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Henry Montgomery Lawrence

Henry Montgomery Lawrence

British general
The basics
Date of birth Sri Lanka
Date of death Jul 04, 1857 Lucknow, Lucknow district, Uttar Pradesh, India
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Authority ISNI id VIAF id Library of congress id Openlibrary id
The details

Brigadier-General Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence KCB (28 June 1806 – 4 July 1857) was a British soldier and statesman in India, who died in the Siege of Lucknow during the Indian Rebellion. He is remembered in the Indian subcontinent as founder of the four Lawrence Military Asylums.



Lawrence was born in 1806 into an Irish family at Matara, British Ceylon. His father, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander William Lawrence hailed from Derry and achieved distinction in the Siege of Seringapatnam. He had two brothers who would go on to achieve fame in their own right, George Lawrence and John Lawrence.

He was educated at Foyle College, Derry and the East India Company Military Seminary in Addiscombe, Surrey.

Early career

In 1822 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Bengal Artillery, arriving in India the following year. He was based at the Calcutta suburb of Dum Dum, where Henry Havelock was also stationed about the same time. He soon saw action in the First Anglo-Burmese War. Lawrence and his battery formed part of the Chittagong column which General Joseph Morrison led over the jungle-covered hills of Arakan. The expedition was decimated by fever, and Lawrence nearly perished to the illness. He was sent first to Penang, and then Canton to convalesce, before being invalided back to England. Back in the United Kingdom, he assisted in the trigonometrical survey in Ireland.

He returned to India in 1829, rejoining his regiment in Karnal where his brother George was stationed. In 1832 he passed examinations in Hindustani and Persian with the aim of earning a civil service posting. The following year he was appointed an assistant to the Revenue Survey of India by Lord William Bentinck based at Gorakhpur. He spent some years in camp, during which he married his cousin Honoria Marshall.

In 1839, with the outbreak of the First Anglo-Afghan War he initially joined Alexander Burnes's Horse Artillery, part of an 'Army of the Indus.' When it was ordered to stand fast, he instead became assistant to Sir George Russell Clerk, adding to his political experience in the management of the district of Ferozepore. When news of disaster came from Kabul in November 1841 he was sent to Peshawar in order to push up supports for the relief of Sir Robert Sale and the garrison of Jalalabad. He was often unpopular with higher authorities due to his insistence that government should pay most attention to the welfare of the Indian population. He served with Sir George Pollock in the Kabul Expedition in 1842, managing a contingent to the Afghan capital. Following the war, he continued as a political assistant in Peshawar somewhat disappointed by his lack of recognition for his contribution in the war.

In 1843 he was elevated to the rank of Major and appointed to the well-salaried and prestigious post of the Resident of Nepal. Whilst in Kathmandu, Lawrence devoted much of his time to literary pursuits, ably assisted by his wife.

Punjab Commission

Henry Montgomery Lawrence, after photograph by Ahmed Ali Khan, 1857. NPG

In 1845, instability in the Sikh Empire led to growing tensions with neighbouring provinces. Lawrence's articles in the Calcutta Review had caught the attention of Henry Hardinge, the new Governor-General of India, who was impressed by his knowledge of the region. Hardinge appointed Lawrence as his political assistant following the death of Major George Broadfoot at the start of the First Anglo-Sikh War. He was present at the decisive Battle of Sobraon which brought the war to a conclusion. As political agent, he responded to allegations that leading Sikh chiefs had betrayed their countrymen at Sobraon and sold the battle to the British, denying any knowledge of treachery on the part of the Sikh chiefs and interference by British officials.

Following Sobraon, Lawrence counselled the Governor-General not to annex the Punjab but instead reconstruct the Sikh Empire, fenced in and fortified by British bayonets. This was provided for in the Treaty of Lahore, whereby a British garrison was to be based in Lahore to further this purpose. Lawrence spent the next three months as the agent in Lahore. In his diaries, Lawrence would later write of his intentions in his role:

"The basis of our arrangements, however, was: first, the reduction of the army to the lowest number required to defend the frontier and preserve internal peace, and to pay that army punctually; second, to strike off the most obnoxious taxes and, as far as possible, equalise and moderate the assessment of the country and insure what was collected reaching the public treasury; thirdly to have a very simple code of laws, founded on the Sikh customs, reduced to writing and administered by the most respectable men from their own ranks."

During this time, he assisted in the sale of Kashmir to Gulab Singh, the Raja of Jammu as war indemnity, a move which caused considerable unrest in Lahore. When a rebellion broke out, presumed to have been instigated by Lal Singh in support of the existing Sikh governor, Lawrence personally accompanied a body of Sikh troops to Kashmir in support of Gulab Singh. Through his support of Gulab Singh, Lawrence was able to wield significant power over the new Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir, inducing the leader to abolish sati, female infanticide and child slavery throughout his dominions, and attracting considerable financial support for his later philanthropic endeavours.

The terms of the initial treaty had permitted British troops to remain until the end of 1846. However at the request of the Lahore Durbar that troops remain until the new Maharajah reached 16, the Treaty of Bhairowal was signed. A key condition of the Treaty was that a Resident British officer, with an efficient establishment of assistants, was to be appointed by the Governor-General to remain at Lahore, with "full authority to direct and control all matters in every Department of the State. Maulvi Sayed Rajab Ali of Jagraon (Ludhiana Dist) a close confident of Sir Henry Lawrence played an important role in these negotiations". Lawrence was appointed to the role of Resident, and began assembling a team of officer assistants, who would become known as Henry Lawrence's "Young Men".

