Major General Sir Henry Havelock (1795 - 1857) Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Major General Sir Henry Havelock (1795 - 1857)

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Just about every town in Britain has a Havelock Street, a Havelock Road, a General Havelock Inn or Arms. There are eight towns bearing the name: in Canada, USA, New Zealand, and Swaziland, and even an island in the Indian Ocean.

Who was Havelock?

Few people today know anything about this Victorian military hero, whose death in India resulted in a national outpouring of grief rarely seen before or since in Britain. His statue in Trafalgar Square goes largely unnoticed1.

His non-military life is largely unrecorded, so that we have limited information about his character and personality. However, from his successful battles and the esteem in which he appears to have been held by his troops and his peers, it can be deduced that he was an outstanding communicator and motivator of men.

Childhood and Early Military Career

Henry Havelock was born in Bishopwearmouth in Sunderland in 1795, the second of four sons. His father, William Havelock, was a well-to-do shipowner. From the age of five until he was ten, Henry attended Mr Bradleys' school in Swanscombe, after which he went to Charterhouse School until he was 17.

In 1815 Havelock entered the Army as a Second Lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade. For eight years he was stationed in Britain, during which time he developed a lifelong interest in the theory and practice of war. By 1823, Havelock was serving in the Light Infantry and was transferred to India, where he fought in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824 - 1826).

Onward Christian Soldier

Once the Anglo-Burmese War ended, Havelock returned to England and married Hannah Marshman, the daughter of eminent Christian missionaries. At about the same time he became a Baptist and introduced some of his new family's missionary ideas to the army. He began the distribution of bibles to all soldiers, introduced all-rank bible study classes, and established the first non-church services for military personnel.

By the time Havelock took part in the First Afghan War in 1839, he had been promoted to the rank of captain, and he used his spare time to produce analytical reports about the skirmishes and battles in which he was involved. These writings were returned to Britain and were reported on in the press of the day. Over the next ten years he distinguished himself in various campaigns in Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent, most notably in The Sikh Wars (1842 - 1849). For these services he was made Deputy Adjutant-General at Bombay2. In 1849 he left for England, returning to India in 1852 with further promotion, and by 1857 he was Adjutant-General of the British Army in India.

The Indian Mutiny

In 1857 the Indian Mutiny broke out. Havelock was chosen as second in command to Sir James Outram, and commanded troops dealing with the uprisings in Allahabad. In July 1857 he recaptured Cawnpor3 from the rebels, but did not arrive in time to rescue the resident British population from massacre. Throughout August Havelock led his soldiers northwards across Uttar Pradesh, defeating all rebel forces in his path, despite being greatly outnumbered. His years of study of the theories of war and his experiences in earlier campaigns were put to good use. He moved on to Lucknow.

At the outbreak of the Mutiny on 1 May, 1857, 1,700 British and Indian troops fortified and guarded the British residency at Lucknow. A rebel force of 60,000 surrounded the garrison on 1 July. Havelock twice attempted to recapture the town garrison but had to retreat, until Sir James Outram arrived with reinforcements. On 25 September the Relief of Lucknow was achieved. However, a second rebel force arrived and besieged the town again. This time Havelock and his troops were caught inside the blockade.

Sir Colin Campbell arrived in mid-November to relieve Lucknow for a second time. Within days of regaining his freedom, Henry Havelock was dead, overcome by exhaustion and dysentery. He lived long enough to learn that he had been made a Baron, but died before the message reached him that he had also been promoted to Major-General.

A Hero At Home

Havelock's heroic successes during the Indian Mutiny earned him considerable praise from military leaders, politicians, and newspaper editors in Britain. He was hailed as an example of 'military excellence and devout character'. He became a popular hero, depicting all that was great about the British Empire in the mid-19th Century. While his popularity grew in Britain, Havelock was still fighting in India and probably never realised the extent of his fame.

The British establishment and press, having so recently built up Havelock as a national hero, were dismayed to hear of his death. The public mood mirrored their distress and the scenes of mourning were unprecedented. Public prescription paid for a statue of Havelock to stand in Trafalgar Square. The plaque on the plinth reads To Major General Sir Henry Havelock KCB and his brave companions in arms during the campaign in India 1857. Soldiers, your labours, your privations, your suffering and your valour, will not be forgotten by a grateful country. It was inaugurated in front of 'the greatest multitude of people that ever assembled,' on 21 May, 1861.

The Relief of Lucknow became such a celebrated military achievement that it rivals General Gordon in Khartoum. The most well-known depiction of the Relief is a painting by Thomas Barker commissioned in 1859, entitled The Relief of Lucknow, which still hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Is Havelock Still A Hero?

Havelock was a British hero whose fame only developed in the year of his death and reached its peak two or three years later. Today his name is remembered through place names and pictures, and the man himself is a shadow in the bloody history of the British in India. He was a hero of his time. From the perspective of the 21st Century it is difficult to comprehend the national fervour and pride which lay behind the actions of military leaders in the 19th Century. However, lack of comprehension should not result in lack of admiration for those men who put their lives on the line for what they considered a just and Christian cause: the expansion of the British Empire.

1And was threatened with removal in 2003 when Ken Livingstone suggested that 'more relevant' figures should be commemorated there.2Mumbai.3Kanpur.

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