Volume: 10, No: 05 ; May-2016
The Lawrences were sprung from the mixed races of Scot and Irish that we find in Ulster. Sir Henry Lawrence was born in 1806 into an Irish family at Matara, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), as the eldest son of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander William Lawrence.
In 1813 the three sons, Alexander, George, and Henry, were sent to the Grammar School of Londonderry, now Foyle College. After here Henry went to Addiscombe, being selected for the artillery.
In 1822 he arrived at Calcutta and was quartered at Dum-Dum, where he stayed three years, when the Burmese war broke out and Lawrence was summoned to serve under Colonel Lindsay. Fever caught in the swamps of Arracan, compelled him to go to the sanatorium at Penang, and thence to Canton.
On his return to India he was appointed assistant to the Revenue Survey of India. In 1841, Henry Lawrence marched with a Sikh contingent to Kabul, but won no honours from Government. However, soon after this, Lord Ellenborough made him Resident at the Court of Nepal. From here he wrote some articles for the Calcutta Review that attracted the notice of the new Governor-General, Sir Henry Hardinge. He soon appointed Henry Lawrence to be political officer on the frontier, at Lahore. Here Henry trusted the Sikhs as some thought dangerously, but kept the turbulent natives in check, and exerted such a good influence on Golab Singh, the Jammu chief, that that worthy abolished suttee and slavery throughout his dominions.
In 1847, Lawrence went home, and the Queen made him a Knight Commander of the Bath. Later he return India and Lord Dalhousie made Sir Henry, President of a governing Board of newly annexed Punjab. Sir Henry’s policy was to be lenient, merciful, and kind. He visited all the stations in the Punjab, riding thirty or forty miles a day. Good authorities say that his work at this period did much to quell the Mutiny that was coming. He made the Sikhs true and faithful friends.
Bosworth Smith writes: “Nobody has ever done so much towards bridging over the gulf that separates race from race, colour from colour, and creed from creed; nobody has ever been so beloved, nobody has ever deserved to be so beloved, as Sir Henry Lawrence”.
In January 1853, Henry was offered to the Agency to the Governor-General in Rajputana. At this point when the time came for him to quit Lahore a long procession of weeping native chiefs followed his carriage, some for ten miles, some for twenty, from the city. His sun was set, and they could not be expecting favours to come: but they wished to testify their grief and their gratitude for one who had protected those that were down. Robert Napier (Lord Napier of Magdala) was the last to take leave of him and bade him an affectionate farewell.
He continued his great jobs in Raputana as well. Later a great trouble came upon him when his beloved wife, who had done so much to help him with his work and to cheer him in his hours of depression, sickened and died. Then he was all for going home, to see his old friends in Ireland, but a new governor-general, who had heard of the wonderful and engaging qualities of the man, offered him the commissionership of Oudh.The disappointed man plucked up health and spirits at the honour done him and the recognition it showed of the important work he had already affected.
Sir Henry found Oudh seething with discontent. He arrived at Lucknow and took charge of his province about 20th March. He found brigandage on the increase and took steps to crush it. Then the chiefs and princes were called to durbar, or spoken to in private, and assured of justice being done them.
But, knowing the native mind as he did, Sir Henry perceived that things had gone too far for gentle measures only. There was an old Sikh fort, square and castellated, near the Residency, a tumble-down building on a site thirty feet above the road, which had long been used as a store-house. This fort Sir Henry had quietly cleared out and put in repair, that it might be a place of refuge in time of sudden émeute.
On 1st May the 7th Oudh Infantry, stationed in a suburb of Lucknow, refused to use their cartridges: next day the regiment was surrounded and disarmed: the ringleaders were tried and punished; the loyal officers were promoted and rewarded.
On 11th May the telegraph ceased to work and the postal service was disorganized, people began to feel uneasy. On the 14th, news came of the outbreak at Meerut and Delhi, and of the restoration of the old Mogul dynasty.
Sir Henry at once placed troops and guns in the old fort, and desired all English families to assemble in the Residency grounds. He also held the southern end of the cantonments with British troops. The Residency site was extensive, healthy, and supplied with water; it possessed much house accommodation and shelter, and commanded the river face for half its circle. After 23rd May, the Sikh fort being now secured, batteries and defensive works were begun on the Residency, parapets and breastworks were raised, streets were blocked up which interfered with the defence, and many buildings were barricaded and loopholed. Meanwhile food and supplies came pouring in from the country, and none of the rebels thought of stopping them.
On 30th May, as the staff were at dinner, a faithful sepoy rushed in with the news that the sepoys had just broken out at evening gun-fire from their lines. They were gutting and burning the officers’ houses and firing muskets wildly.
At the main picket they had killed the officer in charge, Lieutenant Grant, and a stray shot had killed Brigadier Handscombe. Sir Henry rose from dinner and moved to the Government House near the cantonment, which was guarded by the 13th Native Infantry, who had remained loyal. Captain Hardinge with his irregular cavalry patrolled the streets of the cantonment.
