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Sir Isaac Brock online

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.BSE 14

Copyright, Canada, 1918,

By the macmillan company
of canada, ltd.





My Father,
George Eayrs, F.R. Hist. S.,

Whose passion for and services in the
name of history are at once my inspir-
ation and my pride.


As THIS book is published, Canada is celebrating
her fiftieth birthday. The thoughts of all of us
travel back along the line of those fifty years since
Confederation swept away all divisions and
made the people of what is now Canada one in
name, that they might become one in purpose,
ideal, and spirit. We see our country served by
a succession of great men. Their greatness con-
sisted in trying to weld Canada into this oneness
and in trying to develop our illimitable resources.
For this fifty years and for the fifty before it,
Canada had no war to engage her attention until,
in 1914, she joined with Great Britain in the Great
War that the world might be "made safe for

While we look with pride at the progress our
country has made during this time of peace, we
may well go further back and see some of the
ultimate contributory factors. And as we do this
we shall see that in those troublous days as in


the calmer that succeeded them, the history of
Canada gathers itself round two or three men.
One of these Is Major-General Sir Isaac Brock.

Brock Is called "The hero of Upper Canada."
That he undoubtedly was, but he was more.
He was the hero of Canada, for while his efforts
both as soldier and statesman were peculiarly for
one province, their effect was felt by Canadians
of later days from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Indeed It Is not too much to say that Brock's
part In the War of 1812-14 made fast and sure
what Is now the Dominion of Canada for the
British Empire. This makes him at once the
primal hero of Canada. We have our other heroes.
The names of Frontenac, Wolfe, Montcalm,
Carleton, and others stand out from Canada's
"storied page" and deservedly so, but not one of
them served our country In a way eventually so
signal as did Brock. Wolfe conquered the French ;
Carleton defended Canada against Invasion In
1776; but their work had not the crucial quality
of Brock's.

He was certainly a man of action, and his
biography is fittingly the first title In a series of
Canadian Men of Action. The older nations of
the world have their great ones. France has
its Joan of Arc, Italy its Garibaldi, Russia its


Peter, and Britain its Arthur and its Alfred. In
ten short years in Canada, Brock accomplished
much, for while he lost his life but four months
after war was declared, it was his action and,
after, his spirit which animated the defence of his
adopted country against invasion. In considering
him and the noble part he played we may well
contrast this man of action with another, who
drew his sword three years ago not that he might
help to establish peace, but for his own selfish
end of vainglory. Brock, like thousands of
Canadians to-day, fought for honor and that his
country might be free. The spirit of Brock
animates Canada to-day, and "the brave live on."


Early Years


Egmont-op-Zee and Copenhagen . . 12

Canada: Mutiny in the 49th . . 21

Rumors of War 32

Moved to Upper Canada ... 44

A Foolish Boast 54



Detroit Taken 65

His Hands are Tied .... 74

QuEENSTON Heights 87


Conclusion 99

Appendix 103

General Hull's Proclamation , .103

Crocks Proclamaiioi^ .... 105



Early Years

The year 1769 was an important one for
Europe. In it were born two men who were
destined between them to change the face of that
continent. These were WeUington and Napoleon.
There was another man who first saw the Ught
in that year. His name was Isaac Brock, and
while his life and work were hardly comparable in
their effect and result to those of the two great
Europeans, they were nevertheless an important
factor in shaping the destiny of Canada. It
may, perhaps, be laying undue stress on the work
he did to call General Brock the Wellington of
Canada. Necessarily he left less mark on the
times in which he lived than did the Iron Duke,
for his task was less monumental and his sphere
less wide. Yet, in relative degree, Brock's work
was immensely important. We are beginning to



realize, a hundred years after his death, just
how directly he affected Canada and indirectly
Europe. It would be interesting, however, to
speculate on just what would have been the
result had he remained in Europe. It might, —
who knows? — have been his as much as Welling-
ton's to save the world from the ambitious schemes
of Napoleon, but in the part he played, Brock
admittedly did a very great deal to make the
bounds of Empire "wide and wider yet."

