THE STORY OF
HERO, DEFENDER AND SAVIOUR OF
WALTER R. NURSEY
"By his unrivalled skill, by great And veteran service to the state, By worth adored, He stood, in high dignity, The proudest knight of chivalry, Knight of the Sword." —Coplas de Manrique.
Copyright, Canada, 1908, by WALTER R. NURSEY.
A WORD TO THE READER
That Isaac Brock is entitled to rank as the foremost defender of the flag Western Canada has ever seen, is a statement which no one familiar with history can deny. Brock fought and won out when the odds were all against him.
At a time when almost every British soldier was busy fighting Napoleon in Europe, upon General Brock fell the responsibility of upholding Britain's honour in America. He was "the man behind the gun"—the undismayed man—when the integrity of British America was threatened by a determined enemy.
His success can be measured by the fact that it is only since the war of 1812-14 that the British flag has been properly respected in the western hemisphere. It is also a fact that after the capture of Detroit the Union Jack became more firmly rooted in the affections of the Canadian people than ever.
It must not be forgotten that the capture of this stronghold was almost as far-reaching in its ultimate effect as the victory of Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham, and was fraught with little, if any, less import to Canada.
What with the timidity of Prevost, and the tactical blunders of both himself and Sheaffe, the immediate influence upon the enemy of the victories at Detroit and Queenston was almost nullified. Had Brock survived Queenston, or even had his fixed, militant policy been allowed to prevail from the first, it is safe to say there would have been no armistice, no placating of a clever, intriguing foe, and no two years' prolongation of the war. Had the capitulation of Detroit, the crushing defeat at Queenston, and the wholesale desertion of Wadsworth's cowardly legions at Lewiston, been followed up by the British with relentless assault "all along the line"—before the enemy had time to recover his grip—then our hero's feasible plan, which he had pleaded with Prevost to permit, namely, to sweep the Niagara frontier and destroy Sackett's Harbor—the key to American naval supremacy of the lakes—could, there is no good reason to doubt, have been carried out. The purpose of this little book is not, however, to deal in surmises.
The story of Sir Isaac Brock's life should convey to the youth of Canada a significance similar to that which the bugle-call of the trumpeter, sounding the advance, conveys to the soldier in the ranks. Reiteration of Brock's deeds should help to develop a better appreciation of his work, a truer conception of his heroism, a wiser understanding of his sacrifice.
Many a famous man owes a debt of inspiration to some other great life that went before him. Not until every boy in Canada is thoroughly familiar with "Master Isaac's" achievements will he be qualified to exclaim with the Indian warrior, Tecumseh,
"THIS IS A MAN."
W. R. N.
Toronto, October, 1908.
NOTE.—Of the hundred and more books and documents consulted in a search for facts I would register my special obligations to Tupper's "Life of Brock"; Auchinleck's "History of the War of 1812-14"; Cruikshank's "Documentary History," and Richardson's "War of 1812" (edited by Casselman).
I. OUR HERO'S HOME—GUERNSEY 11
II. SCHOOL AND PASTIMES 16
III. FROM ENSIGN TO COLONEL 21
IV. EGMONT-OP-ZEE AND COPENHAGEN 27
V. BROCK IN CANADA 36
VI. BRIDLE-ROAD, BATTEAU AND CANOE 40
VII. MUTINY AND DESERTION 47
VIII. FRANCE, THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA 52
IX. FUR-TRADERS AND HABITANTS 55
X. THE MASSACRE AT MACKINAW 59
XI. LITTLE YORK, NIAGARA, AMHERSTBURG 64
XII. MAJOR-GENERAL BROCK, GOVERNOR OF UPPER CANADA 72
XIII. THE WAR CLOUD 75
XIV. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA DECLARES WAR 80
XV. BROCK ACCEPTS HULL'S CHALLENGE 87
XVI. "EN AVANT, DETROIT!" 92
XVII. OUR HERO MEETS TECUMSEH 96
XVIII. AN INDIAN POW-WOW 100
XIX. THE ATTACK ON DETROIT 105
XX. BROCK'S VICTORY 109
XXI. CHAGRIN IN THE UNITED STATES 112
XXII. PREVOST'S ARMISTICE 117
XXIII. "HERO, DEFENDER, SAVIOUR" 121
XXIV. BROCK'S LAST COUNCIL 128
XXV. THE MIDNIGHT GALLOP 135
XXVI. THE ATTACK ON THE REDAN 140
XXVII. VAN RENSSELAER'S CAMP 144
XXVIII. A FOREIGN FLAG FLIES ON THE REDAN 147
XXIX. THE BATTLE OF QUEENSTON HEIGHTS 152
XXX. THE DEATH OF ISAAC BROCK 156
AFTER BROCK'S DEATH 161
SUBSEQUENT EVENTS OF THE CAMPAIGN OF 1812 165
THE CAMPAIGN OF 1813 167
THE CAMPAIGN OF 1814 171
WHAT OF CANADA? 173
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
PORTRAIT OF MAJOR-GENERAL SIR ISAAC BROCK Frontispiece
"VIEW OF ST. PETER'S PORT, GUERNSEY, 18 x 6" 11
NAVY HALL, REMNANT OF THE OLD "RED BARRACKS," NIAGARA, 1797 27
PORTRAIT OF COLONEL JAMES FITZGIBBON 32
VIEW OF QUEENSTON ROAD, ABOUT 1824 40
RUINS OF OLD POWDER MAGAZINE, FORT GEORGE 52
BROCK'S COCKED HAT 64
BUTLER'S BARRACKS (OFFICERS' QUARTERS), NIAGARA COMMON 75
OUR HERO MEETS TECUMSEH. "THIS IS A MAN!" 96
LIEUT.-COLONEL JOHN MACDONELL 109
VIEW OF QUEENSTON HEIGHTS AND BROCK'S MONUMENT 117
"PORTRAIT OF MAJOR-GENERAL BROCK, 18 X 6" 121
POWDER MAGAZINE, FORT GEORGE, NIAGARA 128
BROCK'S MIDNIGHT GALLOP 135
BATTLE OF QUEENSTON HEIGHTS. From an old Print 140
DEATH OF ISAAC BROCK 156
BROCK'S COAT, WORN AT QUEENSTON HEIGHTS 159
BATTLE OF QUEENSTON. From an old Sketch 161
PLAN OF BATTLE OF QUEENSTON 163
TAKING OF NIAGARA, MAY 27TH, 1813. From an old Print 170
CENOTAPH, QUEENSTON HEIGHTS 172
BROCK'S MONUMENT 174
NOTE.—For full description of above illustrations, see Appendix, page 175.
THE STORY OF ISAAC BROCK
OUR HERO'S HOME—GUERNSEY.
Off the coast of Brittany, where the Bay of Biscay fights the white horses of the North Sea, the Island of Guernsey rides at anchor. Its black and yellow, red and purple coast-line, summer and winter, is awash with surf, burying the protecting reefs in a smother of foam. Between these drowned ridges of despair, which warn the toilers of the sea of an intention to engulf them, tongues of ocean pierce the grim chasms of the cliffs.
Between this and the sister island of Alderney the teeth of the Casquets cradle the skeleton of many a stout ship, while above the level of the sea the amethyst peaks of Sark rise like phantom bergs. In the sunlight the rainbow-coloured slopes of Le Gouffre jut upwards a jumble of glory. Exposed to the full fury of an Atlantic gale, these islands are well-nigh obliterated in drench. From where the red gables cluster on the heights of Fort George, which overhang the harbour, to the thickets of Jerbourg, valley and plain, at the time we write of, were a gorgeous carpet of anemones, daffodils, primroses and poppies.
These are tumultuous latitudes. Sudden hurricanes, with the concentrated force of the German Ocean behind them, soon scourge the sea into a whirlpool and extinguish every landmark in a pall of gray. For centuries tumult and action have been other names for the Channel Islands. It is no wonder that the inhabitants partake of the nature of their surroundings. Contact with the elements produces a love for combat. As this little book is largely a record of strife, and of one of Guernsey's greatest fighting sons, it may be well to recall the efforts that preceded the birth of our hero and influenced his career, and through which Guernsey retained its liberties.
