The unfortunate Lawrence

The ‘renaming’ wave in independent Pakistan shows no one remembers John Lawrence now, and it seems that no one cares to remember him either

The unfortunate Lawrence

Once upon a time there was a street named Lawrence Road in Lahore. It began from Regal Chowk on The Mall and ended by circling the Lawrence Gardens, again named after the same Lawrence.

For nearly a century the Gardens and the Road kept their name, but then came a ‘renaming’ wave in independent Pakistan which wanted to obliterate the work and memory of people past and emblazoned the names of new people on the graves of others. Therefore, the Lawrence Gardens were renamed Jinnah Gardens fairly early in the history of the new country to honour its founder, who probably visited it but had nothing to do with its creation or upkeep.

Apparently it was too hard for the new country to establish a new garden in the memory of its founder, and found it proper to reappropriate someone else’s work in order to pay homage to the Quaid-e-Azam. The poor Lawrence Road has suffered a worse fate since the independence of Pakistan as it has now been renamed several times--so many times that I have not been able to find how exactly how many! But suffice to mention that it has been renamed, Liaquat Ali Khan Road, Sir Mian Mohammad Shafi Road, Majid Nizami Road, and just a week or so ago, Cecil Chaudhary Road. The road must be the darling of the Lahore city authorities for being renamed so many times!

As I have noted earlier in some articles, road and place names serve a dual purpose. They not only signify location of a certain traffic artery, they also serve as a public history tool. For example, when a road is named ‘Lawrence’ road, or ‘Montgomery’ road, or ‘Thornton’ road, someone when hearing such a name might just ask why the road is named such and then actually find out something about the person and their relationship with the city and its development. This not only improves their knowledge of the city and the environment they live in but also enables them to understand the work of various people--from different religions and nationalities--in making the city we now live in. Such testaments of public history are therefore very important to preserve.

Also read: Lahore and modernity

When the kingdom of Lahore was annexed in March 1849, Lahore was in ruins. The city which had nearly a million inhabitants in the early seventeenth century, was but a shadow of itself by then, and had retreated to what we now call the ‘old city.’ The old city was surrounded by a sea of Mughal monuments in various stages of decay.

It was in this environment that John and Henry Lawrence were made members of the Board of Administration of the Punjab in 1849 with John Lawrence becoming the first Chief Commissioner of the Punjab in 1853 and later its first Lieutenant Governor. Writing on Sir Henry Lawrence, a later Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab, Sir Charles Aitchison, noted, that "Henry [was] the friend of everyone who was ‘down,’ the loved, the generous, who ‘got a little more for everyone,’ who ‘fought every losing battle for the old Chiefs and Jaghirdars, with entire disregard to his own interest." Sir Charles further noted that when Sir Henry left the Punjab it was "amid an outburst of universal lamentation," because he had done so much development work in the region.

When John Lawrence came to the Punjab there was no law under which the Punjab was to be administered. In an age when racial superiority and imposition of foreign laws would have been the norm, John Lawrence, in the words of his biographer, "recognized the impossibility of deal with divers races by a uniform law imported by a foreign government," and therefore created a code which combined principles of English law with Hindu and Muslim law and local customs. The strength of this code (which was later superseded by other laws) was that for its time it gave the Punjab an ideal working environment.

Again, in the words of Sir Charles Aitchison, "on the one hand it saved social and tribal customs from being needlessly swept away; on the other hand it admitted of their growth and improvement."

The administration of the Punjab was such that most of the Punjab remained pacified during the Revolt of 1857 and even helped the British regain important territory. This was the result of the hard work put in by John Lawrence and his team.

Road and place names serve a dual purpose. They not only signify location of a certain traffic artery, they also serve as a public history tool.

The First Administration Report of the Punjab therefore gleefully noted that since the annexation: "Peace and security reign throughout the country, and the amount of crime is as small as in our best administered territories. Justice has been made accessible, without costly formalities, to the whole population. Industry and commerce have been set free. A great mass of oppressive and burdensome taxation has been abolished. Money rents have been substituted for payments in kind, and a settlement of the land revenue has been completed…at a considerable reduction on the former amount."

It is no wonder then that the Punjabis then became the most loyal subjects of the Crown in the India. (Here I am not making any comment or judgment on the concept of imperialism, by the way).

One can write a lot more about the administration of Sir John Lawrence in the Punjab, but I shall leave it for the heavier tomes, and end with the example of one of his best memories--the sprawling Lawrence Gardens in the middle of the new Lahore which he conceived. In 1860, the area which is now the garden was a barren and desolate wilderness but it was here that Sir Robert Montgomery, John Lawrence’s successor, brought in experts from Kew Gardens in London to make India’s Kew in 1862. He named it in the memory of the person who had given fourteen of his best years for the development of the Punjab.

There was also another memorial to Lord Lawrence in Lahore (who was ennobled and also became the Viceroy of India from 1864-9). Outside the Lahore High Court stood a tall six ton statute of Lord Lawrence with a pen in one hand and a sword in the other--referring to the conquest of the Punjab through the sword but its administration through the pen. For a long time this was a visible representation of an important epoch in Punjab’s history.

However, on the fateful day of the 25th of August 1951 at midnight, this statue was unceremoniously removed on a bullockcart. It now stands in the Foyle and Londonderry College in Northern Ireland where he studied.

No one remembers either John or Henry Lawrence now, and it seems that no one cares to remember them either.

The unfortunate Lawrence