Isaac was born on October 6th, 1769, and was
the eighth son of John Brock. Of his father we
know little. He was a sailor, had been a mid-
shipman in the navy, and his duty had carried
him far afield, to India and other outposts. Isaac's
birthplace was Guernsey, an island in the English
Channel, which is one of the beauty spots of the
world. There could have been no more fitting
cradle for a child who was to become indeed a
man of action than this rugged little island, with
its rocky weather-beaten coast, stern and bold
in outline. The heavy seas of the Channel beat
upon it in vain, and it is possible that in after-
life, when he was buffeted by circumstances, his
thoughts may have gone back to his island home,
a small but hardy defence against thundering
waves and shrill winds and raging tempest.


He had good blood in his veins, for, far back,
there was a Sir Hugh Brock, a valiant knight of
Edward HI. Sir Hugh Hved in Brittany, just
across the Channel from England and at that
time an English duchy. The French, however,
bitterly mindful of Crecy and Poitiers, bided their
time, and when Edward was old and enfeebled,
rose and drove the English out of Northern France.
Brittany again became French, and, when the
English were expelled, it is thought that Sir Hugh's
family came to the Channel Islands, which was
like a half-way house between France and Britain,
and there settled.

There were other Brocks in nearer relationship
who had won their spurs both in battle by land
and sea and in journeyings afar. As has been
said, Isaac's father, John Brock, was a midship-
man and had travelled to India, in those days a
great distance away. Another relative was the
famous Lord de Saumarez, also a Guernsey man,
who had distinguished himself at St. Vincent and
at the Nile. Brock's mother was Elizabeth de
Lisle, daughter of the lieutenant-bailiff of Guern-
sey, a position which corresponded to that now
held by our lieutenant-governors, an office the
duties of which, as we shall see, Isaac Brock
himself, in later years, discharged in Upper Canada.


It was not, however, in family tradition and
example alone that young Brock found inspiration
for heroic and valorous deeds. He could not but
be imbued with love of adventure. This island
home of crag and headland was the vault of many
a memory of heroic deeds, the past scene of many
a stirring exploit of the hardy seafaring folk who
had been its dwellers as long as ever dwellers had
been there. Young Brock learned numberless

" Of moving accidents by flood and field,
Of hair-breadth scapes i' the imminent deadly breach."

Long, long years before, the Druids had their
caves and catacombs tucked away in quaint
hiding-places, and to the young adventurer these
haunts and the tales told of them furnished idea
and scope for many an escapade. Stories of
Cromwellian and Stuart days, when Cavalier and
Roundhead in turn found refuge in this land of
his birth, and evidences of the resolute defence
which the Islanders had offered to the m.araudings
and attackings of the French, fostered in Brock an
ambition to emulate the Guernsey folk who were
dead and gone.

So, in boyhood days, he played for a while with
the things of nature. He became strong and


robust. He was, like his seven brothers, tall
and manly, a precocious boy, a better boxer, a
stronger and bolder swimmer than any of his
companions. He would scale jagged headland, or
sighting Castle Cornet, a landmark half a mile
from the shore, would brest the swiftly-running
tide, meeting and overcoming

" every wave with dimpled face
That leaped upon the air."

He did not entirely neglect his studies, but gave
some time to reading, particularly along historical
lines. There seems to be no doubt, however, that,
like many another boy, his prowess in games was
gained at the expense of his education. At the
age of ten he was sent to school at Southampton,
and later was at Rotterdam, where his tutor was a
French pastor. Neither his parents nor himself
would be aware, at that time, of the use that the
knowledge of French he there acquired would be
to him when he came to Canada later on.

He chose his profession early in life. For him
there could be only two careers, the navy or the
army. Guernsey men, from time immemorial,
had favored the services as a means of earning
their living, for the love of adventure was in-
grained in the people. Besides, Brock had two
brothers in the army.


