Mother of T.E. Lawrence, AKA Lawrence of Arabia

Vital Statistics[]

  • Daughter of John Lawrence and Elizabeth Junner
  • 1861-Aug-31 : Birth in Sunderland, County Durham, England.
  • 1887 : Lives with Thomas Robert Tighe Chapman (1846-1919)
  • 1959-Nov : - Yangtze River China - (age 98)


At some time in the late 1870s, a young Scotswoman known as Sarah Lawrence entered the Chapman household, having been engaged to work as governess to the daughters. Her industry, capability and cheerfulness were much appreciated. This was by stark contrast to the conduct of Edith Chapman, who developed an increasingly militant obsession with religion which made life extremely difficult for those closest to her. Most accounts agree that by the mid-1880s Edith Chapman had become a bitter and vindictive woman who subjected her family and servants to very frequent prayer meetings and disapproved of all but the most genteel pleasures. Thomas Chapman, for his part, had by that time become a heavy drinker. In due course he fell in love with Sarah Lawrence, who was fifteen years his junior.

While the history of the Chapman family is well documented, much less is known about Sarah Lawrence. She was herself illegitimate, born on 31st August 1861 in Sunderland, County Durham and registered at birth as Sarah Junner. Her mother's name was Elizabeth, and census records for Sunderland made in April of that year show that Elizabeth Junner was at that time working as a servant in the household of one Thomas Lawrence, who was by profession a Lloyd's surveyor.

There can be little doubt that Sarah Junner was the child of Thomas Lawrence's eldest son, John. Her birth certificate gives the name Junner both as the maiden name of the mother and as the surname of the father. As the name is unusual, this in itself is curious. However, Elizabeth Junner had been listed in the census only four months before the birth as an unmarried servant living in the Lawrence household. The profession of the child's father is given on the birth certificate as shipwright journeyman, and this corresponds to the profession given in the census for John Lawrence: that of ship's carpenter. The was given the name Sarah, which was the name of John Lawrence's mother (and also of one of his sisters). It must also be significant that when Sarah Junner grew older, she used the name Lawrence rather than the name Junner. It may be that the Lawrence family concerned itself with her education after her mother, who became an alcoholic, had died.

The 1861 census reveals a little more about Sarah Lawrence's parents. John Lawrence was born at Chepstow in 1843; his father Thomas at Swansea in 1808; his mother Sarah at Chepstow in 1811. Sarah appears, therefore, to have been half-Welsh. Elizabeth Junner, Sarah's mother, was born in Scotland in 1833. A family called Junner is mentioned in the 1861 census, living in Sunderland at 14 Hamilton Street. As the name is so uncommon it seems possible that these were her parents. If so, her father was John Junner, a retired master mariner born at Franfield, Sussex, in about 1807, and her mother Jane Junner, born at Monkwearmouth in about 1813.

Children of Thomas Chapman and Sarah Lawrence[]

  1. Montagu Robert Lawrence (1885-1971) - Was a physician and medical missionary to China.
  2. Lt. Col Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888-1935) aka Lawrence of Arabia - war hero of the First World War
  3. William George Lawrence (1889-1915) - Died Childless in First World War (23 Oct 1915 ?)
  4. Frank Helier Lawrence (1893-1915) - Died Childless in First World War (9 May 1915 ?)
  5. Arnold Walter Lawrence (1900-1991) - noted archaeologist and art historian