In 1848, following a year of relative peace in the Punjab he accompanied Henry Hardinge to England where he was made a Knight Commander of the Bath on Hardinge's recommendation. However the murder of two of his assistants, Patrick Vans Agnew and W.A. Anderson in Multan, and the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Sikh War hastened his return to India. The war resulted in a British victory, and the subsequent annexation of the Punjab into a British territory.

The new Punjab province was to be administered under a superintendence of a Board. of which Lawrence was to be the President. He was assisted on the Board by his brother John and Charles Grenville Mansel, under whom he retained his troop of hand picked assistants. As President, Lawrence travelled extensively in the province, each year travelling three or four months, each day riding usually thirty to forty miles. At each station he would visit public offices, gaols, bazaars, receive visitors of all ranks, inspect the Punjab regiments and police, and receive daily petitions sometimes numbering in the hundreds.

Despite the success of the Board of Administration, internal tensions had arisen and the new Governor General, Lord Dalhousie, preferred to invest power in the hands of single administrator. Part of the reason for this was Lawrence's insistence on compensating the Sikh nobility and aristocracy who had suffered ruin following defeat in the Second Anglo-Sikh War. Lawrence, mindful of the potential for discontent to be sewn by disgruntled aristocrats, liberally offered financial assistance, a policy opposed by both his brother John and Dalhousie Both Lawrence and his brother John tendered their resignation, however Dalhousie chose John as his new Lieutenant-Governor.

Rajputana and Oudh

Lawrence began his new role as the Governor-General's Agent in Rajputana in 1853. Much of his energy was devoted to two principal causes, the abolition of widow-burning in Rajputana and reforming the prison system. Whilst in Rajputana his wife Honoria died and his health began to fail, prompting first a desire to succeed Sir James Outram as Resident at Lucknow, for which he was overlooked for a civilian, and thereafter a desire to undertake leave to England.

In 1856, Oudh had been annexed by the East India Company on the grounds of internal maladministration. The following March, Lawrence was appointed to the prestigious post of Chief Commissioner of Oudh. Under his predecessor Colville Coverley Jackson, much of the local aristocracy had fallen from grace and widespread unrest had come to the fore. An added concern was growing discontent amongst the Sepoys of the Bengal Army, a large proportion of whom were drawn from Oudh, and thus able to command support in the province. Lawrence had long taken an interest in the sepoy army, noting its defects, and advising successive Governor-Generals of the need to listen to concerns of the soldiery and implement reform, and as such was weary that any insurrection amongst the sepoys could instigate a wider civil unrest.


In May 1857, two months after assuming his post in Oudh, the Indian Rebellion of 1857 commenced. Lawrence earned praise for the prompt and decisive handling of an insurrection of an irregular native regiment near Lucknow, and was in turn awarded full military and civil authority by the Governor-General. He arranged for a garrison in Lucknow of some 1700 men, and took refuge in the British residency. Such was his assured handling of the crisis, that the British government and Board of Directors of the East India Company found it necessary to nominate him as provisional Governor-General of India in the event of the death or resignation of the incumbent, Lord Canning. On 30 June, the Residency was besieged by mutineers, and the Siege of Lucknow commenced.

Henry Lawrence was wounded by an exploding shell on 2 July and died two days later. When Lawrence was critically injured, he is supposed to have said to those around him: "Put on my tomb only this; Here lies Henry Lawrence who tried to do his duty." This epitaph appears on his tombstone at the Residency graveyard.

Educational institutions

High cross Sir Henry Lawrence Memorial in The Residency, Lucknow

Lawrence established institutions for the education of the children of British soldiers, known as the Lawrence Military Asylums, at four places in British India. Three of these institutions survive today as the prestigious Lawrence School, Sanawar (HP, India), Lawrence School, Lovedale (TN, India) and Lawrence College, Ghora Gali (Murree, Pakistan): the fourth, which does not survive, was at Mount Abu, in present-day Rajasthan.

Following the Disruption of 1843, along with Sir James Outram, Lawrence supported Reverend Alexander Duff in establishing the Free Church Institution in Calcutta, as a rival institution to the General Assembly's Institution, which had been founded by Duff in 1830. These two institutions would later be merged to form the Scottish Churches College, known since 1929 (when the Church of Scotland was unified) as Scottish Church College.

Family life

Lawrence married Honoria Marshall at St. John's Church, Calcutta on 21 August 1837. They had four children, Honoria, Alexander, Letitia and Henry. In 1858, his eldest son Alexander was created 1st Baronet Lawrence, of Lucknow in consideration of his father's services.


  • Lawrence also contributed to the Calcutta Review.


Lawrence is commemorated by a high cross in the cemetery adjacent to the Residency in Lucknow. There is a monument to him in the south transept of St Paul's Cathedral, London.

He is also remembered in the names of:

  • Henry Lawrence Island in the Indian Ocean, at 12N 93E.
  • The town of Lawrence in New Zealand.
  • The Lawrence Arms public house in Southsea, Hampshire.
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