Heroes of the Indian Mutiny - Edward Gilliat

Sir Henry and John Lord Lawrence:

The Great Twin Brethren

The Lawrences were sprung from the mixed races of Scot and Irish that we find in Ulster. The cool caution of the Scot mixes with the more genial humour of the Irish Celt, and sometimes one member of a family inherits the one characteristic and another inherits the other.

Henry was five years older than John and had more of the Irishman in him: John was at heart a Scot, sometimes rather hard and dour, but with lovable qualities.

Their mother, Letitia Catherine Knox, was a business-like woman, who kept the family together when her husband, Colonel Alexander Lawrence, by his habit of speaking his mind too freely, failed to make his mark as he might have done.

In 1813 the three elder sons, Alexander, George, and Henry, were sent to the Grammar School of Londonderry, now Foyle College, presided over by their mother's brother, the Rev. James Knox. There they drank in something of the daring spirit of old Derry, whose watchword "No surrender!" seems to have been before Sir Henry's mind in his last agony at Lucknow. Mr. Huddlestone, a connection of Mrs. Lawrence, kindly gave some of the boys cadetships in the East India Company.

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.

Here he began to study surveying—a knowledge which was to serve him in good stead; for on going home he joined the Irish Survey, and here he met his cousin, Honoria Marshall, a young lady of deep religious feeling and artistic instincts, whom Lawrence afterwards married.

On his return to India he passed in the native languages at Cawnpur, and Lord William Bentinck, at George Lawrence's request, appointed Henry assistant to the Revenue Survey of India.

This was the final and most important element in his education: for while engaged on survey work he got into touch with the real natives, with the peasant proprietors and the landowners, and thus grew to sympathise with them in their troubles and distress. His wife lived with him now in a tiny hut or tent and became his helper in every work of justice and mercy.

Here he learnt the good policy of making light assessments so that the poor cultivator might have a chance of gaining a profit out of his toil; in making roads and bridges and putting the native usurer out of countenance.

Here, too, they conceived the idea of the Lawrence Asylums, to save the children of our soldiers from early death in the heat of the plains.

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. Some articles he wrote from here for the Calcutta Review  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 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 Jummu 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.

After his return to India, Lord Dalhousie annexed the Punjab, and made Sir Henry president of a governing Board, having for his colleagues his brother John and Mr. Mansel.

Sir Henry's policy was to be lenient, merciful, and kind: twice 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. For he made the Sikhs our true and faithful friends. John Lawrence sent them to Delhi to help us on the Ridge, and he has been deservedly praised for all he did. But if it had not been for his brother's generous policy, he could not have sent a man from the Punjab.

Montgomery, a friend of Sir Henry, joined the Board; but it happened that he more often sided with John, for both of them felt that Henry's chivalrous spirit led him into extravagant measures. The condition of the Sikh nobility grieved Sir Henry and he longed to help them. The friction between the brothers came to Lord Dalhousie's ears, and when both sent in their resignation, he determined to dissolve the Board and appoint Henry's younger brother, John, sole ruler in the Punjab. He offered Henry the Agency to the Governor-General in Rajputana. Sir Henry accepted this with a bitter sense of injury done him, and with the feeling that he had been right in his dealings with the native princes, and his brother had been wrong.

"To know Sir Henry was to love him," said one of his 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".

When the time came for him to quit Lahore, in January 1853, 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. So to Rajputana Sir Henry fared. First he visited the gaols and made them more healthy; many prisoners he released. The Raj put princes he incited to put down widow-burning and think a little of the welfare of their subjects.

But 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 effected.

But the appointment was made a few years too late: Sir Henry found Oudh seething with discontent; the princes were in the dust, and kept there in abject poverty, so that their ladies were forced to drive out after dark in order to sell their shawls and jewels in the bazaars.

The stipends of the old nobility had been neglected, and one of the first things Sir Henry did was to invite them to the Residency and pay up what was due.