One brother, Ferdinand, had been in the 60th
Regiment, and when Isaac was a lad of ten, had
given his life at the defence of Baton Rouge, on
the Mississippi, fighting against the colonial
revolutionists. The other, John Brock, was a
captain in the 8th, known as the King's Regiment,
and probably with the idea of being near his
brother, Isaac in 1785 purchased a commission as
ensign in the 8th. Thus he had in John a hand
and mind steadied and practised by reason of ten
years' service to guide and help him in the career
he had chosen.

Isaac was keenly enthusiastic about this new
life, and his brother's example spurred in him the
ambition to be a distinguished soldier. His love
for history and his liking for serious reading stood
him in good stead. He had had, perhaps, too
much sport and too little study in those Guernsey
days. He allotted his time differently now, and
sedulously spent some hours each day locked in
with his books. He was wise enough to know
that he was not too well-equipped for his work.
These were the years when his mind was receptive
and plastic, and he used them well. He served
five years and purchased his lieutenancy in 1790,
when he w^s twenty-one. These were uneventful
and quiet days, but they were days of preparation.


Barrack-room and camp taught him the essential
elements of soldierliness. He returned to Guern-
sey, for he had been quartered in England, and
raised an independent company. This he com-
manded with the rank of captain, being placed on
half-pay. The quietness and sameness of soldiering
in England palled on him, however, and in the
next year he arranged a transfer to the 49th
Regiment, then quartered in the Barbadoes.
These were the men whom he was to learn to love,
and many of whom fought with him when, some
years later, he received his death wound.

Joining his regiment in Barbadoes, he served
there and later in Jamaica. There is a story told
of him at this time which shows that the courage
of the boy who had been the hero of a hundred
daring escapades was his distinguishing mark in
young manhood. A captain in the 49th, who was
a crack shot, was the bully of the mess. Brock, who
treated him with indifference, was singled out as
a mark for his insult and was involved in a duel.
The braggart was a little man, but Brock was six
feet two — not a difficult target. Brock had the
right, as he had been challenged, to name the
conditions of the duel. When the party reached
the grounds where the duel was to take place.
Brock drew out his handkerchief and insisted that


he and his opponent should fight their duel across
it. This would minimize the disadvantage of his
own great height. The bully, recognizing that for
once he was fighting with equal chance to kill or be
killed, refused the condition and fled. His brother
oflficers declared that Brock had won a moral if
not an actual victory, and they and he compelled
the expulsion of the bully from the regiment.

Shortly after this incident the 49th moved to
Jamaica. Though he enjoyed the more eventful
life there, Brock was a product of a hardier clime
and could not stand the enervating air of the
tropics. He fell a victim to fever and indeed
nearly died of it. His man, Dobson, tended and
restored him, and Brock, big-hearted and kindly
then as later, never forgot what he owed to his
trusty servant. Dobson remained with him till
his death, which took place a short time before
Brock set out on the expedition against Detroit.

In 1793 Brock returned to England on sick
leave and re-visited his old home, there to regain
his health and strength. Subsequently, until the
return of his regiment from Jamaica, he was
engaged in the recruiting service. While employed
in this most important work he kept up his hours of
study, fitting himself for the greater things to


In 1795, he purchased his majority, and in
1797, at the age of twenty-eight and after only
twelve years service, was gazetted Heutenant-
colonel of his regiment, soon afterwards becoming
the senior officer.

As commander of the 49th he had no easy
position. The morale of his men on their return
from abroad was bad. The former commander
was a poor discipUnarian, and his men had been
allowed to get out of hand.

These were queer days in the services. The men
in the navy were in a perpetual state of mutiny.
There had been cases where the seamen had risen
and murdered their officers. There had been a
lack of actual naval fighting for some time, and the
consequent dullness, added to the poor pay, made
the navy a somewhat ragged and discontented
unit. The seamen usually took the lead in revolt,
and the soldiers sympathized with them. In the
army there was additional reason. The officers
were often bullies. Different ideas of discipline
were held from those we know to-day. The
average British officer terrorized over his men.
He punished them heavily for the slightest offence.
It was considered the proper thing to give a man
fifty lashes or so for a mild misdemeanor, such as
having dirty boots on parade, and on that scale


the punishment was allowed to (.ver-fit the crime.
Bad barrack-room conditions and little leave
were other reasons for growing discontent which
smouldered, and then broke out in mutiny.

