John Lawrence, 1st Baron Lawrence

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The Lord Lawrence
The then Sir John Lawrence photographed by Maull & Polybank, c. 1850s
Viceroy and Governor-General of India
In office
12 January 1864 – 12 January 1869
MonarchQueen Victoria
Prime Minister
Preceded bySir William Denison
As Acting Viceroy and Governor-General
Succeeded byThe Earl of Mayo
Lieutenant Governor of Punjab
In office
1 January 1859 – 25 February 1859
Governor GeneralThe Earl Canning
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded bySir Robert Montgomery
Chief Commissioner of Punjab
In office
18 January 1853 – 31 December 1858
Governors GeneralThe Marquess of Dalhousie
The Earl Canning
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Personal details
Born4 March 1811 (1811-03-04)
Richmond, North Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died27 June 1879(1879-06-27) (aged 68)
London, United Kingdom
Harriette Hamilton
(m. 1841)
Alma materEast India Company College

John Laird Mair Lawrence, 1st Baron Lawrence, GCB GCSI PC (4 March 1811 – 27 June 1879), known as Sir John Lawrence, Bt., between 1858 and 1869, was a prominent British Imperial statesman and served as the Viceroy of India from 1864 to 1869.

Early life[edit]

Lawrence was born in Richmond, North Riding of Yorkshire.[1] He was the youngest son born into an Ulster-Scots family, his mother, Letitia Knox, being from County Donegal while his father was from Coleraine in County Londonderry. Lawrence spent his early years in Derry, a city in the Province of Ulster in the northern part of Ireland, and was educated at Foyle College and Wraxhall School in Bath.[2] His father had served in India as a soldier in the British Army and his elder brothers included Sir George Lawrence and Sir Henry Lawrence.

At the age of sixteen, despite wishing for a military career like his brothers, his father enrolled him at the East India Company College, Haileybury, believing a career as a civil servant offered better prospects.[3] He attended Haileybury for two years, where by his own admission he was neither very idle nor very industrious, yet he won prizes in history, political economy and Bengali.[3]

Passage to India[edit]

Lawrence entered the Bengal Civil Service and in September 1829 he set sail for India with his brother Henry. On arrival he settled at Fort William where he was expected to pass examinations in local vernacular.[3] Having successfully mastered Persian and Urdu, Lawrence's first job was as a magistrate and tax collector in Delhi.[4] After four years in Delhi he was transferred to Panipat and two years hence was placed in charge of Gurgaon district.[3]

In 1837, Lawrence was made a settlement officer at Etawah. Whilst doing the role he caught jungle fever and was close to death. He spent three months in Calcutta to convalesce but having failed to recover he returned to England in 1840. The following year, whilst in County Donegal he met and married his wife Harriette in August 1841.[2] The couple then spent six months travelling Europe until news from the First Anglo-Afghan War led to them returning to England, and back to India in the autumn of 1842.[3]

On his return to India, Lawrence was appointed a Civil and Sessions Judge in Delhi, and given responsibility over Karnal.[3] During the First Anglo-Sikh War between 1845 and 1846, Sir Henry Hardinge sent orders for Lawrence to assist the armed forces. He played a key role ahead of the Battle of Sobraon, ensuring supplies and guns were collected and transferred to the battle.[3]


Jullundur and the Hill States[edit]

At the conclusion of the First Anglo-Sikh War, Sir Henry Hardinge appointed Lawrence to govern the newly annexed Jullundur district and Hill-States regions of the Punjab.[4] In that role he was known for his administrative reforms, for subduing the hill tribes, and for his attempts to end the custom of suttee.[3] He attempted to tackle the issue of female infanticide, successfully threatening the Bedi's with confiscation of their lands if they didn't give up the practice.[3] His assistant Robert Cust described Lawrence's interviews with native land-holders as follows:[3]

"John Lawrence was full of energy – his coat off, his sleeves turned up above his elbows and impressing upon his subjects his principles of a just state demand...thou shall not burn thy widow, thou shall not kill thy daughters; thou shall not bury alive thy lepers."