For centuries Guernsey had been whipped into strife. From the raid upon her independence by David Bruce, the exiled King of Scotland, early in 1300, on through the centuries up to the seventeenth, piping times of peace were few and far between. The resources of the island led to frequent invasions from France, but while fighting and resistance did not impair the loyalty of the islanders, it nourished a love of freedom, and of hostility to any enemy who had the effrontery to assail it. As a rule the sojourn of these invaders was brief. When sore pressed in a pitched battle on the plateau above St. Peter's Port, the inhabitants would retreat behind the buttresses of Castle Cornet, when, as in the invasion by Charles V. of France, the fortress proving impregnable, the besiegers would collect their belongings and sail away.
In the fourteenth century Henry VI. of England, in consideration of a red rose as annual rental, conveyed the entire group to the Duke of Warwick. But strange privileges were from time to time extended to these audacious people. Queen Elizabeth proclaimed the islands a world's sanctuary, and threw open the ports as free harbours of refuge in time of war. She authorized protection to "a distance on the ocean as far as the eye of man could reach." This act of grace was cancelled by George the Third, who regarded it as a premium on piracy. In Cromwell's time Admiral Blake had been instructed to raise the siege of Castle Cornet. He brought its commander to his senses, but only after nine years of assault, and not before 30,000 cannon-balls had been hurled into the town.
Late in the fourteenth century, when the English were driven out of France, not a few of those deported, who had the fighting propensity well developed, made haste for the Channel Islands, where rare chances offered to handle an arquebus for the King. Among those who sought refuge in Guernsey there landed, not far from the Lion's Rock at Cobo, an English knight, Sir Hugh Brock, lately the keeper of the Castle of Derval in Brittany, a man "stout of figure and valiant of heart." This harbour of refuge was St. Peter's Port.
"Within a long recess there lies a bay, An island shades it from the rolling sea, And forms a port."
The islet that broke the Atlantic rollers was Castle Cornet. Sir Hugh Brock, or Badger in the ancient Saxon time—an apt name for a tenacious fighter—shook hands with fate. He espied the rocky cape of St. Jerbourg, and ofttimes from its summit he would shape bold plans for the future, the maturing of which meant much to those of his race destined to follow.
The commercial growth of the Channel Islands has been divided into five periods, those of fishing, knitting (the age of the garments known as "jerseys" and "guernseys"), privateering, smuggling, and agriculture and commerce. To the third period belong these records. The prosperity of the islands was greatest from the middle of the seventeenth century up to the overthrow of Napoleon at Waterloo and the close of Canada's successful fight against invasion in 1815. During this period the building of ships for the North Atlantic and Newfoundland trade opened new highways for commerce, but the greatest factor in this development was the "reputable business" of privateering, which must not be confounded either with buccaneering or yard-arm piracy. It was only permitted under regular letters of marque, was ranked as an honorable occupation, and those bold spirits, the wild "beggars of the sea"—who preferred the cutlass and a roving commission in high latitudes to ploughing up the cowslips in the Guernsey valleys, or knitting striped shirts at home—were recognized as good fighting men and acceptable enemies.
Trade in the islands, consequent upon the smuggling that followed and the building of many ships, produced much wealth, creating a class of newly rich and with it some "social disruption."
Notable in the "exclusive set," not only on account of his athletic figure and handsome face, but for his winning manners and ability to dance, though but a boy, was Isaac Brock. Isaac—a distant descendant of bold Sir Hugh—was the eighth son of John Brock, formerly a midshipman in the Royal Navy, a man of much talent and, like his son, of great activity. Brock, the father, did not enjoy the fruit of his industry long, for in 1777, in his 49th year, he died in Brittany, leaving a family of fourteen children. Of ten sons, Isaac, destined to become "the hero and defender of Upper Canada," was then a flaxen-haired boy of eight.
Anno Domini 1769 will remain a memorable one in the history of the empire. Napoleon, the conqueror of Europe, and Wellington, the conqueror of Napoleon, were both sons of 1769. This same year Elizabeth de Lisle, wife of John Brock, of St. Peter's Port, bore him his eighth son, the Isaac referred to, also ordained to become "a man of destiny." Isaac's future domain was that greater, though then but little known, dominion beyond the seas, Canada—a territory of imperial extent, whose resources at that time came within the range of few men's understanding. Isaac Brock, as has been shown, came of good fighting stock, was of clean repute and connected with most of the families of high degree on the Island. The de Beauvoirs, Saumarez, de Lisles, Le Marchants, Careys, Tuppers and many others distinguished in arms or diplomacy, were his kith and kin. His mind saturated with the stories of the deeds of his ancestors, and possessed of a spirit of adventure developed by constant contact with soldiers and sailors, it was but natural that he became cast in a fighting mould and that "to be a soldier" was the height of his ambition.
Perhaps Isaac Brock's chief charm, which he retained in a marked degree in after life—apart from his wonderful thews and sinews, his stature and athletic skill—was his extreme modesty and gentleness. The fine old maxim of the child being "father to the man" in his case held good.
SCHOOL AND PASTIMES.
Guernsey abounded in the natural attractions that are dear to the youth of robust body and adventurous nature. Isaac, though he excelled in field sports and was the admiration of his school-fellows, was sufficiently strong within himself to find profit in his own society. In the thickets that overlooked Houmet Bay he found solace apart from his companions. There he would recall the stories told him of the prowess of his ancestor, William de Beauvoir, that man of great courage, a Jurat of the royal court. Even here he did not always escape intruders. Outside the harbour of St. Peter's Port, separated by an arm of the sea, rose the Ortach Rock, between the Casquets and "Aurigny's Isle," a haunted spot, once the abode of a sorcerer named Jochmus. To secure quiet he would frequently visit this isolated place, in spite of the resident devil, the devil-fish, or the devil-strip of treacherous water which ran between.
He was not ten when, to the amazement of his friends in imitation of Leander but without the same inducements, he swam the half mile to the reefs of Castle Cornet and back again, through a boiling sea and rip-tides that ran like mill-races. This performance he repeated again and again. For milder amusement he would tramp to the water-lane that stole through the Moulin Huet, a bower of red roses and perfume, or walk by moonlight to the mystic cromlechs, where the early pagans and the warlocks and witches of later days flitted round the ruined altars.
Though Isaac was self-contained and resolute he had a restless spirit. Fearless, without a touch of the braggart, his courage was of the valiant order, the quality that accompanies a lofty soul in a strong body. For his constant courtesy and habit of making sacrifices for his friends, he was in danger of being canonized by his school-fellows.
About this time, shortly after his father's death, it was suggested he should leave the Queen Elizabeth School on the Island and study at Southampton. Here he tried his best, boy though he was, to live up to the standard of what he had been told were his obligations as a gentleman, acquiring, too, a little book-learning and much every-day knowledge.
Isaac's holidays, always spent in his beloved Guernsey, increased the thirst for adventure. The spirit of conquest, the controlling influence of his after life, grew upon him. Something accomplished, something done, was the daily rule. To scale an impossible cliff with the wings of circling sea-fowl beating in his face, to land a big conger eel without receiving a shock, to rescue a partridge from a falcon, to shoot a rabbit at fifty paces, to break a wild pony, or even to scan a complicated line in his syntax—these were achievements, small perhaps, but typical of his desire. His young soul was stirred; the blood coursed in his veins as the sap courses in the trees of the forest in spring; his mind, susceptible to the influences of nature, was strengthened and purified by these pursuits.
In the shelter of silent trossach, on wind-swept height, or on wildest, ever-restless sea, he would, as the mood seized him, take his solitary outings. These jaunts, he told his mother, gave him time to reflect and resolve. It was not strange that he selected a profession that presented the opportunities he craved.