The country was full of disbanded soldiers, every man an enemy of the Company; for their future had been ruined. The sepoy's privileges had been taken from him, his pay was poor, his pension—if it came at all—could only be obtained when he was too old to enjoy it: many rajahs believed that the English Government had broken faith with them, and were ready to listen to the agitators who swore the Christians were resolved to do away with caste and change their religion. In the Punjab, Henry Lawrence had won the trust and confidence of the Sikhs, chiefs and people alike.

As long ago as 1843, he had written a paper on the condition of the native army, insisting on the importance of the sepoys being well paid, disciplined, and rendered absolutely reliant on the good faith of the Government. He had predicted all that followed at Delhi and elsewhere, if the dangers should be overlooked. But his paper was lost in the waste-paper basket: now they expected him to stay the Mutiny!

Sir Henry Lawrence 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 disorganised: 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.

Lucknow is about five and a half miles long and two and a half broad, lying mainly along the southern or right bank of the Gumti, and encircled on its three other sides by a deep canal: it is forty-two miles east of Cawnpur. The Mutchi Bhown and the Residency lay close to the river, on its north bank, to the east of the stone and iron bridges.

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!

Sir Henry called in two bodies of pensioners, one of sepoys and one of Oudh artillerymen, both of whom gave loyal service during the siege, together with a body of trusty Sikhs.

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.

The flight of the mutineers took off some of the strain of anxiety, and enabled the besieged to know who were their friends.

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.

Kavanagh, writing about the night of the 30th, says: "Sir Henry was without fear for himself, and his noble nature melted at the thought of the danger in which we were soon to be involved.

"A more unselfish man never breathed, he would willingly have walked to death to avert the doom that threatened his countrymen."

It was indeed a fearful night for a sick man to pass who felt the heavy weight of responsibility upon him.

The screams of the mutineers in their lines, stealthy, gliding figures passing in the streets from glare to shadow as they fired the thatched bungalows around, the crackling of blazing bamboos and the crash of falling roofs, all must have contributed to weaken the health of Sir Henry.

By the 9th of June, under medical advice, he gave over temporary charge of his duties to a Council, with Mr. Gubbins at 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 Cawnpur troubled him, and he pushed on the defences of the Residency.

About 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 Cawnpur, 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 "Cawnpur" 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 should die.

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 Cawnpur 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 were in force, and defeated him at Chinhut with the loss of four officers, many men, and five guns; the howitzer also was taken.

Sir Henry, seeing his native artillerymen cut the traces of their guns, was heard to exclaim, "My God!—and I brought them to this!"

As our wounded men struggled back many natives came from the houses along the road and offered them water and milk.

Hundreds of people had been engaged at work in the Residency that day, but suddenly they all disappeared, as if by magic! A few minutes after, the first fugitives from the fight came in with their tale of disaster.

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 Bhown, 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. Kavanagh 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.

John Lawrence, five years younger than Henry, like his brother was sent to Foyle College, where such heroes were educated as Lord Gough, "the most reckless of generals"; Sir George Lawrence, the Afghan prisoner; Sir Henry Lawrence, Sir Robert Montgomery. The last was John's intimate companion there, and in India, and writes of Lawrence as "determined and quick-tempered, recording that in their walks he used to entertain him with long stories of sieges and battles." For as a boy Lawrence read history and biography, knew a good deal of the campaigns of Hannibal, was thoroughly conversant with Plutarch's Lives, and infinitely preferred reading about live men to studying dead languages. He tells us that at his preparatory school he was flogged every day, except one, when he was flogged twice.

Even at Haileybury College, where he was sent to study for the Indian Civil Service, his industry was fitful; but he passed out third for Bengal without having attracted much notice from his professors. Indeed, Principal Batten scolded his son for "loafing about with that tall Irishman" who seemed to be of no particular merit. At this time John Lawrence looked rugged and uncouth, but he had some Irish humour and plenty of keen intelligence: he did not much care for games, but would go long walks in the country or drive tandem.