Another assistant, Lewin Bowring, described how he had a rough tongue with the local chiefs, who had a wholesome dread of him. He was described as far abler than his brother at details, but was not held in as much affection by the chiefs.[3]

Board of Administration[edit]

Victory in the Second Anglo-Sikh War established East India Company dominance in the Punjab, and on 30 March 1849, the Punjab was proclaimed a province of British India. Lawrence was appointed to a three-man Board of Administration to govern the province, headed by his elder brother Henry. He was responsible for numerous reforms, including the abolition of internal duties and the establishment of a common currency and postal system.[3] Lawrence championed improvements to local infrastructure and raising money for public works, including an extension of the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi to Peshawar, the construction of a highway from Lahore to Multan, and construction on the Bari Doab Canal which provided a boon to cultivators in the area.[3] He was also known for being financially astute, overseeing a fifty percent increase in revenue and ensuring the Punjab was delivering a surplus of over one million pounds sterling within three years of the Board being instituted.[3]

Lawrence disagreed with his brother Henry's policy of retaining the support of the local aristocracy, arguing it was too extravagant and hurting finances.[4] In December 1852, having overseen a highly productive period of governance, the Lawrence brothers offered their resignations.[3] Lord Dalhousie also feeling the necessity of a Board of Administration had ceased, sought to replace it with the new role of Chief Commissioner. Dalhousie rejected Lawrence's resignation, instead making him the first Chief Commissioner, meanwhile Henry went on to become Agent in Rajputana.[4]

Chief Commissioner[edit]

As Chief Commissioner, Lawrence carried on the policies from before - public works were extended, industry and education encouraged and surveying completed. He granted greater authority to villages, and upheld the decisions of village headsmen.[3] In addition, Lawrence now also had responsibility for managing the mercurial group of assistants recruited by his brother known as Henry Lawrence's "Young Men".

In February 1856, Lawrence returned to Calcutta to wish farewell to the departing Lord Dalhousie who was retiring to England. As a parting gift, Dalhouse recommended Lawrence for the honour of Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.[2] Whilst in Calcutta, Lawrence spent three days with Henry, in what would be the last time the brothers were together.[3]

Indian Mutiny[edit]

John Laird Mair Lawrence, 1st Baron Lawrence in 1860s

Lawrence was in Rawalpindi when he received news of a sepoy uprising in Meerut.[3]

The Punjab garrison in May 1857 was 60,000 strong, consisting of 10,000 Europeans, 36,000 Hindustani sepoys and 14,000 Punjabi irregulars.[3] His first step was to disarm potentially disaffected sepoys by splitting them into detachments and dispatching them to the Afghan frontier where they were less likely to rebel.[3] His next steps were to send the Corps of Guides, 1st Punjabi's (Coke's Afridis), 4th Sikhs and 4th Punjab Infantry seven hundred miles to Delhi.[3] To patrol the now militarily depleted Punjab, Lawrence then at the suggestion of John Nicholson and Herbert Edwardes deployed a movable column of lightly equipped European and Punjabi troops, and chose Neville Chamberlain to lead it.[3]

To guarantee the loyalty of the Punjab, he requested Sikh chiefs show gratitude for leniency following annexation, and Patiala, Jhind, Nabha and Kapurthala all offered troops and money in support of the British. This ensured the lines of communication between Delhi and Lahore remained open.[3] He wrote to influential Sikhs who had previously rebelled during the Second Sikh War, and successfully secured their support by offering them a chance of redemption if they lent support against the mutiny. Lawrence was also able to gain the support of Muslims in the Punjab such as the Nawab of Karnal.[3]

As the fighting continued, Lawrence felt inclined to send the large contingent of European soldiers stationed at Peshawar to Delhi.[3] This raised the prospect of an attack by Dost Mohammed Khan when the Peshawar garrison was left less secure. Lawrence's assistants, led by John Nicholson and even the Governor-General, Lord Canning, were insistent on the need to protect Peshawar.[3] Lawrence nonetheless placed greater importance on the fall of Delhi, and pressed ahead with the re-deployment of troops to Delhi. By 6 September, Lawrence wrote to Lord Canning that the Punjab had sent every man they could spare.[3] On 14 September, Delhi had been recaptured and due to his actions Lawrence was acclaimed as the 'Saviour of India'.[5]

Aftermath of Rebellion[edit]

In the immediate aftermath of the rebellion, the British perpetrated acts of vengeance, including summary executions.[6] In February 1858 Delhi became part of the Punjab, and Lawrence took steps to check the acts of vengeance.[6] That same month he wrote to Lord Canning urging him to permit sepoys who had not taken part in the mutiny to return home, and to grant an amnesty for those who did not murder anyone and had given up their arms.[3]

Calls were made to raze Delhi to the ground, and dismantle the Jama Masjid, however Lawrence resisted such calls stating holy places should be spared.[3] Popular opinion within British society was shaped by partisan reports of atrocities committed by the rebels and demanded the most severe retribution on the alleged culprits, an opinion which was resisted by Lord Canning and Lawrence.[3] As many as 800,000 Indians and possibly more, both in the rebellion (150,000 dead) and in famines and epidemics of disease (650,000 dead) in its wake, by comparison of 1857 population estimates with the Indian Census of 1871.[7] About 6,000 British occupiers or family members were killed.[7]