So far as his own regiment was concerned,
Brock showed his ability to solve this problem of
lax discipline. He was indefatigable in his efforts
to familiarize himself with what was wrong, and
unwearying in the task of setting it right. As we
have already seen, he was thorough in whatever
he did. It was so now. He never relaxed vigi-
lance and rested little either day or night. When
he slept, it was with pistols ready to his hand.
Daily he would make the round of the barracks.
Whatever displeased him he ordered changed and
frequently he would tear down insurgent notices
from the walls with his own hand. He tempered
justice with kindliness. He was aware that
former regimental rulers had tried the patience of
the men a good deal, and he made generous
allowance for this in his own treatment. By so
doing he won them over to himself, and they
learned to respect and love him. The men knew
that he would insist on rigid discipline and orderli-
ness, but they knew too that on their side they
might count on justice, not unmixed with gener-
osity and affectionate regard. Brock made a


great change in the temper and behavior of the
49th. When the Duke of York inspected the
regiment, therefore, he put himself on record that
the 49th, under Brock's direction, had become
instead of one of the worst regiments in the ser-
vice, one of the best.


Brock was soon to realize his dream of active
service. Europe was in a turmoil. Bonaparte's
ambition was insatiable, and unless effective
opposition was oiiered quickly, he was in a fair
way to over-run the Continent. England, under
Pitt, was averse to participation in the Continental
wars, but the prime minister saw that to keep
out meant real danger. In 1798 Pitt agreed with
Russia that an army should be sent to Holland,
which was at that time occupied by France under
the name of the Batavian Republic. The ultimate
aim of the allies was to seize Northern France,
and thus hold Bonaparte in check. Of the 25,000
men which England agreed to send, the 49th,
Brock's regiment, was a part.

In early August of 1799 the first detachment of
this invading army, 10,000 men, left England, under
command of Sir Ralph Abercromby. He was to
pave the way for the larger allied force under the
Duke of York, which would leave as soon as the



advance guard had landed in Holland. Brock took
his men with Sir Ralph. The 49th was part of the
brigade commanded by Major-General John Moore,
who, later, fell at Corunna in Spain.

Nearly two hundred vessels were needed to
convey Abercromby's division. Ships were dif-
ferent in those days from the great transports
that have carried our own Canadians to France.
The expedition set off in fair enough weather,
but hardly had they set sail before they encoun-
tered real opposition in the heavy seas and strong
winds of the North Sea. It was not till two
weeks later, towards the end of August, that they
were able to anchor off the Dutch coast. While
the army landed, the fleet fired heavy volleys on
the enemy's position on the low sand hills which
fringed the shore. A few hours later the British
occupied the Helder Peninsula, though it cost
them hours of stern fighting and the loss of a
thousand men.

The weather continued against the invaders.
The British had no protection from the heavy rains
and bitter winds, and they could do nothing but
await reinforcements. Meanwhile they had several
short and sharp, but minor engagements. In a
few days the Duke of York arrived with the
remainder of the British forces, about 7,000, and


was joined shortly afterwards b}^ 10,000 Russians.
Much time was taken up by the landings and the
adjusting of the forces, during which the enemy,
protected from the storms, made strong-er his
position. On September 19th the Duke ordered
an attack on Bergen, but the Russians, who were
impetuous and unused to military discipline,
blundered badly, and the attack failed.

On October 2nd a more determined attack was
made upon Bergen, during which Moore's brigade
led the advance along the sand to Egmont-op-Zee.
This was Brock's first real battle. The enemy,
concealed in the sand-dunes, offered heavy opposi-
tion. The 49th, with the rest of the 4th Brigade,
were the advance guard for a column of 10,000
men under Sir Ralph Abercromby, and moved
along the low-lying coast line for five or six miles
before they were halted by what Brock described
as gunfire comparable to "a sea in a heavy storm."
General Moore ordered the 25th and then the
79th to charge. The 49th came up on the left of
the 79th, and while they were held ready. Brock,
disregarding personal safety, rode out to view the
position. He returned, and taking six companies,
which left Lieutenant-Colonel SheafTe, his regimen-
tal second in command, in charge of the other four,
covering his left, cried "Charge!"