* * * * *
England with folded arms was at peace. The Treaty of Versailles had terminated the disastrous war with America. The independence of the "Thirteen States" had been recognized. The world was drawing a long breath, filling its fighting lungs, awaiting the death struggle with Napoleon for the supremacy of Europe. Yet the spirit of war lingered in the air. It even drifted on the breeze across the Channel to Guernsey, and filtered through the trees that crowned the Lion's Rock at Cobo. It invaded the valleys of the Petit Bot and stirred the bulrushes in the marshes of Havelet. The pulse of our hero throbbed with the subtle infection. Not with the brute lust for other men's blood, but with the instinct of the true patriot to shed, if need be, his own blood to maintain the right. He would follow the example of his ancestors and fight and die, if duty called him, in defence of king and country.
The sweet arrogance of youth uplifted him. Earth, air and water conspired to encourage him. To satisfy this unspoken craving for action he would, from his outlook on the Jerbourg crags—where bold Sir Hugh had sat for just such purpose years before—watch the Weymouth luggers making bad weather of it beyond the Casquets; or challenge in his own boat the rip-tides between Sark and Brechou, and the combers that romped between St. Sampson and the Isle of Herm.
There was no limit to this boy's hardihood and daring. The more furious the gale the more congenial the task. Returning from these frequent baptisms of salt water, his Saxon fairness and Norman freshness aglow with spray, he would loiter on the beach to talk to the kelp gatherers raking amid the breakers, and to watch the mackerel boats, reefed down, flying to the harbour for shelter. The crayfish in the pools would tempt him, he would try his hand at sand-eeling, or watch the surf men feed a devil-fish to the crabs. Then up the gray benches of the furrowed cliffs, starred with silver lichens and stone-crop, to where ploughmen were leaving glistening furrows in the big parsnip fields. Then on through the tangle of sweet-briar, honeysuckle and wild roses, where birds nested in the perfumed foliage, until, the summit reached, surrounded by purple heather and golden gorse, he would look on the sea below, with Sark, like a "basking whale, burning in the sunset." Then he would hurry to tell his mother of the day's exploits, retiring to dream of strange lands and turbulent scenes, in which the roll of drums and roar of cannon seemed never absent.
With his youthful mind possessed with the exploits of the King's soldiers in Europe and America, and influenced by his brother John's example—then captain in the 8th Regiment of the line—Isaac pleaded successfully to enter the army. To better prepare for this all-important step, and to become proficient in French, a necessary accomplishment, it was arranged, though he was only fifteen, to place him with a Protestant clergyman in Rotterdam for one year, to complete his education.
His vacations now were few; his visits to the Island flying ones. But the old life still fascinated him. His physique developed as the weeks flew by, and he became more and more a striking personality. This was doubly true, for while he remained the champion swimmer, he was also the best boxer of his class, besides excelling in every other manly sport. In tugs-of-war and "uprooting the gorse" he had no equals, but a sense of his educational deficiencies kept him at his books.
He had only passed his sixteenth birthday when, one wild March morning in 1785, he was handed an important-looking document. It was a parchment with the King's seal attached, his commission of ensign in the 8th Regiment. Isaac at once joined the regimental depot in England. It was evident that his lack of learning would prove a barrier to promotion. He found that much of the leisure hitherto devoted to athletic sports must be given to study. Behind "sported oak," while dust accumulated on boxing-glove and foil—neither the banter of his brother officers nor his love for athletics inducing him to break the resolution—he bent to his work with a fixity of purpose that augured well for his future.
In every man's life there are milestones. Isaac Brock's life may fairly be divided into five periods. When he crossed the threshold of his Guernsey home and donned the uniform of the King he passed his first milestone.
FROM ENSIGN TO COLONEL.
In every young man's career comes a time of probation. During this critical period that youth is wise who enters into a truce with his feelings. This is the period when influences for good or bad assert themselves—the parting of the ways. The sign-posts are painted in capitals.
When Brock buttoned his scarlet tunic and strapped his sword on his hip, as fine a specimen of a clean-bodied, clean-minded youth as ever trod the turnpike of life, he knew that he was at the cross-roads. The trail before him was well blazed, but straight or crooked, rough or smooth, valley or height, it mattered little so long as he kept nourished the bright light of purpose that burned steadily within him.
Five years of uneventful service, chiefly in England, passed by, and our hero was celebrating his coming of age. His only inheritance was health, hope and courage. While neither monk nor hermit, he had so far been as steadfast as the Pole Star in respect to his resolutions. He had allowed nothing to induce him to break the rules engraved on brass that he had himself imposed. His mind had broadened, his spirits ran high, his conscience told him that he was graduating in the world's university with honour. His love for athletics still continued. He had the thews of a gladiator, and in his Guernsey stockings stood six feet two inches. Add to this an honest countenance, with much gentleness of manner and great determination, and you have a faithful picture of Isaac Brock.
Upon obtaining his lieutenancy he returned to Guernsey, raised an independent company, and exchanged into the 49th, the Royal Berkshires, then stationed in Barbadoes. He now found himself looking at life under new conditions. While the beauties of Barbadoes enchanted him, his duties as a soldier were disappointing. They were limited to drill, dress parade, guard mounting, the erection of new fortifications, and patrolling the coast for vessels carrying prohibited cargoes.
Under the terms of a treaty made at Paris in 1773, United States produce for British West Indian ports could only be carried by British subjects in British ships. Britain's men-of-war were also authorized to seize any vessel laden with produce for or from any French colony. Brock was a soldier, not a policeman, and coast-guard duties palled upon him. His great diversion was in calculating the probabilities of invasion by the French. In expectation of this, the refortifying of the island was in progress. The memory of Admiral d'Estaing's visit with his fleet from Toulon, and the capture of St. Vincent, sent a chill through the island. The great victory by the British Admiral Rodney, when he whipped a superior French fleet to a standstill, was yet to come. Bastions and earthworks grew during the night like mushrooms. While Brock chafed under restraint, he knew how to improve the opportunity.
Fishing, shooting sea-fowl, and exploring the interior on horseback, were Brock's chief pastimes. He became a fearless horseman. Mount Hillaby rose 1,200 feet above the Caribbean Sea. The very crest of its almost impossible pinnacle Brock is said to have ascended on horseback. Between Bridgetown, in Barbadoes, and Kingston, Jamaica, he divided his time, and though monotonous, his life in the Windward Islands was not wholly void of adventure.
Shortly after joining his regiment at Bridgetown our hero had his first affair of honour, an opportunity to display his courage under most trying conditions. A certain captain in the 49th was a confirmed duellist, with a reputation of being a dead shot at short range. Resting upon his evil record, this braggart had succeeded in terrorizing the garrison, and it was soon Brock's turn to be selected for insult. But Isaac could not be bullied or intimidated. He promptly challenged and was as promptly accepted.
The fateful morning arrived. In a lonely spot, palm-sheltered, and within sight of the sea breaking upon the coral reefs, principals and seconds met. There was no question in Brock's mind as to his duty—the duello at that time was the recognized court of appeal. If its purpose as originally designed had at times been infamously abused, it was still the one and only arbiter through which insults had to be purged and from which, for the "officer and gentleman," there was no escape.
Now Isaac, who was several inches taller and much bulkier than the scoundrel who had insulted him, declined to become a shining mark at the regulation twelve paces. He demanded from his fire-eating antagonist that the duel proceed on equal terms. Whipping out his kerchief, cool as a cucumber, his blue eyes steady and resolute, he insisted that they both fire across it. The fairness of the proposal staggered the bully. The chances were not sufficiently one-sided. If this plan was acted upon he might himself be killed. He refused to comply. The code of honour and garrison approval sustained Brock in his contention, and the refusal of the professional killer to fight under even chances was registered in the mess-room as the act of a coward, and he left the regiment by compulsion.