In 1858, the Punjab was made a Lieutenant Governorship which resulted in an increase in staff and other privileges. In February 1859, Lawrence handed over power to Robert Montgomery and set sail for England. For his service in the mutiny he was created a baronet, granted a GCB, made a Privy Councillor and received an annual pension from the East India Company of £2,000.[8] On arrival in England he was greeted with a lavish ceremony at Guildhall and afforded an audience with Queen Victoria.[3] He also took up a role with the Council of India based at Whitehall.[3]

Additionally he received the freedoms of the cities of London (1858) and Glasgow (1860), the freedom of the Worshipful Company of Grocers (1859) and honorary doctorates of civil law from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge (1859).[9]

Viceroy of India[edit]

Sir John Lawrence as Viceroy of India, sitting middle, with his Executive Council members and Secretaries

On 12 January 1864, Lawrence returned to India, succeeding Lord Elgin as Viceroy of India. His stated ambitions as Viceroy were to consolidate British power and to improve the ‘condition of the people’.[10] One of his first acts was to ban the Hindu practice of throwing their dead into the Hooghly River.[11] To enable Lawrence to claim both his annuity from the East India Company and his full salary as Viceroy, the Salary of Sir J. Lawrence Act 1864 was passed in March 1864.[12]

Domestic policy[edit]

Domestically, Lawrence sought to increase tenant security and to reduce fiscal assessments imposed on Indians, believing that what had worked in the Punjab would work across British India.[10] He saw light taxation as a matter of fairness and pragmatism, arguing that for Indian yeomen to safeguard British rule it was essential that they should feel the benefits of a British administration. Lawrence resisted calls for increasing the taxation of salt that would have disproportionately affected poorer Indians. He calculated that the excise on salt increased its price as much as twelvefold in the Punjab, and perhaps by eight times in the North West Provinces.[10] Lawrence abhorred the stance taken by many of his compatriots, who considered it their 'prerogative while in India to pay no taxation at all.' He characterised the non-official British community in India as 'birds of passage', rushing to amass wealth as quickly as possible with no care for what happened after their departure.[10]

Arguably the greatest failure of Lawrence's tenure was the Orissa famine of 1866, in which an estimated one million Indians died.[10] Part of the criticism focused on his moving the government apparatus to the cooler hills of Simla which was geographically remote from the centre of power in Calcutta.[10] In response, Lawrence offered his resignation, but this was refused by Viscount Cranborne.[10]

Foreign policy[edit]

Lawrence's fame and extensive regional knowledge afforded him considerable scope by Westminster in determining Indian foreign policy.[10]

In June 1863, the Emir of Afghanistan, Dost Muhammad Khan, died, resulting in civil war within Afghanistan at a time when the British government were concerned with Russian expansionism in central Asia. Lawrence adopted a strategy of strict non-intervention on Afghanistan, devising a policy that would be known as 'masterly inactivity.' The policy meant no British envoys or troops were sent to Afghanistan, and civilian explorers were prohibited from wandering beyond the frontier. It has been argued the policy was shaped by Lawrence's experience of the First Anglo-Afghan War where his brother George was held captive.[13]

Lawrence argued any attempt to restrain Russian advance in Afghanistan would lead to the eventual occupation of the country, as was the case in 1838.[10] Vocal criticism of Lawrence's policy of ‘masterly inactivity’ came from serving or former British army officers in India such as Henry Rawlinson and Sir Sydney Cotton.[10] Criticism centred on the belief that Britain's apparent passivity would allow Russia to establish her influence at Kabul.[10]

Return to England[edit]

Lawrence completed his five-year term as Viceroy and returned to England in January 1869. In April he was raised to the peerage as Baron Lawrence, of the Punjaub and of Grateley in the County of Southampton.[14]

Bust of Lawrence in Westminster Abbey

Arthur Munby, as quoted in Munby, Man of Two Worlds, wrote: 'Thursday, 31st. May, 18??:... Passing through Kensington Tuesday, (29th.May) I saw a man of all others worth seeing-Sir John Lawrence. He was riding down the street alone—without even a groom:and no one knew or noticed him. A large, loosely made man: sitting grave and quiet on his horse; with sallow wrinkled face and grizzled moustache: riding along, an unappreciated king of men, with such keen eyes and such a solemn face! And he all unnoticed, and still a commoner, while Vernon Smith is a peer! But idiots are proverbially the favourites of fortune.'

