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Henry Havelock – ‘every inch a soldier and every inch a Christian’ (1)

April 2014 | by Jeremy Walker

In the south-east corner of Trafalgar Square stands a guano-spattered statue, not long ago the object of the then Mayor of London’s ire, who threatened to remove this relic of empire and replace it with something more ‘relevant’.

On its plinth is this stirring declaration: ‘Soldiers! Your labours, your privations, your sufferings and your valour, will not be forgotten by a grateful country’.

Such were the concluding words of the last Order of the Day penned by Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, written to his victorious troops in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Bithoor of August 1857, at the height of the Indian Mutiny (John Clark Marshman, Memoirs of Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, KCB, p.358; Longmans, Green and Co., 1885).

Public Christianity

My focus is not foremost on Havelock the soldier or citizen, but on his character as a public Christian. I want to begin by sketching a brief biography. I will then zero in on several qualities illustrated (without strict regard for chronology) from his life, which I think make Havelock not just the very model of a Christian major-general, but a profitable template for Christians today, in the public sphere and professional life.

Our place and time is one in which, increasingly, we are expected and pressured to privatise our Christianity. We must take into account that Havelock comes from a different age, but also that he manifested an unfashionable faith in an unsympathetic environment.

According to Herman Bavinck, ‘Christians need not hide from their opponents in embarrassed silence; the Christian faith is the only worldview that fits the reality of life’ (Reformed dogmatics Vol. 1, p.498; Baker Academic, 2003). Havelock demonstrates this and shows how we might carry with us a savour of Christ.

He was born at Bishop Wearmouth, an area of Sunderland, on Sunday 5 April 1795. His father was a shipbuilder and Henry was his second son. His father’s growing fortune led to relocation to Ingress Park, near Dartford in Kent, where two further sons were born.

All four sons eventually entered the military, perhaps partly through the influence of their uncle, a soldier. His mother was a godly woman who sought to instruct her sons in the way of life and who wished Henry to become a lawyer.

He went to Charterhouse at the age of ten; his beloved mother died in 1811. He showed himself an excellent scholar and thoughtful lad. When his father’s fortunes declined, he was obliged, at the age of 18, to pursue a profession and chose the law.

Soldier and Christian

Shortly afterward, a falling out with his father left him without financial support, and it was then that he followed in his older brother William’s footsteps and obtained a commission, through a favour owed to William. In 1815, he was appointed second lieutenant in the 95th (Rifle) Brigade. There followed some eight years of military service in England, Ireland and Scotland.

However, seeing no prospect of active service in Europe, he eventually obtained a lieutenancy in the 13th Light Infantry, with whom he set sail for India on 3 January 1823. It was on this journey that he met Lieutenant James Gardner, who pressed upon him the life of Henry Martyn, followed by Thomas Scott’s Force of truth.

Impressed but largely untroubled by the former, it was the latter which eventually prompted passionate arguments with Gardner. The battle was within as well as without, but the Spirit’s ‘offer of peace and mandate of love, though for some time resisted, at length prevailed’ (John Pollock, The way to glory: Major-General Sir Henry Havelock: The Christian soldier; Christian Focus, 1996, p.24).

Arriving in India, he soon made contact with the missionary compound at Serampore, finding that the faith they all shared overcame his natural distaste for Dissent.

Thirsty for action, he saw it in 1824 and in the following years in Burma (Myanmar), where he came into contact with Adoniram Judson and was first entrusted with the responsibilities of command in the field.

He had been elevated to the office of Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General, but the appointment ceased with the end of that war, though his abilities as an interpreter helped to secure some official notice.

He returned to his lieutenancy, but began to publish his opinions of the campaigns in which he was involved — marked for their honesty and sufficiently bold in exposing errors to hinder his professional progress.


By 1828, then 33 years old, he proposed to Hannah Shepherd Marshman, daughter of Joshua Marshman of Serampore, 19 years old and freshly returned to India from England. However, he had assumed too much about her spiritual condition, and it was not until later that year that she was converted and then determined to be baptised.

Havelock had been impressed at the reality of the faith of his Baptist friends, finding that vital Christianity among many of his casual Anglican contacts, even the chaplains, was a rare exception.

He carefully explored the idea of adult baptism, having already discussed the matter with Judson when in Burma, and was eventually baptised (and married) in early 1829, sacrificing friendships and prospects, at a time when to be a military officer outside the Established Church could almost be considered an act of disloyalty.

Despite his efforts to cultivate the full range of military excellence — and, in part, through the opposition his Christianity (especially as a Baptist) aroused — Havelock reached the age of 40 still a lieutenant, and now supporting a wife and three children.

It was only in 1834 that he received an adjutancy, because he was, in the words of Lord William Bentinck, ‘unquestionably the fittest man for it’ (Pollock, p.56), despite a number of written testimonies that his religious convictions and practice unfitted him for the task.

Slow promotion

Havelock pressed on, and a year later, at the age of 43, was finally granted a substantive captaincy without purchase, and was then appointed as Second Aide-de-Camp, in Sir Willoughby Cotton’s Bengal division.

Caught up in what was known as ‘the Great Game’ — the battle on countless fronts between the British and Russian empires for Central Asian supremacy — he continued to distinguish himself.

Troubles in eastern Afghanistan, involving the capture of Ghazni and occupation of Kabul, were followed by his involvement in the siege of Jalalabad by the Afghans. A column under Havelock’s command was instrumental in breaking the siege.

At the age of 48 he was only a Brevet-Major, despite distinguishing himself on the battlefield. Prejudices against his Christianity remained: ‘It was believed at Horse Guards . . . that I professed to fear God, as well as honour the Queen, and that Lord Hill and sundry other wise persons had made up their minds that no man could, at once, be a saint and a soldier’ (Pollock, p.115).

A campaign in Gwalior gave further opportunity. He acquitted himself nobly on the field of battle and it saw him promoted Brevet-Lieutenant-Colonel. Shortly afterwards, his principled refusal to curry favour with his chief, and the same commander’s assumption that Havelock was using his literary talents to undermine him, saw his stock fall again.

The same trajectory can be traced through the first Sikh War in the Punjab in 1845 and 1846, though again — following failure to obtain a promotion — Havelock found an avenue for genuine though limited advancement.

By this point, at the age of 51, he was an authority on warfare in India, having written much on military matters and having been involved in 22 separate actions.


Rebuffed from an attempt to find a front-line post in the second Sikh War, and with his son Harry living an extravagant and wasteful life, Havelock was invalided out of India in 1849, after 26 years of continuous service and restricted professional progress.

He arrived back in India late in 1851, and in 1854 was appointed Quartermaster-General, promoted to full Colonel. In 1855, he was promoted to Adjutant-General, responsible for the war-readiness of all the troops in India, a task he embraced with a vigour which was often resented but proved vital and timely.

The post largely removed his financial worries and he anticipated something of a gentle slide toward retirement. His continued, personal restraint (bordering on asceticism, by several accounts) was — again, unknown to all — a maintained personal readiness for what lay ahead.

To be continued

Editor’s note: Reference to Jeremy’s fine paper on Havelock, at the Westminster Conference 2013, was inadvertently omitted in February’s

ET report. However, in this Great War centenary year, it is appropriate to remember this fine Christian soldier.

Jeremy Walker






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