|John Staples Keddell was born on 10 September 1799 in Sheerness, Kent shortly after the Nore Mutiny. He was the son of Ambrose Keddell, who held the office of 'Clerk of The Cheque' a senior position at HM Dockyard at Sheerness. The young John Keddell was able to accompany his father as he visited other Royal Dockyards and consequently broadened his outlook on life. He proved an able student and in later life acquired an in-depth knowledge of science, literature and the scriptures in addition to an extensive knowledge of both Latin and Hebrew.
Keddell studied medicine at both Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospitals and became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) on 3 December 1819. Initially he practiced as a surgeon in Deptford until 1822 when he moved back to Sheerness. He became involved in public affairs and became the champion of ordinary folk, being often called 'the poor man's doctor'. Among other things, he was Secretary of The Isle of Sheppey Agricultural Association, Secretary of the National School Committee and was the Doctor to the Workhouse. He also acted as Medical Officer for the Dockyard and visiting Royal Navy personnel. In 1823 he married Elizabeth Holmden and had five children, three girls and two boys. His eldest son, William Frederick Keddell, became a surgeon like his father. In 1842, his wife died leaving him to look after his five children. Late in 1843, he married Augusta Swift though there were no children of his second marriage.
His second marriage ended with Augusta's death in 1859 and he married for a third time, Martha Frances Howe, some twenty years his junior. On 13 January 1859, he was awarded Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS).
On 4 February 1834 Keddell was initiated into Adams Craft Lodge No. 184 (now No. 158) and in December 1834 he 'Passed the Chair' and was thus able to preside at Lodge meetings, which he often did before his formal Installation as Worshipful Master in 1838. Having 'Passed the Chair', he was qualified to be exalted into Adams Royal Arch Chapter, which took place on 27 December 1836. Likewise he was able to receive the 'Ark and Mark' along with seven I Guy's Hospital other Brethren on 13 April 1838. Keddell was Master at this time, so clearly another qualified brother performed the 'Ark and Mark' ceremonies but the minutes are silent on whom this was. In addition to being Master in 1838, Keddell was also Master in 1857,1860 and 1866. In 1839, Keddell was presented by Adams Craft Lodge with a Craft Past Master's Jewel, doubtless because of the quality of his ritual. This Jewel is now on display at the Sheerness Masonic Centre. He was subsequently appointed ProvGSW of the Craft Province of Kent.
It was the custom before 1890, or thereabouts, for an Installing Craft Master or Chapter Principal to be appointed by the Province together with a few other Officers to visit a lodge or chapter and to take over the whole of the Installation Ceremony of the Worshipful Master or Principals. Thus, the Master or First Principal had no need to learn the Installation ceremony until the Investiture of Officers. With Keddell's ritualistic ability it was not surprising that he was regularly called upon to perform Ceremonies of both Installation and of Consecration. Examples of these are:
(i) On the 26 October 1856 Keddell assisted as Third Principal at the Consecration of Belvidere Royal Arch Chapter No. 503 at Maidstone, Kent. Following the Ceremony, thirteen new members were exalted with Keddell acting as First Principal alternatly with a Comp. Ashley. For the following five years, Keddell returned to Belvidere Chapter to act as the Installing Principal. For three successive years on St John's Day Keddell installed Bro Charles Isaacs into the Chair of the Royal Kent Lodge of Antiquity No. 20 at Chatham, Kent. Charles Isaacs was the Craft Provincial Grand Secretary at this time.
(ii) The Freemason of 9 October 1869 reports that on 29 September 1869 Bro Keddell was the Presiding Officer at the Consecration of St Michael's Lodge No. 1273 at Sittingbourne, Kent. The Presiding Officer delivered an address on Freemasonry in general which showed 'he had devoted no small amount of time to condense so many of the grand fundamental truths of the Craft and yet to give each its proper position and importance in so short a compass'. Bro Keddell then dedicated and constituted the Lodge. Owing to the severe illness of the Worshipful Master Designate, the Revd Bro Thomas Grabham, MA, which prevented his attendance, the ceremony of Installation was dispensed with. Bro Keddell then took charge of the Lodge until the health of the Worshipful Master Designate would allow him to be inducted into the Chair. A paper was read from the Worshipful Master Designate requesting the Presiding Officer to appoint several Brethren to their respective offices. The Worshipful Master pro tem invested the officers with their collar and badge of office, addressing each with a few wholesome words of advice. In commemoration ofthe event, the bells of the parish church of St Michael, to which the new Lodge is dedicated, sent forth a merry peal and the standard of old England floated from the Church Tower. The Town put on quite a holiday appearance and the band of the 16th Kent (Sittingbourne) Rifle Volunteers performed a variety of pieces during the dejeuner.