The men crashed forward, in sorry array from
the point of view of order, but with such daring
and boldness that the enemy fled before them.
This was Brock's first victory, and a real victory
it was, though it cost him over a hundred men
and several officers. Brock, describing the action,
wrote to his home that '* nothing could exceed the
gallantry of my men in the charge." He himself
had a narrow escape. He was looking over the
ground he had taken when a bullet struck him,
and, says his brother Savery, who was an aide to
General Moore, and present, "the violence of the
blow was so great as to stun and dismount him,
and his holsters were also shot through." Luckily
he was wearing a thick muffler over his cravat,
and the bullet did not penetrate to his neck.

Savery Brock shared his brother's indomitable
courage. He was paymaster to the 49th, but
anxious to be in at the fighting. He disregarded his
brother's instructions and was in the thick of it.
"By the Lord Harry, Master Savery," said Brock,
"did I not order you, unless you remained with the
general, to stay with your iron chest? Go back,
sir, immediately." But Savery detected the pride
as well as the rebuke in Isaac's tone and answered
cheerfully: "Mind your regiment. Master Isaac!
You surely would not have me quit the field now?"


But though Abercromby's column was successful
at Egmont-op-Zee, the operation against Bergen
was a failure through the defeat of the other
columns. The allies retreated. They were in an
unenviable position. A winter campaign was out
of the question, and food and supplies could be
had only from the ships at anchor, since Holland
was so uncertain a quantity. So the expedition
fitted out at great expense and very hopeful of
success, ended in the shameful abandonment of
Holland to the French. The British returned to
England, while the Russians wintered in the
Channel Islands. Brock learned much from
Egmont-op-Zee, and if on the whole the campaign
was inglorious, his own part had been a worthy
one and the experience was invaluable.

Brock's regiment on its return from Holland was
quartered in Jersey, where it remained until early
in 1801. By this time Britain found herself forced
tt) fight a multiplicity of foes. Even Russia had
gone over to the enemy, whose forces daily grew
larger and who were spending time and money in
preparation. The line-up looked unequal. On
the one side was Britain. On the other was France,
Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and Prussia. Den-
mark and Russia had a large fleet in the Baltic.
If the fleets of these two nations should combine


with that of France, British supremacy on the
sea would be endangered. As long as she ruled
the waves she was safe from the schemings of
Napoleon. Although war had not been declared,
a naval expedition against Denmark as the pivotal
foe was decided upon.

Meanwhile there was more trouble in Brock's
regiment. His second in command, Lieutenant-
Colonel Sheafife was a brave soldier, but he laid too
much stress on the necessity for rigid and even harsh
rule. The men were sick of this unnecessarily
stern disciplinarian who, unlike Brock, did not
temper justice with kindliness, and were daily
growing more resentful. On one occasion, when
Brock returned after a temporary absence, his
men on parade cheered him wildly. He sensed in
a moment the situation. He knew that Sheaffe
was needlessly autocratic, and he could see that
the men had grown more and more dissatisfied.
Still the display of rejoicing at his return was a
flagrant breach of army discipline. Unwillingly
enough, he ordered his men to be confined to
barracks for a week. We can appreciate what it
cost him, under these circumstances, to be stern.

When the fleet was ready for action it was
despatched to the Baltic under the command of
Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, with Nelson as second


in command. With the fleet went a land force
under the command of Colonel William Stewart, a
fine soldierly man, who had the virtues of initiative
and action; Brock with the 49th accompanied
Colonel Stewart, to whom he stood next in sen-
ority. When the expedition reached its destination
it was decided to attack Copenhage^fx at once with
a portion of the fleet and the land forces, all under
the command of Lord Nelson.

Brock, who with a part of his regiment had his
station on the Ganges, had instructions to lead in
the storming of the Trekoner batteries. The
attack, however, did not take place. The Danes

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