Sir Henry Lawrence

Founder of Lawrence Schools, India

lawrence portrait Foyle Arts Centre lawrence plaque

Henry Montgomery Lawrence was born at Matara, Ceylon, on 28th June 1806, the fifth child of Alexander Lawrence of Coleraine and Catherine Letitia Knox of Strabane. In 1808, after serving abroad in the Indian Terrorities for several years, Alexander and family returned home to Coleraine. Henry attended Foyle College from 1815 until 1819 where his maternal uncle, the Revd James Knox, was headmaster. Henry’s brothers, Alexander W, George and John Laird Mair (the first Lord Lawrence) also attended the College and Lawrence Hill, on which it stands, was named after the family. Henry moved to England to finish his schooling and in 1822, aged 16 years, he sailed for India and joined the headquarters of the Bengal Artillery at Dum Dum, near Calcutta. In 1825, he served in a short campaign in Burma, during which he was stricken by a malaria-type disease, which never completely left him. He was obliged to return home to convalesce until 1829, when he was able to resume duty in Calcutta.

In 1838, Henry and Honoria Marshall, from Fahan, were married and a year later Henry was given the civil charge of Ferozepore followed by important trusts in Nepal, Lahore and elsewhere. After he was knighted in 1848, Sir Henry continued to serve in the Punjab until March 1857, when Lord Canning, the Governor-General, appointed him as Chief Commissioner and Agent in Oudh. Realising the precarious situation in the Province, Sir Henry urgently arranged for the vulnerable population in the area to gather in the grounds of the Residency of Lucknow, which he had already fortified and supplied with stores and ammunition. On 2nd July 1857, while at breakfast, Sir Henry was struck by shrapnel from an exploding shell. He died two days later unaware that in London he had been appointed Governor-General-in-Waiting.

It was during his time in the Punjab that Sir Henry, ably supported by Lady Honoria, founded a boarding school at Kasauli, near Shimla, for orphans and children of British soldiers who had served in India. This asylum was a great success and later became known as the Royal Military School, Sanawar. A second smaller asylum, run by military personnel, followed at Mount Abu, a hill station in Southern Rajasthan. Shortly before his death, Sir Henry had put forward proposals for the establishment of a further asylum in South India, but the deadline set was not met and the project lapsed.

After his death, Committees were quickly formed in England, Londonderry and at Ootacamund, India, to honour Sir Henry’s memory and implement his wish to provide for shelter and education for more children of British soldiers.. From a small school at Ootacamund, opened on 6th September, 1858, a large government sponsored estate was developed to become the Lawrence Memorial Royal Military School, Lovedale. A fourth Lawrence school at Ghora Gali College, Murree, (now in Pakistan) completed the tribute to Sir Henry and Lady Lawrence. Mount Abu closed soon after India’s Independence in 1947, but the three remaining institutions continue as proud, significant and successful schools on the Sub-Continent.

Location of plaque: Foyle Arts Centre, Lawrence Hill, Londonderry

Date of unveiling: 30 April 2010

Report of Plaque unveiling available HERE