Page last updated at 10:05 GMT, Friday, 30 April 2010 11:05 UK

Plaque unveiled to Foyle philanthropist

The old Foyle College building received a new adornment on Friday when a blue plaque celebrating one of its former pupils was unveiled.

Now the Foyle Arts Building, the building was the educational home of Henry Montgomery Lawrence for four years in the early 19th century.

He is being honoured for setting up a network of schools in India to care for orphans and children of British soldiers serving there.

Ulster History Circle plaque

Born at Matara, Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, on 28 June 1806, Henry was the fifth child of Alexander Lawrence of Coleraine and Catherine Letitia Knox of Strabane.

In 1808, after serving abroad in the Indian Territories for several years, the family returned home to Coleraine and Henry, along with his two brothers, attended Foyle College from 1815 until 1819 where his maternal uncle, the Revd James Knox, was headmaster.

Lawrence Hill, on which the college building stands, was named after the family.

Henry moved to England to finish his schooling and in 1822, aged 16 years, he sailed for India and joined the headquarters of the Bengal Artillery at Dum Dum, near Calcutta.

Ken Thatcher, a teacher at the current Foyle and Londonderry College, said the school still remembers Lawrence to this day.

"He's a man who still has a place in school," he said.

"In our house system we still have a Lawrence House which is a reminder of his brothers.

"His brother, Sir John Lawrence, his statue currently stands at our Springtown site and it used to stand at Lawrence Hill at the old school, and indeed it will go with us when we move to the new site at Limavady Road."

After leaving Derry, Lawrence spent most of his life serving in Asia.

bridge in Lucknow
Sir Henry was killed during a seige at Lucknow, India, in 1857

"They were of the generation that children of reasonably well-to-do people joined the army at the age of 16 and were sent to places to India," continued Mr Thatcher.

"You were put in charge of a bunch of men and sent off to battle, he even fought in Afghanistan, even in the 1830s and 1840s we were sending people out to Afghanistan."

Knighted in 1848, Sir Henry continued to serve in the region and it was during a seige at Lucknow in July 1857 that he was struck by shrapnel from an exploding shell.

He died two days later unaware that in London he had been appointed Governor-General-in-Waiting.

It was during his time in the Punjab that Sir Henry founded a boarding school.

It proved a great success, and a second school soon followed, a third school proposed shortly before Sir Henry's death was not completed.

However after his death, committees were quickly formed in England, Derry and at Ootacamund, India, to honour Sir Henry's memory and implement his wish to provide for shelter and education for more children of British soldiers.

From a small school at Ootacamund, opened in 1858, a large government sponsored estate was developed to become the Lawrence Memorial Royal Military School, Lovedale.

A fourth Lawrence school opened at Ghora Gali College, Murree, now in Pakistan.

Three of these schools remain open to this day.

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