In Jamaica the continued strain of inactivity under which our hero fretted told upon him, and he was struck down with fever, his cousin, Henry Brock, lieutenant in the 13th Foot, dying in Kingston of the same pestilence. At this time Isaac had as servant a soldier named Dobson, one of those faithful souls who, true as steel, once installed in their master's affection, remain loyal to the end. To the untiring attentions of this man Brock owed his life. Deep and mutual respect followed, and the two became inseparable. Where Brock went, there was Dobson, sharing his fortune and all the hard knocks of his military campaigns, a fellowship ending only with Dobson's death, shortly before his "beloved master" gave up his life on Queenston Heights.
Tropical malaria is hard to shake off. Release from duty was imperative, and as England was now calling for recruits, the War Office summoned Brock, an alluring sample of a soldier, to whom was assigned the task of licking the fighting country bumpkin—the raw material—into shape. This he did, first in England, then in Guernsey and Jersey. A vision of our hero, glorious in his uniform, was in itself sufficient to ensnare the senses of any country yokel. It was a militant age.
When quartered in Guernsey, and from the same heights of Jerbourg where but a few years before he was wont to sweep the ocean for belated fishing smacks, Brock saw his kinsman, Sir James Saumarez, and the white canvas of a small squadron, heave in sight from Plymouth Roads. The British sailor had been ordered to ascertain the strength of the French fleet. Saumarez' ships were far slower than those of the enemy, so, feigning the greatest desire to fight, he lured his opponent by a clever ruse. First he closed with him, and then, when his own capture seemed inevitable, hauled his wind, slipped through a maze of reefs by an intricate passage—long familiar to our hero—and found safety off La Vazon, where the Frenchmen dare not follow.
In June, 1795, Brock purchased his majority, but retained his command of the recruits. From toes to finger-tips Isaac was a soldier, bent on mastering every detail of the profession of his choice. A year after the return of the 49th to England, on the completion of his 28th year, he became by purchase senior lieutenant-colonel of his regiment. High honour and rapid promotion, considering that for five out of seven years' service he had remained an ensign. He had learned to recognize opportunity, the earthly captain of a man's fate.
"For every day I stand outside your door, And bid you wake and rise to fight and win."
But Brock's position was no sinecure. The regiment was in a badly demoralized condition. The laxity of the late commanding officer had created a deplorable state of things. To restore the lost morale of the corps was his first duty. The thoroughness of his reforms can be best understood by quoting the words of the Duke of York, who declared that "out of one of the worst regiments in the service Colonel Brock had made the 49th one of the best."
From the Commander-in-Chief of a nation's army to a colonel—not yet thirty—of a marching regiment, this was an exceptional tribute.
Isaac's persistent endeavours were rapidly bringing their own reward.
EGMONT-OP-ZEE AND COPENHAGEN.
Meanwhile the war cloud in Europe was growing apace. Holland had been forced into an alliance with France. War, no longer a spectre, but a grim monster, stalked the Continent. Everywhere the hostile arts of Bonaparte were rousing the nations. The breezes that had stirred the marshes of Havelet and awakened in Brock a sense of impending danger, now a furious gale, swept the empires. The roll of drums and roar of cannon that Isaac had listened to in his boyhood dreams were now challenging in deadly earnest. The great reveille that was awakening the world was followed by the British buglers calling to arms the soldiers of the King.
Notwithstanding the aversion of the English prime minister, Pitt, to commence hostilities, war was unavoidable. One of the twelve battalions of infantry selected for the front was the 49th. When the orders were read for the regiment to join the expedition to Holland, wild excitement prevailed in barracks. Active service had come at last. The parting of Brock with his family was softened by maternal pride in his appearance.
The tunic of the 49th was scarlet, with short swallow-tails. The rolling lapels were faced with green, the coat being laced with white, with a high collar. The shako, which was originally surmounted by white feathers with black tips, a distinction for services in the American war of 1776, at Bunker's Hill and Brandywine, was, at Brock's special request, replaced by a black plume. The officers wore their hair turned up behind and fastened with a black "flash." The spectacle of Master Isaac thus arrayed, in all the glory of epaulets and sabretache and the gold braid of a full colonel, reconciled the inhabitants of St. Peter's Port to his departure.
By the end of August the first division of the British army, of which the 49th was a unit, was aboard the transports in the Zuyder Zee, off the coast of Holland, and early one morning, under the command of Sir Ralph Abercrombie, with blare of trumpets and standards flying, they effected a landing under the guns of the ships of the line, of which, with frigates and sloops, there were well-nigh sixty. Brock had often listened to the roar of shot and shell in target practice and sham fight, but of a cannonade of artillery, where every shrieking cannon-ball was probably a winged messenger of death, this was his first experience. He now learned that in the music of the empty shell of experiment and the wicked screech of the missiles of war there was an unpleasant difference. He did not wince, but sternly drew himself together, thought of home, begged God's mercy, and awaited the command to advance with an impatience that was physical pain.
By four in the afternoon the Hilder Peninsula and its batteries had been taken, but with a loss to the British of a thousand men. Brock could scarcely believe that the enemy had retreated. This, however, was merely a taste of war. The second division having arrived, the whole force of nearly 20,000 men, under the Duke of York, started to make history. In the last days of a stormy September 16,000 Russian allies reached the scene. The fourth brigade, which included the 49th, was under the command of General Moore—Sir John Moore, of Corunna fame. For several weeks the waiting troops were encamped in the sand-hills without canvas and exposed to biting storms. The capture of the city of Horn without resistance hardly prepared our hero and his men for the stout opposition at the battle of Egmont-op-Zee that followed.
Brock's brother, Savery, a paymaster to the brigade, though by virtue of his calling exempt from field service, insisted on joining the fighting line, acting as aide to Sir Ralph Abercrombie.
Every record, every line written or in print concerning Brock, from first to last, all prove that the keynote of his success, the ruling impulse of his life, was promptness and action. So, at Egmont, no sooner did the bugle sound the advance than he was off with his men like a sprinter at the crack of the pistol. Others might follow; he would lead. They were part of the advance guard of a column of 10,000 men. The enemy was in front in superior numbers, but their weakness lay in underrating the courage of the British. They had been taught to consider English soldiers the most undisciplined rabble in the world!
This was a factor unknown and unheeded by Brock. All that he knew was that an obstacle barred the way.
* * * * *
"Steady, the 49th!"
* * * * *
The loud, clear notes of the leader rang above rasping of scabbards and suggestive clank of steel. The men straightened. A suppressed exclamation ran along the line and died to a whisper. Whispers faded into silence. A fraction of a second, perhaps, and then, high above the stillness, when British and French alike were silently appealing to the God of battles, over steaming dyke and yellow sand-dunes rose once more in trumpet tones the well-known voice, "Charge, men, and use your bayonets with resolution!" No rules were followed as to the order of going—the ground, to use Brock's words, was too rough, "like a sea in a heavy storm"—but the dogs of war were let loose. The quarry was at bay. Another instant and the air was split with yells, the clash of naked steel and screams of agony. Then cheer upon cheer, as the British swept irresistibly on, and the enemy, declining to face the glittering bayonets and unable to resist the impact of the English, wavered, broke and retreated.
The shedding of men's blood by man is never an edifying spectacle. The motive that prompts the attack or repels it, the blind obedience that entails the sacrifice, the retribution that follows, are more or less understandable. What of the compensation? There may be times when a pure principle is at stake and must be upheld despite all hazards, but there are times when there is no principle at stake whatever. These considerations, however, have no place in the soldier's manual. They are questions for the court, not the camp, and cannot be argued on the battlefield. The soldier is not invited to reason why, though many an unanswerable question by a dying hero has been whispered in the trenches.
There was much carnage at Egmont-op-Zee, and many a 49th grenadier "lost the number of his mess." Isaac directly after the fight wrote to his brothers that "Nothing could exceed the gallantry of his men in the charge." To his own wound he referred in his usual breezy and impersonal way. "I got knocked down," he said, "soon after the enemy began to retreat, but never quitted the field, and returned to my duty in less than half an hour."
We must appeal to his brother Savery for the actual facts. "Isaac was wounded," said Savery, in reply to a request for particulars, "and his life was in all probability preserved by the stout cotton handkerchief which, as the air was very cold, he wore over a thick black silk cravat, both of which were perforated by a bullet, and which prevented it entering his neck. The violence of the blow, however, was so great as to stun and dismount him, and his holsters were also shot through."
That the action had been a hot one can be best judged by the official returns. Out of 391 rank and file of the 49th in the field, there were 110 casualties—30 killed, 50 wounded and 30 missing. Savery Brock shared the honours with his brother. Oblivious to a hurricane of bullets, he rode from sand-hill to sand-hill, encouraging the men until his truancy was noticed and he was halted by Isaac. "By the Lord Harry, Master Savery," shouted the colonel, loud as he could pitch his powerful voice, as the big paymaster strode by, his horse having been shot under him, "did I not order you, unless you remained with the General, to stay with your iron chest? Go back, sir, immediately." To which Savery answered, playfully, "Mind your regiment, Master Isaac. You surely would not have me quit the field now." Of this intrepid brother Isaac wrote, "Nothing could surpass Savery's activity and gallantry." Another of the wounded at Egmont was Lord Aylmer, afterwards Governor-General of British North America. The loss of the enemy was estimated at 4,000. Two weeks later the British troops—while suffering intensely from severe weather—met with a reverse in the field, to which, through a misunderstanding of orders, their Russian allies contributed. The Duke of York was ordered to evacuate the country. The campaign had resulted in much experience and high honour for Brock. Quick to perceive and learn, his powers of observation on the field had enriched his mind with lessons in the tactics of war never to be forgotten.
In the ranks of the 49th was a young Irishman of superior talents. Brock was not slow to discover his abilities, and "with a discrimination that honoured both," he later appointed this combative private sergeant-major. Still later he procured him an ensigncy in the 49th, finally appointing him adjutant, promotion that the ability and gallantry of James FitzGibbon, a Canadian veteran of 1812, and the "hero of Beaver Dams" (Adjutant-General of Canada, 1837, and Military Knight of Windsor, 1851), amply justified.
If Brock was quick to appreciate merit, he was no less so in detecting defects. The Russian soldiers came in for scathing criticism. The type at Egmont impressed him most unfavourably. The clumsy Russian foot-soldier was his special aversion. The accuracy of his criticism has been confirmed by military writers, but this book is not for the purpose of weighing the quality of Russian valour in Holland. Six thousand of these Russian allies, the lateness of the season preventing their return home, were later quartered for six months in Guernsey.
While our hero was a severe military critic, he was never an unjust one, neither did he spare his own men. Though not a martinet, which was foreign to every fibre of his nature, he was a stickler for rigid discipline. When the expedition was recalled, he was first quartered in Norwich, and then at the old familiar barracks of St. Helier, in Jersey. On his return to the latter place, in 1800, after leave of absence, he found that the junior lieutenant-colonel of the 49th—Colonel Sheaffe—had incurred the reasonable dislike of the men. The regiment was drawn up on the sands for morning parade, standing at ease. In company with this unpopular officer Brock appeared upon the scene. He was greeted with three hearty cheers. The personal honour, however, was lost sight of in the act of disobedience. Rebuking the men severely for "their most unmilitary conduct," they were marched to quarters and confined to barracks for a week. He would not, he explained, allow public exaltation of himself at the expense of another.
The next year found our hero in the Baltic Sea, aboard the Ganges, detailed for active duty as second in command of the land forces that under Lord Nelson were ordered to the attack on Copenhagen. It was intended that Brock, with the 49th, should lead in storming the Trekroner (Three Crown) battery, in conjunction with five hundred seamen; but the heroic defence by the Danes rendered the attempt impracticable, and Brock remained on the Ganges, an unwilling spectator of bloodshed in which he took no part. Towards the close of the engagement—the heaviest pounding match in history—he was on the Elephant, Nelson's flagship, and saw the hero of Trafalgar write his celebrated letter to the Crown Prince of Denmark.
As at Egmont, the irrepressible conduct of Savery Brock on the Ganges gave our hero much concern. Savery, as a former midshipman, was of course a gunner. While training a quarter-deck gun on the Trekroner battery his hat was blown from his head and he was knocked down by the rush of wind from a grapeshot. Seeing this, Brock exclaimed, "Ah, poor Savery! He is indeed dead." But, to use his own words, it was only "the hot air from the projectile that had 'floored' him." Previous to this he had driven Isaac almost demented by stating his intention of joining the storming party and sharing his brother's danger. "Is it not enough that one brother should be killed or drowned?" said Isaac. But Savery persisted until, at Isaac's request, the commander of the Ganges kept the paymaster quiet by stratagem. "Master Savery," said he, "you simply must remain with us. I appoint you captain of the gun. It will amuse you."
The loss of the Danes at Copenhagen was placed at 6,000, including prisoners. The British killed and wounded numbered 943, more than fell at the Battle of the Nile. Part of this loss is charged to a criminal misconception of military etiquette. To a line officer who asked where his men should be stationed, the captain of the battleship replied, that as soldiers were no good with big guns, and as the forts were out of musket range, he should "send them between decks." This, said the infantryman, "would be eternal disgrace." In deference to this brutal conception of military ethics, the men were drawn up on the gangway and, standing at attention, were allowed to be mowed down by Danish grapeshot. The 49th, on its return to England from Copenhagen, thoroughly initiated in the cruel cult of war, was ordered to Colchester.
Isaac Brock, with the bay-leaves of distinction on his brow, and his heart touched but not dismayed at the ferocity of war, had passed the second milestone of his life.
BROCK IN CANADA.
Isaac Brock received with regret his orders to proceed with the 49th to Canada. Europe was still in the clutches of war. Great opportunities awaited the soldier of fortune in the struggle waging in the Peninsula. The prospect for military advancement in Canada was not encouraging. America was at peace. Canada was but slowly developing. While her exports of lumber and fish attracted the attention of the British merchant, her great resources were unknown except to the fur trader and the few United States speculators whose cupidity kept pace with their knowledge. Though the known sympathy of the United States for France was regarded as a possible excuse for hostility towards England, as yet this sympathy had found no official utterance, hence the outlook from a soldier's standpoint was far from desirable. Brock's life in the West Indies had created a distaste for garrison duty. While a past master in the details of barrack life, his career under arms had created an aversion for the grind of drill and parade.
Life in the high latitudes of Canada would present a clean-cut contrast to tropical Barbadoes, but it was out of harmony with his ambition, and, judging by his spirits, he might have been embarking for penal servitude at Botany Bay rather than for the land which was to bring him lasting fame. Even the attentions of the devoted Dobson, who had just filled his pipe, did not serve to arouse him. Brock's depression was short-lived. His optimism and faith banished gloomy thoughts. The ship had hardly dropped the last headland of the Irish coast when the winds bred in Labrador awoke the Viking strain in him and filled his soul with hope. The swinging seas of this northern ocean revived thoughts of the long-ago exploits of Sebastian Cabot, the discoverer of Newfoundland, and of his own sea-dog ancestors, those rough-riders of the sea who had defied the banks of Sable Island and returned to St. Peter's Port with their rich cargoes of contraband, looking innocent as kittens, while the ship was bursting with fur, fin and feather. So, pipe in mouth, with the frigate close-hauled, watching her bows splintering the sea into a million jewels, he left care behind, and thenceforward his busy brain was forming plans that would soften his exile in that land of chilling promise he was approaching.
He had been told to expect magnificent scenery, but was quite unprepared for the picture that the Gulf of St. Lawrence unfolded. The Straits of Belle Isle, the Magdalen Islands, the brazen bosom of the Bay of Chaleur that had allured Jacques Cartier 265 years before, the might of the noble river and the glorious vista of the citadel and frowning heights of Quebec, where Wolfe and Montcalm fell—the ancient Stadacona framed in the sunset—amazed him. A presage of coming conflict crowded his brain.
* * * * *
"Manfully tell me the truth."
* * * * *
Carr, an educated soldier of the 49th, was hesitating. Desertions had been frequent at Quebec, and discipline must be restored. Stepping up, with hand clenched, the officer continued, "Don't lie! Tell the truth like a man. You know I have ever treated you kindly." The confession of intended desertion followed. "Go, then," said Colonel Brock,—"go and tell your deluded comrades everything that has passed here, and also that I will still treat every man of you with kindness, and then you may desert me if you please."
During the three years of his command at Montreal, York, Fort George and Quebec, though mutiny was epidemic in both Europe and America, Brock had lost but one man by desertion. He had won the loyalty of the rank and file. FitzGibbon said of him that "he created by his judicious praise the never-failing interest of the men in the ranks." His accurate knowledge of human nature served him in the graver experiences of life which followed. His stay in Quebec was short. A study of the ancient citadel and its incomplete fortifications occupied his time. In the summer of 1803 he was stationed at York, a hamlet carved out of the backwoods, sustaining a handful of people, but famous as the gathering-place of many wise men. He found that desertions in Upper Canada had become too frequent. The temptations offered by a long line of frontier easy of access, and the desperate discipline in the army, had led to much brutality in the way of punishments.
Such were the conditions in Upper Canada when Brock reached York. Shortly after his arrival six men, influenced by an artificer, stole a military batteau and started across the lake to Niagara. By midnight Brock, with his trusty sergeant-major and the ever-watchful Dobson, in another batteau with twelve men, passed out of the western gap in hot pursuit of the defaulters. Though the night was calm the trip was perilous. Before them stretched a waste of water, but our hero was in his element. He was living over again his daring visits to the Casquets through the furious seas that raced between St. Sampson and the Isle of Herm.
The crew was divided into "watches," six taking an hour's "breather" while the other six rowed, hour and hour about, alternately rowing and resting. When the wind served they hoisted their big square sail, our hero at the tiller. On this occasion there was little wind, and "Master Isaac," for example's sake, and "to keep my biceps and fore-arm in good condition"—as he told the sergeant-major—took his regular spells at the oar. On arriving at Fort George, Colonel Hunter, Governor and Commandant, rebuked him for rashly venturing across the lake in an open boat, "a risk," he said, "never before undertaken." The expedition, however, was successful, for the deserters were surprised on the American shore and made prisoners.
 Lake Ontario was crossed from Toronto to the wharf at the mouth of the Niagara River in an ordinary double-scull, lap-strake pleasure-skiff, by the writer and another Argonaut—Herbert Bartlett—one unruly morning in the summer of 1872. Though a risky row, and not previously attempted, it was not regarded as a remarkable feat by the performers.
BRIDLE-ROAD, BATTEAU AND CANOE.
The means for transit through Canada at this time was most primitive, and not the least of the questions which occupied Brock's thoughts was the important one of transportation. The lack of facilities for moving large bodies of men and supplies, in event of war, was as apparent as was the lack of vessels of force on lake and river.
Between Quebec and Montreal, a distance of sixty leagues, the overland journey was divided into twenty-four stages, requiring four relays of horse-caleches in summer and horse-carioles in winter. The time occupied was three days, and the rate for travellers twenty-five cents a league. This rough road—which entailed numerous ferries in summer at the Ottawa and at Lake St. Francis, except for a break of fifty miles—led by Cornwall and Prescott to Kingston, along which route United Empire Loyalists twenty years before had established themselves.
A few years prior to Brock's arrival, Governor Simcoe, with the men of the Queen's Rangers, had cut a roadway through the dense forest between Prescott and Burlington, at the head of Lake Ontario. From Ancaster, the then western limit of the U.E. Loyalists' settlement, this road traversed the picturesque region that surrounded the Mohawk village on the Grand River, where Joseph Brant, the famous warrior, was encamped with his Six Nation Indians. From this point it penetrated the rolling lands of the western peninsula, to the La Trenche (the Thames River), from whence Lake St. Clair and the Detroit outlet to the great lakes was reached by water. Another military road, also built by Simcoe, followed the old Indian trail through thirty-three miles of forest from York to Lake Simcoe. This shorter route to Lake Superior enabled the North-West Fur Company—established by Frobisher and McTavish, of Montreal, in 1776—to avoid canoeing up the Ottawa and its tortuous tributaries. The batteaux were brought up the St. Lawrence, breaking bulk at certain "carrying places," then under sail up Lake Ontario to York. From here the cargoes were hauled by horses over Yonge's military road to Lake Simcoe, thence by river and stormy Lake Huron to Fort Michilimackinac, Great Turtle Island—the Mackinaw of to-day—at the head of Lake Michigan. By this route fifty dollars was saved on every ton of freight from Ottawa to the middle north. At Mackinaw the goods were reshipped by bark canoe to the still remoter regions in the further West, where Spanish pedlars on the southern tributaries of the lower Mississippi traded with the Akamsea Indians in British goods distributed from Mackinaw.
The records of these trips through a wilderness of forest and stream, with their exhilarating hardships, had a singular fascination for Isaac Brock. It was not long before he had won, with his conquering ways and robust manhood, the allegiance of the big-hearted fur-traders in Montreal. Their wild legends of the great fur country rang in his ears, and his receptive mind was soon stored with the exploits of Radisson and Groseillers, Joliette, Marquette, and other famous pathfinders, with whose exploits a century and a half before, aided by his fluency in French, he became wonderfully familiar.
He found the evolution of the Canadian highway a subject of absorbing interest. From his Caughnawaga guides he learned how the tracks made by lynx and beaver, rabbit and wolverine, wolf and red deer—invariably the safest and firmest ways—were in turn naturally followed by Indian voyageur and fur-trader, until the blazed trail became the bridle-road for the pack-horse of the pioneer. This, as the white settler drifted in, became the winter-road; then, as civilization stifled the call of the wild, there uprose from swamp and muskeg the crude corduroy, expanding by degrees into the half-graded highway, until the turnpike and toll-bar, with its despotic keeper, exacted its tribute from progress. This was the prelude to a still more amazing transformation, for the day soon came, though not in our hero's time, when the drumming of the partridge was silenced by the choo-choo of the locomotive as it shrieked through forest and beaver-meadow on its way to vaster tracks, further and further west, disclosing and leaving in its trail an empire of undreamed-of fertility. Then the redman, disturbed in his solitudes, was confronted with civilization, and had to accept the terms of conquest or seek another sanctuary in the greater wilderness beyond.
The navigation of the lakes and rivers at this time was limited to three types of vessel, the "snow," a three-master with a try-sail abaft the mainmast, the schooner, the batteau and the birch canoe, and, in closely land-locked waters, the horse ferry. The Durham boat, a batteau on a larger scale with false keel, had yet to be introduced. The bark canoe, which for certain purposes has never been improved upon—not even excepting the cedar-built canoe—varied in size from nine to thirty feet, or, in the language of the voyageur, from one and a half to five fathoms. These canoes had capacity for a crew of from one to thirty men, or a cargo of seventy "pieces" of ninety pounds each, equal to three tons, exclusive of provisions for nine paddlers. In these arks of safety, manned by Indians or metis (half-breeds), the fur-trader would leave Lachine, on the St. Lawrence, ascend the Ottawa, descend the French, cross Lake Huron—the Lake Orleans of Nicollet and Hennepin—and find no rest from drench or riffle until he reached Mackinaw, or more distant Fort Dearborn (now Chicago), on the Skunk River, at the head of Lake Michigan, 1,450 miles by water from Quebec.
The batteaux—great, open, flat-bottomed boats, forty feet long and eight feet beam, pointed at stem and stern—were not unlike the York boats used in Lord Wolseley's Red River expedition in 1870, and would carry five tons of cargo. Rigged with a movable mast stepped almost amid-ships, and a big lug-sail, these greyhounds of the lakes were, for passengers in our hero's time, often the only means of water transport between Quebec and Little York. As important factors in the transport of soldiers and munitions in the war of 1812, they deserve description.
While sailing well when before the wind, they yet, with their defective rig and keelless bottoms, carrying no weather helm, made little headway with the wind close abeam. On one occasion Isaac Brock left Lachine with a brigade of five batteaux, so that all hands could unite in making the portages. At the Cascades, the Milles Roches and the Cedars, three-quarters of the cargo had to be portaged by the packmen. At times these lightened boats were poled or tracked through the broken water, towed by the men, from such foothold as the rocky banks afforded, by means of a long lariat tied to the boat's bow, with loops over each trackman's shoulder, one man steering with a long sweep. When this treadmill work was impossible, owing to too steep banks, and where no batteau locks existed, the crew hauled the boats across the portage on a skidway of small rolling logs, and, so journeying, Prescott was reached. Here, the wind being favourable, lug-sails were hoisted and Brock's strange fleet started for Kingston, reaching it after twelve days' toil from Lachine, then coasting further along Lake Ontario to Little York (Toronto). When wind failed, the long oars were used, the men rising from the thwarts to pull, standing. Thus, alternately sitting and rising, pulling in unison, the light-hearted voyageurs would break into one of their wild French chants, quaint with catching refrain, in which our hero soon learned to join.
At Prescott Brock sometimes took the Government schooner, paying two guineas for a trip, which might last a week, or caught one of the small "two-stickers" that carried freight between Kingston and Queenston. If much pressed for time, the batteau would be exchanged for a caleche—the stage-coach was as yet only a dream—and he would resign himself to a rude jolting over the colonization road through the forest that flanked the rugged northern shore of Lake Ontario.
These trips were a never-failing source of surprise and profit. The skill of the canoemen, the strength and endurance of the packmen, excited his admiration. What wonderful raw material! Given drill and discipline, what might not be achieved on the frontier with such craftsmen! The muscles, all whipcord, of these rugged Canadians, part coureur de bois, part scout, amazed him. One thing was not so evident as he could have wished. Their love seemed to be more for race and language, home and wilderness, than for King and country. Perhaps, as he said, if the safety of their homes were threatened, they would develop patriotism of the highest type.
But, after all, as to kings, "Who," they naively asked him, "was their king? Surely they must be under two flags and two kings. Napoleon or George? Que voulez vous?"
As their hearts seemed to be as stout as their limbs, they would, he reflected, be unconquerable, these careless children of waste places. While Brock thus communed, he watched. There was little to choose between them—Narcisse, Baptiste, Louis, Jacques, Pierre—all strong as buffalo, all agile as catamounts.
They would lift the "pieces" from the dripping canoe and land them on the slippery rock. A minute later and Narcisse perhaps would appear, a bit bent, to keep balanced a bag of flour, a chest of tea, a caddy of tobacco and sundry packages of sugar or shot that made up the load resting on his shoulders where body and nape of neck joined. This load was supported and held together by a broad moose-hide band—a tump-line—strapped across his forehead, his upraised hands grasping the narrowing moose-hide stretched on either side of his lowered head, between ear and shoulder. Brock would watch these packmen as, thus handicapped with a load weighing from two to five hundred pounds, they set out across the rough portage, singing, and at a dog trot, following each other in quick succession. There was rivalry, of course, duly encouraged by Brock with a promise of tobacco to the first man in, but it was all good-natured competition, the last man chanting his laughing canzonet as loudly as the first.
Our hero, with his grand physique and cleverness, was not long in mastering the tricks of the carriers. He soon learned to build up a load and adjust a tump-line, after which practice made the carrying of a pack almost twice his own weight a not extraordinary performance.
These trips afforded Brock an opportunity to study Indian character. He learned much from the packman and voyageur that was destined to be of great value to him in his career on the western frontier, among the outposts of civilization.
Little escaped his notice. His faculties were sharpened by contact with these children of the wilds, whose only class-room was the forest, their only teacher, nature. As the crushed blade or broken twig were of deepest import to the Indian scout, so no incident of his life was now too trivial for Brock to dismiss as of no importance.
MUTINY AND DESERTION.
Brock could hardly reconcile the degree of punishment inflicted upon the soldiers, the poorly paid defenders of the Empire, with their casual offences. While he rebelled against the brutalities of some officers, he was powerless to prevent them. The sentencing powers conferred by court-martial were at that time beyond belief. A captain and two subalterns could order 999 lashes with a "cat" steeped in brine. It is on record that on one occasion a soldier was sentenced to 1,500 lashes for "marauding." And there were other modes of torture. This was close upon the heels of a period when even the slightest breaches of the civil law were punished out of all proportion to the offence. While insisting on the strictest discipline, Brock always tempered justice with mercy. Few men better realized the value of a pleasant word or had in such degree the rare tact that permitted familiarity without killing respect.
A terrible incident occurred in the summer of 1803 which tested all Brock's fortitude and conception of duty. A conspiracy to mutiny was discovered at Fort George on the Niagara River. The methods of the commanding officer had exasperated the men until they planned mutiny on a large scale. This included the murder of Colonel Sheaffe and the incarceration of the other officers. A threatening remark by a soldier of the 49th was overheard. He was arrested and put in irons. A confession by another soldier implicated a well-known sergeant, and a message was sent to York begging Brock's immediate presence.
Our hero landed from the schooner alone. It was dinner hour. The barrack-square, as Brock crossed it to the guard-house, was deserted. In charge of the guard he found two of the suspected ringleaders. The guard presented arms. "Sergeant," said the colonel of towering frame and commanding aspect, "come here. Lay down your pike." The order was promptly complied with. "Take off your sword and sash and lay them down also." This was done. "Corporal O'Brien," said the colonel, addressing the sergeant's brother-conspirator, "bring a pair of handcuffs, put them on this sergeant, lock him up in a cell, and bring me the key." This, too, was done. "Now, corporal, you come here; lay down your arms, take off your accoutrements, and lay them down also." He was obeyed. Turning to the right man of the guard, "Come here, you grenadier. Bring a pair of handcuffs and put them on this corporal, lock him up in another cell, and bring me the key." When this was done, turning to the astounded drummer, our hero said, "Drummer, beat to arms."
The garrison was aroused. First to rush out was Lieutenant Williams, sword in hand. "Williams!" said the Colonel, "go instantly and secure Rock"—a former sergeant, recently reduced. "If he hesitates to obey, even for one second, cut him down." Up the stairs flew Williams, calling to Rock to come down. "Yes, sir," answered Rock, "when I take my arms." "You must come without them," said Williams. "Oh, I must have my arms, sir," and as Rock stretched out his hand to seize his musket in the arm-rack, Williams shouted, "If you lay one finger on your musket I will cut you down," at the same time drawing his sabre. "Now, go down before me." Rock obeyed, was placed in irons, and within half an hour Clark, O'Brien, and nine other mutineers were embarked for York on the schooner.
What a picture rises before us. The mid-day sun, the glittering barrack-square, the scarlet and white tunics and polished side-arms of the frightened soldiers, with Brock, the embodiment of power and stern justice, towering above the shrinking culprits. Expiation of the offence had yet to follow. The appetite of the law had to be appeased. The trial took place at Quebec. Four mutineers and three deserters were condemned to death, and in the presence of the entire garrison were executed. The details of this are best unwritten. Through a shocking blunder, the firing party discharged their carbines when fifty yards distant, instead of advancing to within eight yards of the victims. The harrowing scene rent Brock's heart. That the men who had fought so bravely under him at Egmont and laughed at the carnage at Copenhagen should end their lives in this manner was inexpressibly sad. After reading the account of the execution of their comrades to the men on parade at Fort George, Brock added, "Since I have had the honour to wear the British uniform I have never felt grief like this." The prisoners publicly declared that had they continued under our hero's command they would have escaped their doom, "being the victims of unruly passions inflamed by vexatious authority."
When Brock assumed command every possible privilege was extended to the troops at Fort George. For every request, however trivial, he knew there was some reason. His mind was big enough to trade in trifles.
In view of these desertions, the prospect of hostilities between Canada and the United States became a momentous one. By close study of events in France and America and intercourse with prominent United States citizens, Brock detected the signs that precede trouble.
