1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lawrence, John Laird Mair Lawrence, 1st Baron
LAWRENCE, JOHN LAIRD MAIR LAWRENCE, 1st Baron (1811–1879), viceroy and governor-general of India, was born at Richmond, Yorkshire, on the 24th of March 1811. His father, Colonel Alexander Lawrence, volunteered for the forlorn hope at Seringapatam in presence of Baird and of Wellington, whose friend he became. His mother, Letitia Knox, was a collateral descendant of John Knox. To this couple were born twelve children, of whom three became famous in India, Sir George St Patrick, Sir Henry (q.v.) and Lord Lawrence. Irish Protestants, the boys were trained at Foyle college, Derry, and at Clifton, and received Indian appointments from their mother’s cousin, John Hudleston, who had been the friend of Schwartz in Tanjore. In 1829, when only seventeen, John Lawrence landed at Calcutta as a civilian; he mastered the Persian language at the college of Fort William, and was sent to Delhi, on his own application, as assistant to the collector. The position was the most dangerous and difficult to which a Bengal civilian could be appointed at that time. The titular court of the pensioner who represented the Great Mogul was the centre of that disaffection and sensuality which found their opportunity in 1857. A Mussulman rabble filled the city. The district around, stretching from the desert of Rajputana to the Jumna, was slowly recovering from the anarchy to which Lord Lake had given the first blow. When not administering justice in the city courts or under the village tree, John Lawrence was scouring the country after the marauding Meos and Mahommedan freebooters. His keen insight and sleepless energy at once detected the murderer of his official superior, William Fraser, in 1835, in the person of Shams-uddin Khan, the nawab of Loharu, whose father had been raised to the principality by Lake, and the assassin was executed. The first twenty years, from 1829 to 1849, during which John Lawrence acted as the magistrate and land revenue collector of the most turbulent and backward portion of the Indian empire as it then was, formed the period of the reforms of Lord William Bentinck. To what became the lieutenant-governorship of the North-Western (now part of the United) Provinces Lord Wellesley had promised the same permanent settlement of the land-tax which Lord Cornwallis had made with the large landholders or zemindars of Bengal. The court of directors, going to the opposite extreme, had sanctioned leases for only five years, so that agricultural progress was arrested. In 1833 Merttins Bird and James Thomason introduced the system of thirty years’ leases based on a careful survey of every estate by trained civilians, and on the mapping of every village holding by native subordinates. These two revenue officers created a school of enthusiastic economists who rapidly registered and assessed an area as large as that of Great Britain, with a rural population of twenty-three millions. Of that school John Lawrence proved the most ardent and the most renowned. Intermitting his work at Delhi, he became land revenue settlement officer in the district of Etawah, and there began, by buying out or getting rid of the talukdars, to realize the ideal which he did much to create throughout the rest of his career—a country “thickly cultivated by a fat contented yeomanry, each man riding his own horse, sitting under his own fig-tree, and enjoying his rude family comforts.” This and a quiet persistent hostility to the oppression of the people by their chiefs formed the two features of his administrative policy throughout life.
It was fortunate for the British power that, when the first Sikh War broke out, John Lawrence was still collector of Delhi. The critical engagements at Ferozeshah, following Moodkee, and hardly redeemed by Aliwal, left the British army somewhat exhausted at the gate of the Punjab, in front of the Sikh entrenchments on the Sutlej. For the first seven weeks of 1846 there poured into camp, day by day, the supplies and munitions of war which this one man raised and pushed forward, with all the influence acquired during fifteen years of an iron yet sympathetic rule in the land between the Jumna and the Sutlej. The crowning victory of Sobraon was the result, and at thirty-five Lawrence became commissioner of the Jullundur Doab, the fertile belt of hill and dale stretching from the Sutlej north to the Indus. The still youthful civilian did for the newly annexed territory what he had long before accomplished in and around Delhi. He restored it to order, without one regular soldier. By the fascination of his personal influence he organized levies of the Sikhs who had just been defeated, led them now against a chief in the upper hills and now to storm the fort of a raja in the lower, till he so welded the people into a loyal mass that he was ready to repeat the service of 1846 when, three years after, the second Sikh War ended in the conversion of the Punjab up to Peshawar into a British province.
Lord Dalhousie had to devise a government for a warlike population now numbering twenty-three millions, and covering an area little less than that of the United Kingdom. The first results were not hopeful; and it was not till John Lawrence became chief commissioner, and stood alone face to face with the chiefs and people and ring fence of still untamed border tribes, that there became possible the most successful experiment in the art of civilizing turbulent millions which history presents. The province was mapped out into districts, now numbering thirty-two, in addition to thirty-six tributary states, small and great. To each the thirty years’ leases of the north-west settlement were applied, after a patient survey and assessment by skilled officials ever in the saddle or the tent. The revenue was raised on principles so fair to the peasantry that Ranjit Singh’s exactions were reduced by a fourth, while agricultural improvements were encouraged. For the first time in its history since the earliest Aryan settlers had been overwhelmed by successive waves of invaders, the soil of the Punjab came to have a marketable value, which every year of British rule has increased. A stalwart police was organized; roads were cut through every district, and canals were constructed. Commerce followed on increasing cultivation and communications, courts brought justice to every man’s door, and crime hid its head. The adventurous and warlike spirits, Sikh and Mahommedan, found a career in the new force of irregulars directed by the chief commissioner himself, while the Afghan, Dost Mahommed, kept within his own fastnesses, and the long extent of frontier at the foot of the passes was patrolled.
