Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, KCB (5 April 1795–29 November 1857)
‘And so Ned the cadet soldier and Dick the sailor witnessed the first great battles of the British retaliation as ADCs of the soldier who – in consequence of the succession of battles and victories he was about to win – would become a household name back in England.’
It’s difficult to see Sir Henry Havelock through Victorian eyes – as a ‘household name’, for very few people today know who he is, in spite of the numerous streets and places named after the British hero of Lucknow. Towns in countries as far apart as New Zealand and the USA bear his name, and a large statue in London’s Trafalgar Square should remind the passersby of his once great fame. However, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone once suggested his statue be removed and replaced with something ‘more relevant’, indicating a modern indifference to Havelock’s exploits.
Born in Sunderland, his wealthy ship-builder father later squandered the family fortunes, which forced his public-school educated son (the second of four brothers) to give up a career in the law and do what so many impoverished genteel young men of the time did – enter the army. He kicked off as a second lieutenant in the 95th Regiment of Foot, Rifle Brigade. A studious warrior, Havelock read all the standard works on the theory of war, but became disillusioned with inactive duty in England.
In 1822, he transferred to the 13th Regiment (Light Infantry) and sailed for India the next year, having learned Hindustani. He saw service in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26). After languishing in England again for some 13 years – during which time he married – he returned to active service and fought in the First Afghan War in 1839, promoted to the rank of captain. Over the next ten years he distinguished himself in various campaigns in Afghanistan and India, most notably in The Sikh Wars (1842–49). By 1857 he was Adjutant-General of the British Army in India.
Havelock was chosen as second in command to Sir James Outram, to whom he had previously been an adjutant. In July 1857 he recaptured Kanpur from the rebels, but – as Ned and Dick so horribly discovered – not in time to rescue the women and children trapped in the Bibi Gargh from massacre. Throughout August Havelock led his troops north and across Awadh (present day Uttar Pradesh) with great success, despite the relatively small force at his command. He tried three times to break through the rebel forces surrounding the residency at Lucknow, but held back twice from the final onslaught because his men were wasted by disease and exhausted from the continual fighting.
When reinforcements arrived at last under Outram, he was able to capture Lucknow on 25 September 1857. However, as the story tells it, the rebels, hardly defeated, rallied under further reinforcements of their own and Havelock was reluctantly forced to consider continuing to hold the residency against them, caught inside the blockade.
Sir Colin Campbell arrived in mid-November to relieve Lucknow for a second time, but a few days later, overcome with exhaustion and ill with dysentery, Hvelock died on 29 November 1857. The outpouring of national grief at the news of his passing was unprecedented – the Trafalgar Square statue was paid for by public prescription. Havelock was posthumously promoted to the rank of Major General and made a baron.
Sir Henry Havelock
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Appears in Chapters 11, 12, 13, 16, 18, 19, 21