at the Hellfire Club.

After the club disbanded Wharton leapfrogged his Masonic offices to become the Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England, not bad for a chap who had never been the Master of his own lodge at the King’s Arms near St Pauls.

On 21 June 1722, he was elected as the sixth Grand Master, with Dr John Desaguliers as his Deputy and James Anderson as Grand Warden.

The following year Wharton attempted to extend his position but was thwarted; thereafter ties with Grand Lodge were cut and relationships soured.

Poet and satirist Alexander Pope wrote this of Wharton:

Wharton, the scorn and wonder of our days,
Whose ruling passion was the lust of praise…



The Mystery of Masonry brought to light by ye Gormagons after William Hogarth
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The cartoon featured above was by the prolific artistic satirist, and Freemason, William Hogarth (1697-1764).

Entitled ‘The Mystery of Masonry brought to light by ye Gormagons’, it featured some extraordinary caricatures of which it is believed that ‘the figure with his head through a ladder may be intended to be James Anderson; the figure in armour, Philip, Duke of Wharton; and the figure on the ass is perhaps John Desaguliers’ (from ‘William Hogarth and his Fraternity’, AQC. lxxvii (1964) pp. 14-18).

 

It was generally surmised that Wharton was behind the Gormogons, fuelled by his humiliation by, and subsequent disgust, of the Freemasons. The Freemason magazine of Nov 16, 1895, stated that:

 

…the Order of the Gormogons was his [Wharton’s] creation ; or, if not , that finding it a society already organised to his band , he made use of it to inflict as much damage and ridicule as possible upon the Freemasons, and at the same time to win all the support in his power for the Jacobite cause, of which from about the year 1724 till his death in 1731, he was the confirmed adherent.  

 

The Grandmaster (or Oecumenical Volgee) was Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay of Ayr, Scotland, a Jacobite of strong convictions. There were theories by Robert Freke Gould and a Dr Kloss that the Gormogons held several political and religious intentions:

 

I. That the (Ecumenical Volgee was no less than the Chevalier RAMSAY, then at Rome in attendance upon the Young Pretender;
II, That the movement was a deeply-laid scheme on the part of the Jesuits to obtain certain ends ;
III. That in the Gormogons we meet with the precursors of the Schismatic Masons or ‘Ancients’.

 

Whatever their machinations, the Order was not successful and little more was heard from the Gormogons after 1728, when Wharton wrote a piece in Mist’s Journal. This came a year after he had been charged with High Treason for supporting the King of Spain during the 1727 siege of Gibraltar.

Wharton could not return to England for fear of being put on trial and he passed away on 31 May 1731. After this date there was no more mention of the Antient and Noble Order of the Gormogons being in existence.

There are however, a very few Gormogon medals that still exist; one is at The Library and Museum of Freemasonry at Grand Lodge of England, Great Queen Street in London, and another displayed in the British Museum.

Gormogon Medal
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Another higher definition version of the medal in the British Museum

Image linked: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/C_MG-1039

Image copyright: of The British Museum

Gormogon Society; silver medal; oval; obverse; draped bust of Chinaman with high head-dress surrounded by legend: medal surmounted by dragon with loop for suspension in its mouth; projection at bottom with inscription; reverse: sun in its splendour with surrounding legend. Production date 1724-1725

 

In 1729, satirical poet Henry Carey published his Poems which included a piece entitled ‘The Moderator between the Freemasons and Gormogons’:

 

The Masons and the Gormogons

Are laughing at one another,

While all mankind are laughing at them,

Then why do they make such a pother?

They bait their hooks for simple gulls

And truth with bam they smother;

And when they’ve taken in their culls,

Why then ’tis welcome brother.

 

Further Reading:

A Concise History of Freemasonry by Robert Freke Gould https://archive.org/details/cu31924030281459

The Life and Writings of Philip, Duke of Wharton by Lewis Melville, 1913 https://archive.org/stream/lifewritingsofph00benjuoft#page/n7/mode/2up

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