Next morning the mutineers were attacked, defeated, and chased away ten miles or more. The city police dispersed a large body of bad characters who were trying to cross the river. From 3rd June onward the news came of mutinies at Seetapur, at Faizabad, and elsewhere, and the conduct of the large landowners proved that they sympathized with the rebels.
By the 9th of June, under medical advice, he gave over temporary charge of his duties to a Council, with Mr. Gubbins as its head. But two days later, hearing that his policy of retaining native troops was being set aside, he resumed command and recalled many that had been sent away.
On 11th June he wrote to Brigadier Inglis and informed him that now he was of opinion there should only be one position to defend: all the treasure, guns, stores, etc., in the Mutchi Bhown must be withdrawn into the Residency; for the condition of Cawnpore troubled him, and he pushed on the defences of the Residency.
On 12th June cholera appeared and carried off many valuable lives and some children. On the same day the military police mutinied, and were pursued by volunteers from the Residency under Captain Forbes, this officer did valuable service with his volunteers in the surrounding country before the siege. But on the 28th the news came of Sir H. Wheeler’s capitulation at Cawnpore, and at once everything was changed.
The poor ladies in the Residency heard and discussed the awful tidings with white faces and reeling heads and sickened hearts. The men turned to thoughts of vengeance, and Cawnpore became the war-cry for severities which British soldiers of a later generation would be glad to disown.
Meanwhile the Governor-General was writing home: “Sir Henry Lawrence is doing admirably at Lucknow; all safe there.” On receiving this approval the Court of Directors named Sir Henry governor-general, in case Lord Canning dies. An honour paid to merit, and never known by Sir Henry: he, for his part, was preparing for his own death—perhaps half wishing it might come soon.
“If anything happens to me, I recommend that Colonel Inglis should succeed me in command . . . . There should be no surrender. I commend my children and the Lawrence Asylums to Government” The Derry note of “No surrender!” was continually sounding in his ears.
As soon as the mutineer regiments heard of the Cawnpore massacre they began to flock back to Lucknow. Sir Henry ordered a reconnaissance for 30th June to check their movement. He took a third of his garrison, ten guns, and one howitzer. But the enemy was in force, and defeated him at Chinhut with the loss of four officers, many men, and five guns; the howitzer also was taken.
Now wounded men struggled & back to residency and in a moment gates were shut and barred and batteries were manned. In the dark of the night of 1st July, Colonel Palmer silently withdrew his men from the Mutchi Bhawan, and Lieutenant Thomas lighted a twenty-minute fuse to blow up the magazine.
Thus the siege of the Residency began on 2nd July, and lasted till Havelock and Outram reinforced the besieged on 25th September.
Thomas Henry Kavanagh (Assistant Commissioner in Oude) says that at first the higher and airy rooms were given to the officers’ families, amid some competition for places. But the lofty rooms proved more dangerous, and soon the common peril levelled all distinctions of rank, for as the servants had deserted, the ladies had to do their own cooking, nursing, etc. During the whole siege there was food enough, owing to Sir Henry’s forethought. The 32nd Regiment formed the backbone of the defence, and contained many Cornish miners who were very useful.
On the morning of the 2nd of July, Sir Henry went round early, inspecting every post and encouraging the garrison, telling men what they had to do, and steadying all in their duty. Sir Henry had chosen an upper room in the Residency, into which already one shell had penetrated. He would not change his room, because from it he could command a wide view over the city.
A little before eight o’clock a.m. he lay down for a short rest after his labours, while he discussed business with Captain Wilson, his nephew George being on another bed at his side.
At eight a shell burst in the room, bringing down part of the ceiling and filling the air with blinding smoke. George Lawrence was unhurt; Wilson’s shirt was torn from his back.
“Are you hurt, uncle?” asked George Lawrence after a brief silence.
“I think I am killed,” was the reply.
They carried him out under the verandah, and Sir Henry said to the doctor after he had examined the wound in his thigh, “How long have I to live, doctor?”
“Three days perhaps, Sir Henry.”
“I think not so long,” murmured the shattered man. Then he turned his thoughts to the defence, and after giving instructions and naming Major Banks his successor in the civil administration, and Brigadier Inglis in the military command together with Major Anderson his chief Engineer, he repeated again and again, “No surrender!” and to one of his friends he said, “Bury me simply, with just a stone saying, “Here lies Henry Lawrence, who tried to do his duty.”
He died on the morning of 4th July after hours of great agony, and his loss was lamented by many of all creeds and colours. “I feel as if at Lucknow and Delhi (Nicholson) I had lost the father and the brother of my public life,” wrote Sir Herbert Edwardes to John Lawrence.
“His loss just now will be a national calamity,” was the reply. The brother who represented chivalry, generosity, and sympathy was gone: the stronger character of John Lawrence remained, to stamp out the last sparks of mutiny and to secure the English rule.
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