1902 Encyclopedia > Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence

Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence
British soldier and statesman in India

SIR HENRY MONTGOMERY LAWRENCE (1806-1857), one of the greatest military statesmen of India, and provisional governor-general in the mutiny of 1857, was born at Matura, Ceylon, on 28th June 1806 (see last article). He inherited his father's stern devotion to duty and Celtic impulsiveness, tempered by his mother's gentleness and power of organization. Early in 1823 he joined tlie Bengal Artillery at the Calcutta suburb of Dum Dum where also Havelock was stationed about the same time. The two officers pursued a very similar career, and developed the same Puritan character up to the time that both passed away at Lucknow in 1857. In the first Bur-mese war Henry Lawrence and his guns formed part of the Chittagong column which General Morrison led over the jungly hills of Arakan, till fever decimated the officers and men, and the lieutenant found himself at home again, wasted by a disease which never left him. On his return to India with his younger brother John in 1829 he was appointed revenue surveyor by Lord William Bentinck. At Gorakhpur the wonderful personal influence which radiated from the young officer formed a school of attached friends and subordinates who were always eager to serve under him. After some years spent in camp, during which he had married his cousin Honoria Marshall, and had surveyed every village in four districts each larger than Yorkshire, he was recalled to a brigade by the out-break of the first Afghan war towards the close of 1838. As assistant to Sir George Clerk, he now added to his knowledge of the people political experience in the manage-ment of the district of Firozpur ; and when disaster came he was sent to Peshawar in order to push up supports for the relief of Sale and the garrison of Jalalabad. The war had been begun under the tripartite treaty signed at Lahore on 20th June 1838. But the Sikhs Were slow to play their part when the calamities in Afghanistan made it possible that the British might be driven south of the Jumna. No one but Henry Lawrence could manage the disorderly contingent which they reluctantly supplied to Pollock's avenging army in 1842, He helped to force the Khyber Pass on 5th April, playing his guns from the heights, for eight and twenty miles. In recognition of his services Lord Ellenborough appointed him to the charge of the charming valley of Dehra Dun and its hill stations, Mussuri and Landaur, where he first formed the idea of asylums for the children of European soldiers. After a month's experience there it was dis-covered that the coveted appointment was the legal right of the civil service, and he was transferred, as assistant to the envoy at Lahore, to Ambala, where he reduced to order the lapsed territory of Kaithal. Soon he received the well-paid office of resident at the protected court of Nepal, amid the rest of which, assisted by his noble wife, he began a series of contributions to the Calcutta Review, a selected volume of which forms an Anglo-Indian classic. There, too, he elaborated his plans which resulted in the erection and endowment of the noblest philanthropic establishments in the East—the Lawrence military asylums at Sanawar (on the road to Simla), at Murree in the Punjab, at Mount Abu in Bajputana, and on the Madras Nilgiris. From 1844 to his death he de-voted all his comparatively large income, above a modest pittance for his children, to this and other forms of catholic Christian charity.

The Review articles led the new governor-general, Lord Hardinge, to summon Lawrence to his side during the first Sikh war; and not these articles only. He had'published the results of his experience of Sikh rule and soldiering in a vivid work, the Adventures of an Officer in the Service of Ranjit Singh (1845), in which he vainly attempted to disguise his own personality and exploits. For the next four years he virtually became Banjit Singh's successor in the government of the Punjab. After the doubtful triumphs of Mudki and Firozshah Lawrence was summoned from Nepal to take the place of the heroic Major George Broadfoot, who had fallen. Aliwal came ; then the guns of Sobraon chased the demoralized Sikhs across the Sutlej. All through the smoke Lawrence was at the side of the chivalrous governor-general. He gave his voice, not for the rescue of the people from anarchy by annexation, but for the reconstruction of the Sikh government, and was himself appointed resident at Lahore, with power " over every department and to any extent" as president of the council of regency till the maharaja Dhalip Singh should come of age. Soon disgusted by the "venal and selfish durbar" who formed his Sikh colleagues, he summoned to his side assistants like Nicholson, James Abbott, and Ed-wardes, till they all did too much for the people, as he regretfully confessed. But " my chief confidence was in my brother John, . . . who gave me always such help as only a brother could." Wearied out he went home with Lord Hardinge, and was made K.C.B., when the second Sikh war summoned him back at the end of 1848 to see the whole edifice of Sikh " reconstruction " collapse. It fell to the marquis of Dalhousie to proclaim the Punjab up to the Khyber British territory on 29th March 1849. But still another compromise was tried. As the best man to reconcile the Sikh chiefs to the inevitable, Henry Lawrence was made president of the new board of ad-ministration with charge of the political duties, and his brother John was entrusted with the finances. John could not find the revenue necessary for the rapid civilization of the new province so long as Henry would, for political reasons, insist on granting life pensions and alienating large estates to the needy and sensual remnants of Ranjit

Singh's court. Lord Dalhousie delicately but firmly removed Sir Henry Lawrence to the charge of the great nobles of Bajputana, and installed John as chief commis-sioner. If resentment burned in Henry's heart, it was not against his younger brother, who would fain have retired. To him he said, " If you preserve the peace of the country and make the people high and low happy, I shall have no regrets that I vacated the field for you."

In the comparative rest of Bajputana he once more took up the pen as an army reformer. In March and September 1856 he published two articles, called forth by conversations with Lord Dalhousie at Calcutta, whither he had gone as the hero of a public banquet. The governor-general had vainly warned the home authorities against reducing below 40,000 the British garrison of India even for the Crimean campaigns, and had sought to improve the position of the sepoys. Lawrence pointed out the latent causes of mutiny, and uttered warnings only to be too soon justified. In March 1857 he yielded to Lord Canning's request that he should then take the helm at Lucknow, but it was too late. In ten days his magic rule put clown administrative difficulties indeed, as he had done at Lahore. But what could even he effect with only 700 European soldiers, when the epidemic spread after the Meerut outbreak of mutiny on 10th May? In one week he had completed those preparations which made the defence of the Lucknow residency for ever memor-able. Amid the deepening gloom Lord Canning ever wrote home of him as " a tower of strength," and he was appointed provisional governor-general. On the 30th May mutiny burst forth in Oudh, and he was ready. On 29th June, pressed by fretful colleagues, and wasted by unceasing toil, he led 336 British soldiers with 11 guns and 220 natives out to Chinhat to reconnoitre the insur-gents, when the natives joined the enemy and the resi-dency was besieged. On 2d July, as he lay exhausted by the day's work and the terrific heat in an exposed room, a shot struck him, and in forty-eight hours he was no more. A baronetcy was conferred on his son. A marble statue was placed in St Paul's as the national memorial of one who has been declared to be the noblest man that has lived and died for the good of India.

The authorities for his career, besides his own writings above mentioned, are his Life by Sir Herbert Kdwardes (vol. i.) and Herman Merivale (vol. ii.), and the Mutiny Papers (1857-58) published by Parliament. His form was tall, spare, and wasted, as is best seen in the engraving from a Lucknow photograph prefixed to Rees's Personal Narrative of the Siege. (G. SM.)

The above article was written by George Smith, LL.D.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries