Book Review

‘A tale of secrecy, Freemasonry and pioneering archaeology as the young Lt Warren made his name tunnelling under the Holy City of Jerusalem in search of evidence of the Temple of Solomon and Herod the Great’.

The life of Charles Warren Royal Engineer, is a compelling story, full of action, conflict, triumph and disaster, with reputations gained and lost.

All set against the background of an expanding British Empire. It is a tale of secrecy, Freemasonry and pioneering archaeology as the young Lt Warren, still only in his twenties, tunnelled under the Holy City of Jerusalem in search of evidence of the Temple of Solomon and Herod the Great.

Although thrice knighted for his many achievements, Warren is most widely remembered as the controversial Metropolitan Police Commissioner who failed to catch Jack the Ripper .

In the end he faced the supreme challenge in the Anglo-Boer War, becoming the scapegoat for one of Britain’s greatest military disasters, the Battle of Spion Kop.

In this new biography, the first for 80 years, historian and biographer Kevin Shillington delves into the records and presents a reassessment of Warren’s reputation.

General Sir Charles Warren (1840 – 1927), the Metropolitan Police Commissioner who failed to catch ‘Jack the Ripper‘ – that is how most people recall him but there is far more to the man and his distinguished career than is readily found in the history books.

This biography of Charles Warren is the first for 80 years, and historian and biographer Kevin Shillington finally does the man justice.

Meticulously researched and lavishly illustrated throughout, this is a book that challenges the popular belief that Charles Warren had been an ineffectual Police Commissioner, castigated for his ostentatious officer dress and methods of policing.

He was widely pilloried in the press, and, particularly after Bloody Sunday on 18 November 1887, the more radical newspapers came down on him hard. Sick of the criticism over the ‘Jack the Ripper’ case, Warren, who had effectively become a scapegoat for the failings made by other officials and departments, decided to return to his military career.

That career began early in his life, training at the Military Academies of Sandhurst and Woolwich to become an officer in the British Royal Engineers.

In January 1859, at the age of 18, he found himself on his first adventure, to Gibraltar; his job there to survey the island. But it was also during his time on the Rock, that he joined Freemasonry.

Shillington gives us a detailed insight into the history of Freemasonry on the peninsular and how Warren’s father had also enjoyed Freemasonry during his time there in the early 1850s.

Most likely proposed by friends of his father, Warren was initiated into Royal Lodge of Friendship 278 on 30 December 1859; as he was still only 20 years old, he was entered as a ‘Lewis’, the dispensation given to a son of a Mason.

According to Shillington, one of Warren’s maxims in life was ‘if it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well’ – it would seem that he applied this not only to his Masonry but his life in general.

Cecil Rhodes c.1900
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

However, at a later date he was to become at odds with a fellow Freemason. Whilst on a ship bound for Kimberley, South Africa, his path crossed with that of Cecil Rhodes, the diamond merchant and imperialist.

Rhodes had recently joined the University of Oxford’s Apollo Chapter of Freemasonry; it was the only common ground on which the pair stood, and Shillington astutely points out that the ‘brotherhood of “civilised men” appealed to both Rhodes and Warren, although their concepts of it differed.

Warren saw Freemasonry as a means of binding good men together in a sense of duty to serve…for Rhodes it was just one element in the pursuit of power’.

Rhodes would continue to be a thorn in Warren’s side for years to come.

Warren’s Freemasonry did not stop there, in 1886, he was installed as a founding Master of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge 2076 – the first lodge to be dedicated to Masonic research.

The Lodge had petitioned for a Warrant of Constitution in autumn 1884 and they were adamant they wanted Warren as their first Master – however, at that point he was in the midst of preparations for his Bechuanaland Expedition and so they waited two years, with Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 finally being consecrated on Tuesday 12 January 1886.

Later in 1891 he became the third District Grand Master of the Eastern Archipelago in Singapore.

Southern aerial view of the Temple Mount showing, Al-Aqsa Mosque which is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Another fascinating aspect to Charles Warren, often overlooked, is his archaeological endeavours in Jerusalem.

