Major-General Sir Isaac Brock KB (1769 – 1812) was a Guernsey born soldier and administrator. He is regarded as a Canadian national hero for his defence of the country during the War of 1812.
Brock was born in St Peter Port on 6 October 1769 the eighth son of Jean Brock and Elizabeth de Lisle. He was educated in Guernsey and Hampshire, but also spent a year in Rotterdam learning French.
He was noted as a fine athlete - excelling in boxing and swimming, and used to swim from the coast to Castle Cornet. In March 1785 he became an Ensign in the 8th Foot (his brother John's regiment); as was the practice at the time this commission came through purchase. He became a full lieutenant four years later and a Captain (possibly through having recruited men for an independent company) in 1790. On 15 June 1791 he joined the 49th Regiment of Foot, and remained in that regiment for the rest of his life. He went with the 49th when they were posted to the West Indies, but he returned to England in 1793 on sick leave. He was challenged to a duel by a fellow officer, but when Brock insisted that they should fire across a handkerchief rather than the normal 12 paces each his opponent declined the match. In England he undertook recruiting duties until the regiment returned in 1794. Brock became a Major (again through purchase) in 1795, and Lieutenant-Colonel in 1797. Sickness had taken it's toll on the 49th whilst they were abroad, and he worked hard to improve their efficiency. He served with his regiment at the battle of Egmont-op-Zee during the ill fated Flanders expedition, and was second in command of the Army during the Battle of Copenhagen.
In 1802 Brock and the 49th arrived in Canada. After initially being stationed at Montreal they moved to York (Toronto). He was a firm but just regimental commander, prepared to turn a blind eye when petty regulations were broken. However he acted swiftly when a planned mutiny was uncovered at Fort George (which guarded the Niagra river on the border with the USA).
He returned home in 1805, but when war with the USA threatened a year later, and now a full Colonel, he promptly sailed back to Canada. In 1810 he assumed command of all troops in Upper Canada, and later took on the role of Lieutenant-Governor. As with his military command he was a competent and efficient leader, and worked hard to prepare the region for the possibility of war with the USA. He also worked well with the leader of the Shawnee tribe, Tecumseh, and the two formed a mutual respect. He became a Major-General in 1811. He persuaded the Governor to keep the 41st and 49th Regiments of Foot in the colony, but this still left just 1450 regular troops to guard a border 1000 miles long.
Brock had borrowed a total of £3,000 from his brother William, a senior partner in a London bank. William had entered the loan into the bank's books although he never intended to ask for it's repayment. However in 1811 the bank failed and the creditors pursued the debt. Brock made over the salary he received from his civilian duties to repay the debt. He had found his Canadian posting frustrating as it meant he was denied the chance of serving against France in Europe. However the failure of his brother's bank and his sense of duty (with war looming in the Canadas) meant that he declined a chance to return when it was offered.
War of 1812
The United States declared war on 23 June 1812. The initial causes of the war were grievances against Britain's actions in restricting trade with France, and the impressment of seamen for the Royal Navy. However many in Washington were also intent on conquering Canada, and in any case an invasion was the most effective way of achieving the USA's war aims.
A body of American militia invaded Upper Canada just a few weeks after war was declared. However their commander, General Hull, was nervous about extending his lines of supply so he withdrew back across the frontier to Detroit. With a small body of regular troops, Canadian militia and Tecumseh's Shawnee and allied tribes Brock crossed in pursuit. To force Hull's surrender he persuaded the American's that he possessed a much larger force than was actually the case. He had his troops pass in front of Detroit then double back out of sight to pass again. Fortunately the militia had been outfitted with old British army uniforms (the Redcoat) making them appear to be highly trained regulars. He also used Hull's fear of the Indian's, telling Hull he could not control his native allies if it came to a fight. The American's surrendered on 16 August 1812.
The Battle of Queenstown Heights
In October 1812 6000 American troops under Major-General van Renslaar attempted to invade Canada and capture Montreal. They took the Queenstown heights, and a British artillery 18 pounder. Realising the danger Brock rode from Fort George and led an uphill attack against the enemy. Distinctive, being over 6 foot tall and in a Major-General's dress uniform, he was picked out by an American rifleman and shot in the right breast. His last words were said to be "Push on the York Volunteers", although it is likely that his wound was almost instantly fatal. The battle was won by the British and Canadians.
Brock was buried at Fort George, but 12 years later his body and that of his aide-de-camp Colonel McDonell were removed to a specially built vault on Queenstown Heights. Above the vault a monumental Etruscan column was built containing a spiral staircase. When this was blown up by an Irish terrorist in 1840 it was replaced by a column with a statue of Brock at it's pinnacle. Ornamental gardens were created around it with entrance gates bearing the Brock arms.
Brockville, Ontario was named after him as was Brock University. The latter provides scholarships for Guernsey students who wish to study there. He was voted the 28th Greatest Canadian in a television poll, and is one of the fourteen commemorated at the Valiant's Memorial in Ottowa. In Guernsey a plaque can be seen on his old house in the High Street, and another on the wall of the Town Church. There is also a monument in St Paul's Cathedral, London.
- Sweetman, John, Brock, Sir Isaac (1769–1812), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
- Tupper, Ferdinand Brock, Family records: containing Memoirs of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K.B., Guernsey, 1835. At Google Books
- Tupper, Ferdinand Brock,The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K.B., Second edition, Considerably enlarged,London, Simpkin, Marshall & Co. 1847. At Google Books