Henrietta (Hetty) Lawes was born on 16 May 1861 at Sindlesham in Berkshire, the daughter of Joseph Lawes, a miller, and his wife Sarah Jane, née Lawes. She later lived with her parents at Hill House, Caversham. She was the first cousin of the suffragette Emmeline (later Lady) Pethick-Lawrence (their mothers were sisters).
From 1890 Hetty studied at the Reading School of Science of Art, and in October of that year she was jointly awarded the prize for a set of sketches in oil, watercolour, at a competition held by the School's Vacation Sketching Club (Reading Mercury, 25 Oct. 1890, p. 8). She won further prizes from the Sketching Club in 1891 (Berkshire Chronicle, 10 Jan. 1891, p. 2) and 1892, as well as several School prizes, including one 'for those passing "excellent" in personal examinations' (Reading Mercury, 8 Oct. 1892, p. 8; Berkshire Chronicle, 1 Oct. 1892, p. 8, 12 Nov. 1892, p. 2). The following year she was awarded a Free Local Art Scholarship, tenable at the University of Reading Extension College (ibid., 26 Aug. 1893, p. 2), where she won prizes for art in August and December 1893 (ibid., 26 Aug. 1893, p. 2; 23 Dec. 1893, p. 8), 1895 (for the 1893–4 session) (Reading Mercury, 25 May 1895, p. 5), and 1896 (Berkshire Chronicle, 18 July 1896, p. 5). At the College's annual exhibition in 1894 she exhibited a set of water-colours of street scenes, said to be 'broad and effective' (Reading Mercury, 29 Dec. 1894, p. 5), and in 1897 she showed a painting of chrysanthemums, 'broad in handling and rich in colouring', together with some 'very successful' seascapes (Berkshire Chronicle, 16 Jan. 1897, p. 2). In 1897 the College awarded her an Art Master’s Certificate.
The Lawes family were connected with Egypt by 1894, when Hetty's sister Josephine was married at Cairo to Frederick Sturge Plunkett, of the Military School of the Egyptian Army, and in 1898 Hetty herself went to that country as a volunteer to assist in the excavations carried out by Flinders and Hilda Petrie at Hu. On her return she was instrumental in arranging for the deposit of a number of artefacts from this expedition at the Reading Museum and Art Gallery (see Reading Mercury, 21 June 1902, p. 9, and Reading Museum, DIST.17.26a-b).
The artistic fruits of Hetty's experiences in Egypt included a 'strongly-coloured and well-drawn' watercolour sketch entitled 'Market Day at Nagh, Hamadeh', shown at the third annual exhibition of the Berkshire Art Society in 1901 (Reading Mercury, 23 Nov. 1901, p. 3), and a 'careful and well-coloured little picture' entitled 'Brass Seller, Cairo', shown at the Society's fifth exhibition in 1903 (Reading Mercury, 28 Nov. 1903, p. 2).
Emmeline Pethick had a close relationship with the Lawes family. She visited Hill House very soon after her engagement to F. W. Lawrence in May 1901 (PETH 7/91–2), and it was with Emmeline and her sister Marie Pethick that Hetty returned to Egypt in 1904–5 (PETH 7/147-64). In the course of this visit Hetty met her sister's family as well as a number of acquaintances, Egyptian and English, from her previous visit, including the bedouin Abdul Enani Khattab, who arranged and conducted the party's journey up the Nile in a dahabeeyah or houseboat as far as Luxor and their return across the desert to Giza.
It is unclear whether Hetty was directly involved with the suffrage movement, though her sister Jessie, with whom she lived in later life, was, but she was one of those who wrote letters of support to Emmeline during her imprisonment for conspiracy in 1912 (PETH/6/114), enclosing a bunch of violets which Emmeline took with her into court. She was also friends, during her first stay in Egypt, with the prominent suffragist Sarah Amos.
In the 1920s Hetty was living at Tilehurst in Berkshire with her sister, and she appears to have stayed in that county for the rest of her life. She died at Wokingham on 11 March 1947, bequeathing a collection of books on Egypt and a small number of Egyptian artefacts to the Museum of Greek Archaeology at the University of Reading (now the Ure Museum).