In 1867, he was recruited by the Palestine Exploration Fund to conduct a Biblical archaeology ‘reconnaissance’.

During the PEF Survey of Palestine he conducted one of the first major excavations at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

His most significant discovery was a water shaft, now known as Warren’s Shaft, and a series of tunnels underneath the Temple Mount.

His fascination with the area, combined with his interest in Freemasonry, led to his search for evidence of the Temple of Solomon, and Herod the Great.

The back cover copy describes Warren as

‘a man of high principle and dogged determination’ and that he ‘thrived on a challenge: searching for lost British spies in the desert of the Exodus, or publicly calling out the rapacious colonialism of Cecil Rhodes.

Later, in different circumstances, he ordered the arrest of Winston Churchill’.

Boers at Spioen Kop, 1900 – Project Gutenberg eText 16462
IMAGE LINKED:  The Project Gutenberg EBook of With the Boer Forces, by Howard C. Hillegas. 1900 Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Warren, it seems, was in the Empire but not of the Empire, his liberal politics often at odds with his superiors and ultimately was part of the reason for becoming a scapegoat, not only for the Ripper debacle but also for one of Britain’s greatest military disasters, the Battle of Spion Kop.

For all his perceived failings, Warren achieved, and contributed, a huge amount to social, military and archaeological history.

He was knighted three times, awarded The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, and the Fellowship of the Royal Society.

Kevin Shillington’s biography of Sir Charles Warren, is an endlessly fascinating and absorbing read.

His thorough research and dedicated focus adequately presents a re-assessment of Warren’s reputation, and at 486 pages, offers a significantly detailed account of his varied and successful life.

Whether you are interested in history, a military buff, a Freemason, or just a curious reader of biographies, this will not disappoint – it is one of those books that sends you down your own ‘rabbit holes’ of research.

My advice – keep plenty of page markers handy!

Royal Engineer in the Age of Empire

by Kevin Shillington



Article by: Philippa Lee

Philippa Lee (writes as Philippa Faulks) is the author of eight books, an editor and researcher.

Philippa was initiated into the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF) in 2014.

Her specialism is ancient Egypt, Freemasonry, comparative religions and social history. She has several books in progress on the subject of ancient and modern Egypt.  Selection of Books Online at Amazon

Further reading:



by By Defender

General Sir Charles Warren, GCMG, KCB, FRS (7 February 1840 – 21 January 1927) was an officer in the British Royal Engineers.

He was one of the earliest European archaeologists of the Biblical Holy Land, and particularly of the Temple Mount.

Much of his military service was spent in British South Africa. Previously he was police chief, the head of the London Metropolitan Police, from 1886 to 1888 during the Jack the Ripper murders.

His command in combat during the Second Boer War was criticised, but he achieved considerable success during his long life in his military and civil posts.

In 1867, Warren was recruited by the Palestine Exploration Fund to conduct Biblical archaeology “reconnaissance” with a view of further research and excavation to be undertaken later in Ottoman Syria, but more specifically the Holy Land or Biblical Palestine.

During the PEF Survey of Palestine he conducted one of the first major Excavations at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, thereby ushering in a new age of Biblical archaeology.

His most significant discovery was a water shaft, now known as Warren’s Shaft, and a series of tunnels underneath the Temple Mount.Plan of the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif) from “The survey of Western Palestine-Jerusalem” (1884)

Warren and his team also improved the topographic map of Jerusalem and made the first excavations of Tell es-Sultan, site of biblical city of Jericho.

His findings from the expedition would be published later as “The survey of Western Palestine-Jerusalem” (1884), written with C.R. Conder.

Other books by Warren about the area include “The Recovery of Jerusalem” (1871), “Underground Jerusalem” (1876) and “The Land of Promise” (1875).


The Temple of the Tomb:

Giving Further Evidence in Favour of the Authenticity of the Present Site of the Holy Sepulchre, and Pointing Out Some of the … Holy Sepulchre and the Temples of the Jews.


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