Henry Havelock was born on April 5, 1795, in Bishop Wearmouth, in Sunderland England, the second of four sons to William Havelock a well-to-do shipowner and his wife, Jane (Carter).
So serious minded was he as a lad that his school friends called him “Phlos” – an abbreviation for ‘Philosopher’. But there were others who taunted him with cruel jibes – “Methodist”, “hypocrite”, for it was known that he prayed and read the Scriptures daily, as his godly mother, Jane, had taught him to do.
For a while he went on to study law, and then at the age of 20 we find him entering “The Rifle Brigade” of the British Army. It is interesting to note that all four of the Havelock boys became soldiers.
By this time his faith had lapsed, even bordering on Unitarianism. But mid-Atlantic, on his way to India in 1823, he is befriended by Lieutenant James Gardner, “a humble, unpretending man, just twenty-one”, and a Christian.
Gardner loaned Havelock the Life of Henry Martyn – missionary hero of the CMS – and The Force of Truth by well-known Bible commentator, Thomas Scott. Gardner’s gentle testimony led Havelock to the Saviour.
In India Havelock fought in the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824 to 1826.
On 8 February, 1829, Havelock married Hannah Marshman, daughter of one of the great Baptist missionaries to that land, a co-worker with William Carey.
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Havelock took his new faith and the example of his missionary in-laws to heart and began distributing bibles to all the soldiers. He also introduced all-rank bible study classes and established the first non-church services for military personnel.
It was 23 years before promotion came his way – first to Captaincy, then Major in 1843, Lieutenant Colonel in 1844, and eventually Brigadier-General in 1857. During this time his Christian convictions and witness remained steadfast.
On Sundays “a flag would fly over his tent” as an indication that he was at prayer and others were invited to join him. The influence spread through his battalion until they were known as ‘Havelock’s Saints‘!
It was in 1857 the Indian Mutiny took place – thousands of rebels demanding “the extermination of every European in India” (Brave Lives and Noble, page 283). Havelock retook the city of Cawnpor, but not before the English population had been massacred.
Havelock, with 1000 troops, marched to Lucknow to rescue the besieged Britishers – 1,700 of them, including women and children. “The advance to Lucknow forms one of the most stirring chapters in our military annals” … ‘Havelock’s Saints’ “earned a hundred VC’s!” (1000 Heroes, by A. Mee, page 565).
He arrived on 25 September and held out against the 10,000 rebels until Colonel Campbell’s Highlanders arrived, and Lucknow was saved. But two months later Sir Henry Havelock died in Lucknow, overcome by exhaustion and dysentery. To Sir James Outram he had said: “For more than forty years I have so ruled my life that when death came I might face it without fear.” And to his son, also wounded and needing care, Havelock had said: “Come, my son, and see how a Christian can die” (Modern Christian Biography, page 220; Way to Glory, by J Pollock, page 252).
Many towns bear testimony to the affection which England held toward her amazing Christian soldier. Streets and Inns named after Havelock are in abundance. His statue stands in Trafalgar Square, paid for by public donations. Although the statue goes unnoticed by today’s generation its dedication brought together one of the biggest crowds ever seen there.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com
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