Henry, who was home on furlough, used to coach him up for his examinations. John was eighteen when he went to India with his brother Henry, and arrived at Calcutta in February 1830. Here they separated, Henry going to Kurnal, north of Delhi, John to Fort William College to study native languages.

After passing in Hindustani and Persian he obtained a post at Delhi as assistant judge. Even at this time he had an old look in his face, an expression of hunger and care, with strong lines like Sir Colin Campbell's; he was restless and eager to be doing something strenuous.

One of his first discoveries was to catch the King of Delhi's Lord Chancellor forging deeds to his great profit.

That swarthy nobleman was condemned to five years' labour on the public roads; we doubt if the punishment did not appear to his countrymen unjustly severe. There are such things as privileges which seem venerable by their long usage.

After four years at Delhi, Lawrence was transferred to a more northern district and nearer to his brother's post. Here he mixed freely with the natives, redressed wrongs, punished wrong-doers severely, and, where Henry would have made himself beloved, John was feared and respected.

Once when Lawrence had fever and felt depressed, a friend dropped in for a chat. Lawrence heard him listlessly, until he happened to say he had just met a fakir.

"Anything new?" I asked the beggar.

"Indeed there is," replied the fakir; "old Sahib is gone, we all sorry! for one Larens Sahib is come in his place."

"What! you don't like the new Sahib?"

"No, no! such a change in my poor country! all the rogues get punished now—all the revenue is collected—it is terrible—terrible for the country."

John Lawrence sat up and laughed; the fever was quickly going, the man's unwilling testimony acted like a tonic; he began to mend from that hour.

One friend gave Lawrence the nickname of Oliver, because he was so like Cromwell, severe but just. A native officer said of him: "When he is in anger his voice is like a tiger's roar, and the pens tremble in the hands of the writers all round the room."

In 1844, John Lawrence married Miss Hamilton, the daughter of a plucky justice of the peace in Donegal.

As they were travelling in Italy the news of the Afghan rising came and of George Lawrence being held captive.

They arrived at Bombay in November 1842 and went through the Central Provinces to Cawnpur, where they stayed with Richard Lawrence, the youngest of the Lawrence brothers.

As John had at present no billet, he bought tents and horses and encamped about gipsy-fashion. One day they came upon a large encampment in the jungle; and as they gazed in wonder, a man in Afghan dress came out of a tent, shaded his eyes with his hand and then suddenly shouted—

"Is that you, John?"

"Yes—but who on earth are you, sir?"

"Well—I am your brother George—free after a long captivity."

"What a chance—absurdly improbable," we should say if we met the story in fiction; but reality has a habit of giving us rare shocks of joy and sorrow and of fear.

George had much to tell of his perils among the Afghans, and John had his young wife to introduce. They spent a day together, and as they went on their way John heard he had been appointed civil and sessions judge at Delhi.

It was owing to the years spent at Delhi, when he took stock of the yielding nature of the population, that John Lawrence advised an immediate assault on the city at the outset of the Mutiny. Here in 1845 the new Governor-General, Sir Henry Hardinge, met him, saw his strong points, and, after the Punjab had been annexed, made him ruler over the Jullundur Doab, a country lying between the rivers Sutlej and Beas.

Here he enforced his three commandments: "Thou shalt not burn thy widow": "Thou shalt not kill thy daughters ": "Thou shalt not bury alive thy lepers."

In 1853 he was made chief commissioner of the Punjab, and gradually collected near him a coterie of strong men: Richard Temple, Nicholson, Chamberlain, Edwardes, Montgomery, Lumsden, Daly, and others.

At this time we are told he was curt in his speech, very sharp in mastering details, used no complimentary phrases to the chiefs, and used to sit in his room with his shirt-sleeves turned up, to the horror of his Indian attendants.

