GENERAL ISAAC BROCK, the Hero of Upper Canada, was the kind of man men delight to honour – honest, capable, ambitious, faithful, kind. Nothing less than a tremendous gorge, such as separates Queenston from Lewiston Heights, could keep the people of one nation from knowing and loving this hero of another; since Brock’s day this gorge has been spanned by beautiful bridges, and it is full time now, as the centennial of the second war with England approaches, that the appreciation of the characters of the worthy, patriotic heroes of that olden day o’erleap the chasm of bitter rivalry and hostility and become common and genuine to the northward and the southward of the Niagara.
Isaac Brock was the eighth son of John Brock, Esq., born on the sixth day of October, 1769, in the parish of St. Peter-Port, Guernseythe famous birth-year of ‘Wellington and Napoleon. Tall, robust, and mentally conspicuous as a lad, Isaac followed his elder brother into the British Army, purchasing the ensigncy in the 8th, or King’s Regiment, in 1785. His promotion was the result of merit in addition to possessing the means to purchase higher office; in 1790 we find him a lieutenant in the 49th Regiment, advancing to his majority in 1795 and two years later becoming senior lieutenant-colonel. Supplanting now an officer accused of peculation who had brought the whole regiment into public notice, Brock exerted an influence that seemed to transform the regiment, making it ” from one of the worst,” said the Duke of York himself, ” one of the best regiments in the service.”
The opportunity of active service soon came, as the 49th was thrown into Holland, Brock being wounded at Egmont-op-Zee, or Bergen. His simple statement concerning being struck in the breast by a spent bullet is interesting: ” I got knocked down soon after the enemy began to retreat,” he remarks, ” but never quitted the field, and returned to my duty in less than half an hour.” 1 Here Brock fought under Sir John Moore and Sir Ralph Abercrombie; in 1801 he was second in command of the land forces at Copenhagen and saw Lord Nelson on the Elephant write his famous letter to the Crown Prince of Denmark. During the next year the 49th was sent to Canada and was quartered at Fort George near Newark, the present Niagara-onthe-Lake. The character of Brock’s management of the troops under him is well illustrated in the case of a strange mutiny that came near to breaking out at this time at Fort George due to the useless annoyance, or alleged actual severity, which so exasperated the men that an almost inconceivable plot to kill the officers was discovered. After the crime the soldiers were to cross the river into the United States and escape. One of the confederates was sent by the commanding officer to Brock at York with a letter describing the horrifying discovery. The incensed commander compelled the soldier at the point of a musket to disclose the chief conspirators. Hastening to Fort George the ringleaders were apprehended at the dinner table and hurried off to Quebec, where they were summarily shot. As a result Brock himself was ordered to make Fort George his headquarters, whereupon all trouble seems to have ceased.
In 1805 Brock received his colonelcy and with it leave of absence. While at home he made a report to the commander-in-chief which throws an interesting light on affairs at that period, favouring the formation of a veteran battalion for service in Upper Canada. He wrote:
The artifices employed to wean the soldier from his duty, conspire to render almost ineffectual every effort of the officers to maintain the usual degree of order and discipline. The lures to desertion continually thrown out by the Americans, and the facility with which it can be accomplished, exacting a more than ordinary precaution on the part of the officers] insensibly produces mistrust between them and the men, highly prejudicial to the service.
Experience has taught me that no regular regiment, however high its claim to discipline] can occupy the frontier posts of Lower and Upper Canada without suffering materially in its numbers. It might have been otherwise some years ago ; but now that the country, particularly the opposite shore] is chiefly inhabited by the vilest characters, who have an interest in debauching the soldier from his duty; since roads are opened into the interior of the States, which facilitate desertion, it is impossible to avoid the contagion. A total change must be effected in the minds and views of those who may hereafter be sent on this duty, before the evil ean be surmounted.
Such was the warlike tenor of despatches now at. hand from Canada that Brock, eager to be at the post of duty at a critical time, hastened from London in June, 1806, cutting short his leave of absence. Throughout that. year and its successor he was actively engaged in studying his province with regard to military demands that might suddenly be made upon it; it is noteworthy that the commander feared that in case of an outbreak between England and America a considerable part of the inhabitants of Upper Canada (Loyalists) would prove friendly to the young Republic. Discussing a new militia law he wrote as follows to the Council:
In thus complying with the dictates of his duty, Colonel Brock was not prepared to hear that the population of the province] instead of affording him ready and effectual support, might probably add to the number of his enemies; and he feels much disappointment in being informed by the first authority] that the only law in any degree calculated to answer the end proposed was likely] if attempted to be enforced, to meet with such general opposition as to require the aid of the military to give it even a momentary impulse.
If such were the apprehensions of the commanding officer in Canada little wonder General Hull, in later days, counted on the co-operation of many of the inhabitants of the trans-Niagara country. In September, 1807, Brock, who was acting-governor in Canada pending the arrival of Sir James Craig, was fortifying Quebec in anticipation of an immediate outbreak of the impending war. In this connection a little incident displays his character_ He had caused to be erected at Quebec a very powerful battery, and of it he wrote his brothers:
I erected . . . a famous battery, which the public voice named after me; but Sir James, thinking very properly that anything so very pre-eminent should be distinguished by the most exalted appellation, has called it the King’s Battery, the greatest compliment] I conceive] that he could pay to my judgment.
The true modesty of the really great man shines out in these charming words.
As the war cloud seemed to dissipate toward the close of 1808, General Brock seems to have set his eves toward Europe in the hope of opportunity of active service; on November 19th he writes quite despondently:
My object is to get home as soon as I can obtain permission; but unless our affairs with America be amicably adjusted, of which I see no probability, I scarcely can expect to be permitted to move. I rejoice Savery [Brock] has begun to exert himself to get me appointed to a more active, situation. I must see service, or I may as well, and indeed much better, quit the army at once, for no one advantage can I reasonably look to hereafter if I remain buried in this inactive, remote corner, without the least mention being made of me.
The Niagara River:Niagara River – Buffalo And The Upper NiagaraNiagara River – From The Falls To Lake OntarioNiagara River – The Birth Of NiagaraNiagara River – Niagara Bond And FreeNiagara River – Harnessing Niagara FallsNiagara River – A Century Of Niagara CranksNiagara River – The Old Niagara FrontierNiagara River – From La Salle To De NonvilleNiagara River – Niagara Under Three FlagsNiagara River – The Hero Of Upper Canada