Lawrence, John Laird Mair
Governor-General of India (1811-1879)
Younger brother of Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence, was born on 4 March 1811 at Richmond, in Yorkshire, England. He was educated at Bristol, Londonderry, Bath and Haileybury. In 1830, he took up appointment under the East India Company and served from 1830-46 as a civilian administrator, as magistrate and as collector of Delhi.
In 1846, he was appointed commissioner of the newly annexed Jalandhar Doab by Governor-General Lord Hardinge. In 1849, he joined the Punjab Board of Administration as a member, and, after its dissolution in 1853, became the Chief Commissioner of the Punjab.
In comparison with Henry Lawrence, John was a cold, practical administrator. He did not possess his brother’s understanding of the Sikhs and their institutions. He ruled with severity and introduced several changes. Some of these changes appeared vexatious innovations to the general mass of the Sikh people smarting under the shock of defeat and humiliation. John Lawrence also disbanded and dispersed the 92,000-strong Khalsa army. Its artillery was dismantled and carted away to Calcutta, and its ghorcharahs and jagirdari force allowed to lapse.
In 1849, John Lawrence was nominated a member of the Board of Administration which Governor-General Lord Dalhousie had constituted to offset Henry Lawrence’s influence in the Punjab. The Lawrence brothers sharply differed in their views on almost all political issues. Henry believed that the annexation of the Punjab was both unjust and impolitic., and that a policy of moderation and conciliation should be pursued towards the Sikhs. John was in favour of enforcing a more rigorous policy in the Punjab. The third member of the Board, Charles Greville Mansel, with his legal training, was interested more in the judicial aspect than in politics. The divergence of views in the Board led to its dissolution in 1853. This gave Lord Dalhousie the excuse to oust Henry Lawrence. John Lawrence became Chief Commissioner of the Punjab and inherited the powers of the Board. He did not possess his brother’s genius for personal relations and for winning the people’s hearts, yet unfettered control over all departments allowed him to establish firmly the roots of British power in the Punjab. He divided the province into seven districts, pacified and settled the northwest frontier, improved agriculture, reduced land-tax, and introduced the system of European learning and education in the Punjab.
In 1859, John Lawrence returned home and served as a member of Secretary of State’s India Council till 1864, when he was appointed Viceroy and Governor-General of India (1864-69). He returned to England in 1869 and was created Baron Lawrence of the Punjab. He died on 26 June 1879.