Seven years of such work prepared the lately hostile and always anarchic Punjab under such a pilot as John Lawrence not only to weather the storm of 1857 but to lead the older provinces into port. On the 12th of May the news of the tragedies at Meerut and Delhi reached him at Rawalpindi. The position was critical in the last degree, for of 50,000 native soldiers 38,000 were Hindustanis of the very class that had mutinied elsewhere, and the British troops were few and scattered. For five days the fate of the Punjab hung upon a thread, for the question was, “Could the 12,000 Punjabis be trusted and the 38,000 Hindustanis be disarmed?” Not an hour was lost in beginning the disarming at Lahore; and, as one by one the Hindustani corps succumbed to the epidemic of mutiny, the sepoys were deported or disappeared, or swelled the military rabble in and around the city of Delhi. The remembrance of the ten years’ war which had closed only in 1849, a bountiful harvest, the old love of battle, the offer of good pay, but, above all, the personality of Lawrence and his officers, raised the Punjabi force into a new army of 59,000 men, and induced the non-combatant classes to subscribe to a 6% loan. Delhi was invested, but for three months the rebel city did not fall. Under John Nicholson, Lawrence sent on still more men to the siege, till every available European and faithful native soldier was there, while a movable column swept the country, and the border was kept by an improvised militia. At length, when even in the Punjab confidence became doubt, and doubt distrust, and that was passing into disaffection, John Lawrence was ready to consider whether we should not give up the Peshawar valley to the Afghans as a last resource, and send its garrison to recruit the force around Delhi. Another week and that alternative must have been faced. But on the 20th of September the city and palace of Delhi were again in British hands, and the chief commissioner and his officers united in ascribing “to the Lord our God all the praise due for nerving the hearts of our statesmen and the arms of our soldiers.” As Sir John Lawrence, Bart., G.C.B., with the thanks of parliament, the gratitude of his country, and a life pension of £2000 a year in addition to his ordinary pension of £1000, the “saviour of India” returned home in 1859. After guarding the interests of India and its people as a member of the secretary of state’s council, he was sent out again in 1864 as viceroy and governor-general on the death of Lord Elgin. If no great crisis enabled Lawrence to increase his reputation, his five years’ administration of the whole Indian empire was worthy of the ruler of the Punjab. His foreign policy has become a subject of imperial interest, his name being associated with the “close border” as opposed to the “forward” policy; while his internal administration was remarkable for financial prudence, a jealous regard for the good of the masses of the people and of the British soldiers, and a generous interest in education, especially in its Christian aspects.
When in 1854 Dost Mahommed, weakened by the antagonism of his brothers in Kandahar, and by the interference of Persia, sent his son to Peshawar to make a treaty, Sir John Lawrence was opposed to any entangling relation with the Afghans after the experience of 1838–1842, but he obeyed Lord Dalhousie so far as to sign a treaty of perpetual peace and friendship. His ruling idea, the fruit of long and sad experience, was that de facto powers only should be recognized beyond the frontier. When in 1863 Dost Mahommed’s death let loose the factions of Afghanistan he acted on this policy to such an extent that he recognized both the sons, Afzul Khan and Shere Ali, at different times, and the latter fully only when he had made himself master of all his father’s kingdom. The steady advance of Russia from the north, notwithstanding the Gortchakov circular of 1864, led to severe criticism of this cautious “buffer” policy which he justified under the term of “masterly inactivity.” But he was ready to receive Shere Ali in conference, and to aid him in consolidating his power after it had been established and maintained for a time, when his term of office came to an end and it fell to Lord Mayo, his successor, to hold the Umballa conference in 1869. When, nine years after, the second Afghan War was precipitated, the retired viceroy gave the last days of his life to an unsparing exposure, in the House of Lords and in the press, of a policy which he had striven to prevent in its inception, and which he did not cease to denounce in its course and consequences.
On his final return to England early in 1869, after forty years’ service in and for India, “the great proconsul of our English Christian empire” was created Baron Lawrence of the Punjab, and of Grately, Hants. He assumed the same arms and crest as those of his brother Henry, with a Pathan and a Sikh trooper as supporters, and took as his motto “Be ready,” his brother’s being “Never give in.” For ten years he gave himself to the work of the London school board, of which he was the first chairman, and of the Church missionary society. Towards the end his eyesight failed, and on the 27th of June 1879 he died at the age of sixty-eight. He was buried in the nave of Westminster Abbey, beside Clyde, Outram and Livingstone. He had married the daughter of the Rev. Richard Hamilton, Harriette-Katherine, who survived him, and he was succeeded as 2nd baron by his eldest son, John Hamilton Lawrence (b. 1846).
See Bosworth Smith, Life of Lord Lawrence (1885); Sir Charles Aitchison, Lord Lawrence (“Rulers of India” series, 1892); L. J. Trotter, Lord Lawrence (1880); and F. M. Holmes, Four Heroes of India.