( The Lawrence School, Lovedale was opened on May 12, 1858. Many think that it was the legacy of a rich, old, bearded philanthropist. Far from it, Lawrence was one of the rare breed of Solider-Saints who served India. He is considered the builder of modern Punjab.
He died as humbly as he was born and lived. His epitaph read – Here Lies Lawrence, who tried to do his duty. Sadly, it appears the school that was started in his memory and money failed to do its duty.)
Henry Mongomery Lawrence was born in Matura (in Sri Lanka) in 1806 to a poor Irish soldier of fortune. After joining the East India Company in 1823 he studied Urdu, Hindi and Persian languages to join the Survey Department. He rose up to become an exceptional soldier-administrator who helped consolidate British rule in the Punjab region. He and his brother John both served Punjab with distinction.
To govern the vast territory of Punjab with Hindu, Sikh and Muslim people, Lawrence appointed soldiers as administrative wardens with the message, ‘Settle the country; make the people happy; and take care there are no rows’.
Lawrence prepared a Sikh Legal Code that gave him the power to forbid Satte (self-immolation by widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres), infanticide, and forced labour. He improved the status of the common people by reducing taxes and limiting landlords’ rights.
Lawrence led the defense of the British in Lucknow in the 1857 Indian Mutiny, was wounded and died on July 4. He never knew that the British government had nominated him provisional Governor General of India.
While in service he and his formidable wife preferred a modest hut to palatial bungalows to live in. On his death he preferred to be buried with his fellow soldier-casualties and picked his own humble epitaph.
The schools that his brother started in name of Lawrence, including the one at Lovedale, were to help make the orphaned children of the soldiers become useful members of the society. Moral, industrial and social training were supposed to be the basic curriculum of the schools.
The schools were run so for many years. The Lovedale school farms worked by the students used to supply vegetables up to Tuticorin. It was one the masters of the school who invented the distillation of eucalyptus oil in the 1930s which later became the predominant household industry in the district.
Today the school is no more that a luxury campus for a few hundred of well to do kids. The contribution of the school to the society and the Nilgiris is not evident anywhere.
Nilgiri Documentation Centre