Isaac Brock – 200 Years Ago
Isaac Brock was born on the Channel Island of Guernsey in 1769, a particularly good year for generals considering the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte were born the same year. Of Norman/French roots, he spoke French and English fluently and at an early age was recognized as an excellent athlete. At the age of 15, Isaac followed his older brothers into the British Army. As commander of the 49th Regiment of Foot, he arrived in Canada in 1802. For ten years, Isaac wanted to return to Europe to serve in the fighting against Napoleon. However, when the opportunity arrived, General Brock saw war clouds on the horizon and responded that his ‘duty was to the people of Canada’. In 1812, Isaac Brock, the 42 year-old professional soldier, now administrator of the province, prepared himself and the people of Upper Canada for War. Brock was an innovator who brought deserving men out of the ranks to become officers and when petitioned by eager African Canadians to raise their own unit he granted permission. He called on the assistance of the Six Nations, pushed to fund and train Canadian fighting units and actively assisted Tecumseh and his forces. Like Tecumseh, Brock’s older brother had died in battle during the American Revolution, so this war was very personal for both men. Early successes for the outnumbered defenders were credited to the General. When he was killed in action at Queenston Heights wearing the redcoat of an English officer and the sash of an Indian chief , Isaac Brock was leading a very small, disjointed army that included Irish foot soldiers, local farm boys, former slaves and native warriors. His unique little force was outnumbered but victorious that day in Niagara and that band of brothers would build the nation we know today as Canada, using the memory of their former commander for inspiration.
On July 9, 1810 Isaac wrote to his brother, Irving, thanking him for sending out various articles that were needed. Everything had arrived but the new cocked hat he had ordered, and the lack of this caused him some inconvenience because, he complained, “from the enormity of my head, I find the utmost difficulty in getting a substitute in this country.” That hat arrived after Brock’s death and may now be seen in the Niagara Historical Museum.
At this time, Brock was the commander of the Quebec City garrison. Governor Sir James Craig told Brock of his intention to send him to command the troops in Upper Canada and wanted him to move there without delay. On July 10, Brock wrote to his sister in law, Mrs. William Brock that did not know if this move would be a temporary or permanent move and he was not pleased, for he would have to leave his garden “with abundance of melons and other good things.” He enjoyed greatly Quebec City’s lively social life e.g. he wrote “two frigates at anchor, and the arrival of [Lieutenant] Governor Gore from the Upper Province, have given a zest to society. Races, country and water parties, have occupied our time in a continued round of festivity.” Brock had contributed in the form of “a grand dinner given to Mrs. Gore, at which Sir James Craig was present, and a ball to a vast assemblage of all descriptions.” A friend, Lieutenant Colonel James Green, wrote on July 5, 1810 to William Claus about the dinner and ball “to as many Ladies as his [Brock’s] rooms could conveniently contain”. They danced in two rooms to the band of the 89^th Regiment “which unquestionably is the best Military Band I ever saw.”
Brock on 3 Feb 1812, spoke to the elected Assembly of Upper Canada,”As for myself, it shall be my utmost endeavour to co-operate with you in promoting such measures as may best contribute to the security and to the prosperity of this province.” In a letter dated June 28, here is an Americanview of how the news of the war was received on the Niagara frontier: “The news of the war reached the British at (Niagara) Fort George on the 24th by express, two days before it was received at our military station.General Brock, the British Governor, arrived at Fort George the 25th. Several American Gentlemen were there on a visit, which were treated very politely by the Governor, and sent under the protection of Captain Glegg, his aid[e], to Fort Niagara with a flag. The news of the war was very unwelcome on both sides of the river. They have been for six years in habits of friendly intercourse, connected by marriages and various relationships. Both sides were in consternation: the women and children were out on the banks of the river,while their Fathers, husbands, sons, etc., were busily employed in arming. It was said Captain Glegg also bore a summons for the surrender of Fort Niagara, but this was contradicted by Captain Leonard commanding that post, who said the message was merely to inquire if he had anyofficial notice of the war; and that he answered in the negative.”
Painting of Sir Isaac Brock returns to Canada for War of 1812 Bicentennial
Sir Isaac Brock was a person who, as far as we know, only sat to have his portrait painted twice during his lifetime. A small miniature was painted when he was about 16 years old. Later, while he was stationed in Canada, he sat for the itinerant artist, Gerritt Schipper sometime between 1807 and 1810, likely either in Montreal or Quebec City. The portrait became part of his personal effects which were shipped back to England after his death at Queenston in 1812. The portrait was owned by his family until recently when it was sold to the GuernseyMuseum and ArtGallery. The Schipper portrait is particularly important because it is the only true likeness of Brock as a mature man, a person who has become so important in the story of this nation’s development.
This Schipper painting will return to Canada for the very first time and RiverBrinkArt Museum has been selected to house the pastel for the 2012 commemorations. It will be a key artefact in the museum’s planned exhibitions adding to the visual record of events that took place over the entire length of the War. The display will also feature artworks from the museum’s own collection.
We are thrilled to have secured it on loan for the 2012 commemorations. Sir Isaac Brock’s likeness will be displayed within sight of the Queenston Heights battlefield and of the Brock Monument that honours him as one of Canada’s first heros.” said Sandra Lawrence, President of the Weir Foundation and RiverBrink Art Museum.
Location: 116 Queenston Street, Queenston, OntarioL0S 1L0 Located on the Niagara Parkway
Hours of Operation: May 22 to October 17