Sir Henry Lawrence

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Lawrence, Sir Henry, K. C. B., Brigadier-General, a distinguished Indian administrator, was born at Mattura, in Ceylon, 28th June 1806. [His father, Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence, who died in 1835, originally a poor Irish soldier of fortune, was born in Coleraine, and his mother was from the same locality.] He was educated at Foyle College, of which his uncle, Rev. James Knox, was principal. The puritan training and impressions imbibed from his parents and instructors, had a marked influence on his after life. In August 1820, Henry followed his brother George to Addiscombe, passed in artillery, sailed for India in 1822, and joined the head-quarters of the Bengal Artillery near Calcutta. There his religious impressions were much strengthened by acquaintance with the Rev. George Craufurd.

In 1825 he served in a short campaign in Burmah, and was appointed adjutant of artillery. After this he was invalided, and obliged to pass two years and a half at home, part of the time being engaged on the Ordnance Survey of Ireland. Returning to India in 1829, he passed an examination in native languages, and was then occupied for five years on the Indian Survey, in Moradabad, Futtygurh, Goruckpore, and Allahabad. Two years afterwards he married Honoria Marshall, an Irish lady, with whom he fell in love when at home, and who was in every way qualified to make him happy. In 1839 he received the civil charge of Ferozepore, and in 1842 was specially thanked by General Pollock for his assistance in forcing the Khyber Pass. From this time forward important trusts in the government of India were confided to him — at Nepaul, Lahore, and elsewhere. One of his most remarkable achievements was in 1846, when, at the head of 10,000 Sikh soldiers, only eighteen months after their defeat at Sobraon and enlistment in the British service, he compelled the Lahore government to make over the richest province in the Punjaub to a British tributary.

In 1846 he became Lieutenant-Colonel, and in 1848 the honour of knighthood as a K.C.B. was conferred upon him. In the following years he was sadly at issue with his brother John, acting Resident at Lahore, regarding the proper policy to be pursued towards the Punjaub — John favouring almost immediate annexation, and Henry desiring the maintenance of its semi-independent position. During this period he was an occasional contributor to the Calcutta Review. His subscriptions to religious and charitable institutions throughout India for many years averaged above £350; and in 1846 a school for the education of soldiers' children, now known as the Lawrence Asylum, and educating some 500 boys and girls, was opened through his instrumentality at Kussowlee, amongst the first ranges of the Himalayan mountains. As to his government of the Punjaub, the Westminster Review wrote in 1858:

"Among the marvels achieved by Englishmen in India, there is nothing equal to the pacification of the Punjaub... The wisdom and beneficence of our rule were never more clearly vindicated than by the present condition and conduct of the Sikhs. All this is due to Sir Henry Lawrence. It was his genius which conceived and carried through that system to which we owe the preservation of India. The work which he undertook in the Punjaub was nothing short of an absolute reconstruction of the state. In five short years he had done it. He had brought order out of chaos — law out of anarchy — peace out of war. He had broken up the feudal system, and established a direct relation between the government and people. He had dissolved the power of the great Sirdars. He had disbanded a vast praetorian army, and disarmed a whole population. He had made Lahore as safe to the Englishman as Calcutta. And all this he had done without any recourse to violence, and with scarcely a murmur on the part of the conquered people."

In 1854 his life was embittered by the death of Lady Lawrence — "as high-minded, noble-hearted a woman as was ever allotted for a life's companion to one called to accomplish a laborious and honourable career." In March 1857 he was appointed Chief Commissioner and Agent to the Governor-General in Oude, and took up his residence at Lucknow. Almost immediately afterwards the Indian Mutiny broke out. For a short period he managed to maintain order at Lucknow. On 29th June he marched out with all the force he could spare (some 300 European and 220 native bayonets, 36 European and 80 Sikh sabres, and 11 guns), and gave battle to a large body of insurgents at Chinhut, a short distance from the city, where he was defeated with a loss of 118 European men and officers. Sir Henry exposed himself in the thickest of the fight, and suffered the greatest agony of mind at the loss of so many of his little band. Next day he retreated to the Residency, which he had already fortified and supplied with stores and ammunition. There he gathered around him 927 Europeans and 765 natives, and withstood the attack of an army of 7,000 men formed of the revolted regiments. His situation was all but desperate; and had the natives continued to display the vigour and unity of purpose shown at Chinhut and for a few days afterwards, prolonged resistance would have been impossible. Sir Henry kept up the appearance of sanguine confidence, although his whole soul was engrossed with the thought of the dreadful fate awaiting the numbers of helpless women and children entrusted to his charge. "He had to soothe, argue with, command, the miscellaneous tempers which surrounded him and hampered him with their fears and their advice; the timid, who yielded to despair; the impulsive, who were always urging him on what they conceived more decisive measures."

On 2nd July, while resting on his couch listening to an officer reading orders he had dictated, a shell came through the wall in front of his bed, exploded and shattered his thigh. (A short time before he had been urged to leave the apartment, which was much exposed to the fire of the enemy, one shell having already exploded there, but laughingly remarked that he did not believe they had an artilleryman good enough to put another shell into such a small room.) It was at once seen that the wound was mortal. He gave the clearest directions for the defence of the place, talked humbly of his own life and services, and died on the morning of the 4th July 1857, aged 51. Among his last directions was, "Never give in." On account of the heavy fire to which all the space round the Residency was exposed, it was with difficulty he was hurriedly buried in a grave with others of his companions in arms. Before the news of his death reached the United Kingdom, he had been appointed to succeed to the post of Governor-General of India in certain eventualities. Fourteen months after his death the government of India passed to the direct control of the crown. "He was therefore," says his biographer, "the last of that great line of statesmen soldiers — the last in the list which begins with Clive and ends with himself — who held to the end, and dignified, the simple title of 'servants of the company.'"

His eldest son Alexander was created a baron in memory of his father's achievements; he died from an accident, in Upper India, in 1864, leaving an infant son, the present owner of the title. Sir Henry's four surviving brothers all attained high positions in Indian civil and military service. Major-General Alexander W. Lawrence (born 1803, died 1868); Lieutenant-General Sir George St. Patrick Lawrence (born 1804); Sir John L. M. Lawrence (born 1811), created Lord Lawrence in 1869, Viceroy of India 1863-'68; and Major-General Richard C. Lawrence (born 1817).

Note from Addenda:

Lawrence, Sir Henry — His full name was Henry Montgomery Lawrence.[233]


54. Burke, Sir Bernard: Peerage and Baronetage.

209a. Lawrence, Sir Henry, Life: Sir H. B. Edwardes, and Herman Merivale. 2 vols. London, 1872.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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