In 1870 he was elected to represent the Chelsea division of the London School Board, and was appointed chairman at the first board meeting. He resigned from the position in November 1873.[15]

Lawrence briefly returned to the public sphere in 1878 as a critic of the Conservative government's Afghan policy in the months preceding the Second Afghan War.[10] He was nominated chairman of an influential committee to oppose the policy of Lord Lytton and the Indian government, and to oppose annexation and imperialism.[16]

Lawrence died in London on 27 June 1879, aged 68 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.[2] A memorial bust of Lawrence by the sculptor Thomas Woolner was later erected in the nave of the Abbey.[17]


Statue of Lord Lawrence in Waterloo Place, London

Lawrence married Harriette Catherine, daughter of The Reverend Richard Hamilton, in 1841.[2] They had four sons and six daughters:[18][19]

Lady Lawrence died in 1917.


A boarding house at the East India Company College (today Haileybury and Imperial Service College) and a "house" at Foyle College was subsequently named after him. Lawrence is also a Senior Wing House at St Paul's School, Darjeeling, in India, where all the Senior Wing Houses are named after colonial-era civil service and military figures.

A statue of him stands at Foyle and Londonderry College (having been, originally, erected in Lahore). The statue, by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, once showed Lawrence with a pen in one hand and a sword in the other, along with the caption "By which will you be governed?". The pen and sword were used to illustrate his versatility as an administrator and a soldier. Vandals have since damaged the sword. Another statue of Lawrence stands in Waterloo Place in central London. A portion of the inscription on the base of the statue originally read "Ruler of the Punjab," but the word "Punjab" has been defaced and rendered illegible by vandals.


Coat of arms of John Lawrence, 1st Baron Lawrence
Out of an eastern crown Or a cubit arm entwined by a wreath of laurel and holding a dagger all Proper.
Ermine on a cross raguly Gules an eastern crown Or on a chief Azure two swords in saltire Proper pommels and hilts Gold between as many leopards’ faces Argent
Dexter, an officer of the Guide Cavalry (Irregulars) of the Pathan tribe in the province of Peshawar habited and accoutred Proper. Sinister an officer of the Sikh Irregular cavalry also habited and accoutred Proper.
Be Ready[20]


  1. ^ "BBC – Radio 4 Empire – the Sepoy Rebellion (I)".
  2. ^ a b c d e Venn, John (15 September 2011). Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900, Volume 2. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1108036146.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af Gibbon, Frederick (1908). The Lawrences of the Punjab. London: JM Dent & Co. ISBN 978-1-331-55959-7.
  4. ^ a b c d Harlow & Carter, Barbara & Mia (2003). Archives of Empire: Volume I. From The East India Company to the Suez Canal Volume 1 of Archives of Empire. New Delhi: Duke University Press. ISBN 0822331640.
  5. ^ The Times, 29 July 1858, p. 8.
  6. ^ a b Metcalf, The Aftermath of Revolt, p. 295.
  7. ^ a b Peers 2013, p. 64.
  8. ^ "No. 22171". The London Gazette. 6 August 1858. p. 3667.
  9. ^ Bosworth Smith, Life of Lord Lawrence, vol. II, chs. 8 & 9.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Wallace, Christopher Julian (June 2014). 'Masterly inactivity': Lord Lawrence, Britain and Afghanistan, 1864–1879. King's College London.
  11. ^ Bosworth Smith, Life of Lord Lawrence, vol. II, p. 418
  12. ^ A Collection of the Public General Statutes passed in the Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eighth Years of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria: Being the Sixth Session of the Eighteenth Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode. 1864. p. 3.
  13. ^ J.L. Duthie, ‘Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson and the Art of Great Gamesmanship’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, XI (1983), 258.
  14. ^ "No. 23483". The London Gazette. 30 March 1869. p. 2006.
  15. ^ Mosley, Charles, editor. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes. Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003.
  16. ^ "Death of Lord John Lawrence". South Australian Register. Vol. XLIV, no. 10, 180. South Australia. 1 July 1879. p. 5. Retrieved 12 February 2021 – via National Library of Australia.
  17. ^ "John Laird Mair Lawrence". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 20 August 2022.
  18. ^ "Death of Lord Lawrence". The Times. 28 June 1879. p. 12.
  19. ^ Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire. Burke's Peerage Limited. 1907. p. 991. Retrieved 17 May 2023.
  20. ^ Burke's Peerage. 1949.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by Viceroy of India
Succeeded by
New title Chairman of the London School Board
Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Lawrence
Succeeded by
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of the Army)
Succeeded by