Keddell is recorded as having performed the Consecration of several chapters and lodges in Kent, and thus became well known amongst the Brethren of Kent. In the very same year of 1839 that Keddell was presented with a Craft Past Masters Jewel described above, he was also presented with a Mark Jewel, which is now held by the Museum at Freemasons' Hall, London. The inscription on this Jewel reads 'Adams Lodge 184 Sheerness - Presented to Brother J.S. Keddell as a MARK of fraternal regard - by Brother Hancorn -1839'. This Jewel would possibly suggest that Keddell performed some Mark Ritual whilst he was Master of Adams Craft Lodge in 1838 or possibly during the following year of 1839, very soon after he was himself advanced in 1838. Bro Hancorn was Master ofAdams Craft Lodge No. 184 (later No. 158) for the year of 1840. As well as being the Primus Master in 1857 of Adams Mark Lodge No. 6 John Staples Keddell was also Master a further three times in 1858, 1868 and 1869. The Freemason of7 August reports on a regular meeting of Adams Mark No. 6 on the 22 July 1869: Bro Keddell was in the Master's Chair supported by the whole of his officers. Eight Brethren were advanced to the Mark Master's degree, the ceremony being performed in Bro Keddell's usual impressive manner. Among the visitors were noticed Bro F. Binckes, Grand Secretary of the Mark Master Masons. Bro Binckes took the opportunity to compliment the Worshipful Master on the efficient way he conducted the ceremony and the able working of the several officers.
Among his many other attributes Keddell had a fine singing voice with his 'delightful singing' often being reported in the Masonic press of the day. In 1840 using his extensive knowledge of Hebrew, Keddell published A Dissertation on the Vow of Jephthah, which is often quoted by Biblical students even today. The Mark General Board on 10 June 1857 submitted an agreed version of the Hebrew characters on the Keystone, which was accepted. This has remained the English standard ever since. The Masonic Observer and Grand Lodge Chronicle of 20 September 1857, page 14, refers to contemporary comment about Keddell's 'Hebrew researches which have cast so much light upon the important stone.' The Revd N.B. Cryer in The Arch and the Rainbow (page 252) also reiterates this attribution to Keddell. Keddell was consequently appointed to active office as AGDC on the 11 December 1857.
John Staples Keddell died on 9 November 1870 in the fullness of his seventy-second year. He was given a full Masonic funeral on Thursday, 17 November, which was extensively reported in the local press of the day, that is the Sheerness Times and Sheerness Guardian. Adams Lodge made all the arrangements having received permission from the Earl of Amherst, the Craft Provincial Grand Master of Kent. The Brethren of Adams and De Shurland Lodges were formed in procession in Edward Street; De Shurland being the junior Lodge led, followed by Adams Lodge. Each of the Lodges carried its full regalia draped with black crepe, the Brethren wearing aprons al1d other insignia, with white gloves, black crepe hatbands, and black crepe armbands on the left arm. Numerous Brethren from much of Kent attended, especially the Royal Lodge of Antiquity No. 20, the Lodge of Harmony No. 133, Adams Lodge No. 184, the Gundulph Lodge No. 1050, the Pentangle Lodge No. 1174, as well as many active Provincial Grand Officers.
At precisely one o'clock, when the bell of Holy Trinity Church began to toll, the procession moved off. The hearse and several carriages containing relatives and friends followed the Masonic procession. The thoroughfare through which the procession passed was lined with spectators. Such was the regard in which Keddell was held that it was reported that
The Revd Bro Thomas Grabham, MA, (the Immediate Past Master of St Michael's Craft Lodge and good friend of John Keddell) conducted the funeral service in the church. This included an address by the Revd Bro Grabham to which the congregation listened in 'the profoundest stillness'. As the Brethren gathered around the open grave they cast into it sprigs of acacia and finally Bro Isaac Townsend came forward and deposited a scroll bound with black crepe. This concluded the ceremony and the Brethren slowly dispersed to wend their way home in the deepening gloom of a typical November day.
So ended the life of a most remarkable man, husband, father, surgeon and Freemason, whose passing was mourned by all who knew him, and indeed all those who knew of him. There is no doubt that the people of Sheppey in particular, and the masonic fraternity of Kent in general, owe him a considerable debt of gratitude.
by the late John Watson, courtesy of The Square
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