In 1851, Lord Dalhousie pressed him to go home to recruit his health; but John Lawrence declined, saying that in 1855 he would have served his time and be entitled to his annuity: "I do not think I have more than three or four years of good honest work left in me."

Yet this man was to work on in the Punjab seven years longer, meeting the sepoy mutiny with strong, unflinching resolution; he was to serve four years at home in the Indian Council, and return to India as Viceroy for five years of hard work, and then return to work in London as chairman of the School Board!

Perhaps the long apprenticeship to the strenuous labour of governing a people many of whom had been robbers and murderers from their cradles, steeled this man's heart and mind and purpose to work on till the night came.

His wife, too, possessed much the same spirit of resistance; for in 1855, though she was very ill and was ordered home by the doctors, she stoutly refused to quit her husband's side, and thus was enabled to support him by her sympathy through the trying months of the Mutiny.

Even that tower of strength, John Nicholson, gave his chief much anxiety at times by his overbearing and wayward conduct.

Nicholson resented having to account for his punitive measures.

The following was his official report to the chief commissioner of one of his prompt sallies:

"Sir,—I have the honour to report that a man came into my compound to-day, intending to kill me, and that I shot him dead.—Your obedient servant,JOHN NICHOLSON"

On 4th May 1857, John Lawrence visited Sealkote, a depot for the new military instruction; he wished to see for himself the feelings of the sepoys, and wrote to Lord Canning a favourable report! On Nth May came the telegram from Delhi announcing the outbreak of the Mutiny! Henry Lawrence, the man of sympathy, had foreseen this result many years before. But when Sir John Lawrence had the scales dashed from his eyes, he acted promptly, and so did Montgomery, disarming the sepoys at Lahore before they could think twice about mutiny.

Lawrence at this time was suffering from neuralgia, but when the news came from Delhi he left his bed of pain and sent off letters and telegrams in all directions, taking upon him to stir up and direct the commander-in-chief, General Anson. "Everything now depends on energy and resolution: a week or two hence it may be too late." Even to the Governor-General, Lord Canning, Lawrence wrote in peremptory style: "Send for our troops from Persia. Intercept the force now on its way to China and bring it to Calcutta. Every European soldier will be required to save he country."

To his subordinates Sir John wrote: "Disarm the regulars if you suspect them, hunt them down if they mutiny, enlist the Sikhs, collect camels, remove Hindustanis from posts of trust, arrest all fakirs, examine sepoys' letters; don't wait to be directed, but act on your own responsibility."

Sir John could trust his brilliant colleagues, and the Punjab under their instant and fearless action saved India.

But we must remember that the gentle, sympathetic rule of Sir Henry Lawrence had won over the allegiance of the Sikhs and made it possible to send the Guides and other forces to help the army before Delhi.

With all Sir John's sternness, he never lost his head in the day of danger, never called for indiscriminate vengeance.

"I would not hang a bird on such evidence," he once remarked as some charge was being pressed against a native.

While praising the active, he thundered against the inefficient. Writing to Sir Bartle Frere, he complained: "I do assure you, some of our commanders are worse enemies than the mutineers themselves."

Sir John trusted the old Sikh gunners who had fought against us in the two Sikh wars: he sent them down to Delhi and they fought loyally: he even picked out a body of the despised "sweeper" caste, and sent them as sappers and miners: they deserved well, won the esteem of their officers, and thus a noble self-respect redeemed them from their traditional degradation.

In short, it was from the Punjab, and at Sir John's suggestion, that siege trains were fitted out, that transport trains were organised, that horses, saddles, tents, ammunition were dispatched when they were needed. And all the time the danger of mutiny was at his own door! but Lawrence thought of the safety of India first, and of the Punjab afterwards.

He braved the peril of the Mutiny as much in his lonely office as the most dashing officer on the field of battle. Therefore we must count Sir John Lawrence a hero of the Indian Mutiny.