Henry Havelock was devoted to his mother. He was also a faithful brother, maintaining close ties with his kin, taking responsibility for them even when their own foolishness exposed them — and, by extension, him — to financial ruin.
Likewise, he was a loving husband and father, concerned for the well-being of his family at every level and showing an honourable spirit in all his dealings with them. For example, before their marriage, he offered Hannah release from engagement when threatened with penury because of his brother’s profligacy.
Husband and father
Looking back, Havelock’s brother-in-law said that, ‘It was delightful to witness a man of Havelock’s strong character, unbending himself amidst the endearments of domestic life, and exhibiting the great soldier and the stern disciplinarian, as the most affectionate of husbands and the most exemplary of parents’ (John Clark Marshman, Memoirs of Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, KCB, Longmans, Green, and Co.; p.32).
Personal letters to and from his wife have not survived, but their sheer volume (nearly 200) suggests something of the couple’s intimacy. He described his wife as ‘heaven’s best earthly gift to me’ (John Pollock, The way to glory: Major-General Sir Henry Havelock: the Christian soldier, Christian Focus; pp. 140-41).
Hannah, widowed at 48, remembered ‘such devoted love, such gentle consideration of my feelings, such soft words even when spoken in reproof, and that how seldom! Such gallant politeness, down to the smallest point of etiquette, such heavenly-minded prayers and such sweet and happy readings together of the Book — the Book of all others dearest to him’ (Pollock, p.291).
We have noted his attachment to the worship of the saints, and he was evidently appreciated by them as part of the body of Christ. Whenever he could, he associated himself with the saints in their regular gatherings. In the camp and the field, he drew together other believers and participated with them in the worship of God.
In himself, he could seem remote and stern. As a soldier, he was a disciplinarian, even accused of being a martinet, but he was persuaded that good discipline was the key to the survival and success of his men, as he often proved in action.
While he manifested a self-control that sometimes communicated itself as distance, even severity, this melted with friends and especially around fellow-Christians.
Even before he was persuaded of the rightness of Baptist conviction and practice, he loved the Serampore men, and associated readily with the American missionaries in Rangoon in 1824, as well as true believers of every stripe.
At an Evangelical Alliance meeting in Bombay in 1829, shortly after embracing Baptist convictions and practice, he confessed that, ‘While he should part with his Baptist principles only with his life, he declared his willingness cordially to fraternise with every Christian who was held by the Head and was serving the Redeemer in sincerity and truth’.
In such an environment as the one in which he spoke, he believed that ‘all brought with them their faith in all its strength and vitality. They left, he thought, at the door of the place of assembly, the husks and shell of their creed, but brought into the midst of their brethren the precious kernel.
‘They laid aside, for a moment, at the threshold, the canons, the articles, and the formularies of their section of Christianity, but carried along with them, up to the table at which he was speaking, the very essence and quintessence of their religion’ (Marshman, p.34).
You might think that Havelock is overstating or even understating the case, but it is a clear and warm statement of true fraternity with all who name the name of Christ. Again, Havelock is strong where many today are weak or casual.
It was his more private cultivation and practice of godliness that laid the foundation for his public service in his calling as a Christian, even when his principled life was costly.
A colleague and friend, George Broadfoot, wrote to India from Afghanistan of Havelock’s character and his failure to be daunted: ‘It is the fashion, especially in his own corps, to sneer at him; his manners are cold, while his religious opinions seclude him from society; but the whole of them together would not compensate for his loss.
‘Brave to admiration, imperturbably cool, looking at his profession as a science, and, as far as I can see or judge, correct in his views’ (Pollock, p.81).
Havelock saw no dichotomy between his life as a Christian and his life as a soldier: he was not wrestling to reconcile his vocation with his faith. He was a Christian — that was his nature, his very identity. He happened to be a soldier — that was his calling, his sphere of service.
To pursue the latter to the glory of God, he cultivated the former to a high degree, even when it meant that he must go forth to Christ, outside the camp, bearing his reproach (Hebrews 13:13).
In drawing this study to a close, we might profitably turn to the scene of Havelock’s death (on 24 November 1857), for he was a man who lived in preparation for that moment. At that time, when his commanding officer, Sir James Outram, asked how he was, Havelock replied that he never should be any better.
He added: ‘I have for 40 years so ruled my life, that when death came I might face it without fear’ (Marshman, p.441). I confess that it was this striking sentence that awoke my own interest in the life of a man of God who could die with such words on his lips.
In his last days, he had his son read to him from his Bible and hymnbook and, as the end approached, told him, ‘Harry, see how a Christian can die!’
At about eight o’clock on that morning of 24 November, Harry noticed a change and lifted his father into his arms. After a further hour and a half he died. ‘His end’, said Harry, ‘was so peaceful that I hardly knew when life was extinct’.
To his mother he wrote: ‘God send that when that day comes to every one of us it may find us equally prepared’ (Pollock, p.287).
Havelock’s testimony is not one of extravagant displays of faith, nor of a prominent ecclesiastical mover and shaker. His is the tale of consistent and persistent faithfulness and fruitfulness in his calling, publicly discharging his duty as an unashamedly Christian man.
After the Jalalabad siege, someone who spent time with Havelock wrote that ‘he is a strange person, but is acknowledged to be as good [a] soldier as a man; the best of both probably in the camp’.
Later, the same man wrote that ‘he reads and prays much as if on parade but he is a good man and a good soldier. I have never heard either doubted’ (Pollock, p.110).
The major general of Her Majesty’s army was willing and content to be a foot soldier in the army of the King of kings. It was said of him that he was every inch a soldier and every inch a Christian (Marshman, p.41, quoting Lord Hardinge) — a Christian soldier in every sense of the phrase.
Havelock proved in life and death that a man can be a good soldier and a good Christian. I put it to you that the pursuit of professional excellence, the cultivation of exemplary service, an unashamed public testimony, a sanctified ambition married to the embrace of divine providence — and all rooted in private devotion and faithful Christian fellowship — will fit us to serve our King in our own sphere too.
May it be said of each of us, as it was of Havelock, that we are ‘every inch a Christian’.
The author is pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, West Sussex.