But the grave question of desertion and the war-cloud on the horizon could not occupy our hero's attention to the exclusion of other demands upon his time. Canada's growing importance was attracting many travellers from over-seas. Notable among these was Thomas Moore, the brilliant Irish poet, who was our hero's guest at Fort George for two weeks in the summer of 1803. Every attraction that the peninsula presented was taxed for his entertainment. Of these diversions the one which probably left the most lasting impression on the versatile son of Erin was a gathering of the Tuscarora warriors, under Chief Brant, at the Indian encampment on the Grand River.
"Here," wrote Moore, in one of his celebrated epistles, "the Mohawks received us in all their ancient costumes. The young men ran races for our amusement, and gave an exhibition game of ball, while the old men and the women sat in groups under the surrounding forest trees. The scene altogether was as beautiful as it was new to me. To Colonel Brock, in command of the fort, I am particularly indebted for his many kindnesses during the fortnight I remained with him."
It was while Moore was paddling down the St. Lawrence with his Caughnawaga voyageurs, after leaving Niagara—where he saw the fountains of the great deep broken up—that he composed his celebrated boat-song:
"Faintly as tolls the evening chime, Our voices keep tune and our oars keep time. Soon as the woods on shore look dim, We'll sing at St. Ann's our parting hymn. Row, brothers, row! the stream runs fast, The rapids are near, and the daylight's past!"
In the fall of 1805 our hero was gazetted full colonel, and returned to England on leave. While he had lost none of the buoyancy of his youth, he was daily realizing the fullness of his responsibilities.
For the better defence of Canada, he submitted to the Duke of York, the Commander-in-Chief, a suggestion for the forming of a veteran battalion. He quoted the case of the U.E. Loyalists, who after the Revolutionary war, had been granted small tracts in Upper Canada; contrasting their perfect conduct with the practices of some of the settlers ten years later, whose loyalty, from his own observation, would not stand the test. Our hero, who was warmly thanked by the Duke for his zeal, was now regarded as a person to be reckoned with. His abilities and charm of manner had won him a reputation at the Horse Guards.
He returned to Guernsey to receive the congratulations of those brothers "who loved him so dearly," but had not time to tell the graphic story of his sojourn in Canada or revisit the haunts of his boyhood, for news arrived from the United States of so warlike a character that he returned before his leave expired. He overtook at Cork the Lady Saumarez, a well-manned Guernsey privateer, armed with letters of marque, and bound for Quebec. Leaving London on the 26th of June, 1806, he set sail for Canada, never to return to those to whom he had so endeared himself by his splendid qualities.
FRANCE, THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA.
Shortly after his return to Quebec, Isaac Brock succeeded to the command of the troops in both Upper and Lower Canada, with the pay and allowance of a brigadier.
Though no overt act had been committed against Canada by the United States, relations were strained, and he found much to occupy his time. His humanity stirred, he set about erecting hospitals, reorganized the commissariat department, and engaged in an unpleasant dispute with President Dunn, the civil administrator of Lower Canada, regarding the fortifications of the Citadel. To-day deep in plans for mobilizing the militia and the formation of a Scotch volunteer corps of Glengarry settlers; to-morrow devising the best way of utilizing an Indian force in the event of war. In June, 1807, the affair between the British gunboat Leopard and the American frigate Chesapeake occurred. The former boarded the latter in search of deserters, and on being challenged, gave the Chesapeake a broadside. While the Leopard was clearly in the wrong, the United States Government rejected every offer of reparation made by Britain. Then came retaliation. French vessels—though France was at war with Britain—were actually allowed by the United States, a neutral power, full freedom of its harbours. The ships of Britain, a power at peace with the United States of America, were refused the same privilege.
For a proper understanding of the position we must unroll a page of history. Napoleon, though he crushed the Prussians at Jena, could not efface the memory of his own humiliation at Trafalgar. His ears tingled. He was waiting to deliver a blow that would equalize the destruction of his fleet by Nelson. Though Britain remained mistress of the seas, surely, thought the "little corporal," a way could be found to humble her. If her sources of food supply, for instance, could be cut off, "the wings of her war-ships would be clipped."
To this end Napoleon issued an arrogant proclamation, which was of far-reaching effect. It authorized the destruction of all British goods and all colonial produce shipped to any European port by a British vessel. It allowed the seizure by France of all ships, of whatever nation, which had even called at a British port. To this the United States raised no objection, though it was in violation of the world's law in respect to nations which were at peace with each other. The United States' President evidently believed that British resentment at Napoleon's decree would sooner or later provide the United States with an excuse for a disagreement with Britain. He was not mistaken. Britain at once announced that she in her turn would prohibit the ships of other nations visiting French ports until they had first called at a British port. But two wrongs do not make a right. England also, being short of seamen by desertion, insisted that she had the right to search for British seamen on American vessels.
This was a questionable proceeding, and not always carried out in the most amiable manner, as the Chesapeake incident proves, and occasionally led to seizing American seamen, native-born citizens of the United States, in mistake for British-born deserters.
Meanwhile Brock found "the military and the people of Quebec divided by opposing elements of dissatisfaction." His call for one thousand men for two months to complete the defences of the Citadel was met by the Provincial Government with what was practically a refusal. He persisted in his purpose, and despite drawbacks which would have deterred a less dominant nature, he erected a battery, mounting eight thirty-six pound guns, raised upon a cavalier bastion, in the centre of the Citadel, so as to command the opposite heights of Point Levis.
Alive to the probability of invasion, and to the defenceless state of the Canadian frontier and the extreme apathy of the Quebec Government, Colonel Brock warned the War Office. He stated that, as the means at his disposal were quite inadequate to oppose an enemy in the field, with a provincial frontier of 500 miles, he would perforce confine himself to the defence of the city of Quebec. The Lower Canadians, willing to undergo training, had formed themselves into corps of cavalry, artillery and infantry, at no expense to the Government, but the Government gave them no encouragement.
This was the state of affairs in Quebec when Lieutenant-General Sir James Craig arrived to take office as Governor-General of the British Provinces in North America as well as Commander of the Forces. Brock soon became the confidant of the new administrator, who was not slow to observe the exceptional capacity of our hero. The day came all too quickly for the Governor when occasion arose for the presence of a strong man to take command in Montreal, and with great reluctance he had to call upon Isaac Brock to assume the office.
FUR-TRADERS AND HABITANTS.
Montreal—the Mount Royal of Jacques Cartier—was then in the heyday of its pioneer glory. It was the seat of government of the North-West Company, which exercised feudal sway over an empire of wilderness, lake and prairie, and whose title to monopoly was challenged only by the powerful Hudson's Bay Company. Since 1670 this older syndicate of adventurers had held the destinies of the great lone land in the farther North-West, its fruitful plains and pathless forests, in the hollow of its hand. Later, when the two companies amalgamated, their joint operations extended from Alaska to Rupert's Land, from Oregon to the Sandwich Islands, from Vancouver to Labrador, an empire embracing an area of 4,500,000 square miles.
At Montreal Brock lived with these merchant princes on terms of close intimacy. He was sensible enough, as a man of the world, to enjoy the creature comforts of life. The blazing log-fire, with its glow and crackle, in contrast to the blizzard that raged outside; the dim-lighted splendour of spacious dining-hall, with hewn rafters and savage trophies of the explorers; the polished oak floor and carved ceiling, hung with rare fur and gaudy feathers, appealed to him.
The rubber of whist over, came the fragrant perfecto—these traders ransacked the world for their tobacco—and Brock, under the influence of the soothing weed, would charm these wild vagrants into unlocking some of the strange secrets of the wilderness. From these usually silent but sometimes garrulous merchants he acquired during the long winter nights a fund of facts that greatly influenced his future actions.
Being superseded at Montreal by General Drummond, he did not relish a return to Quebec. Separation from the 49th meant actual pain, but, as he said, "Soldiers must accustom themselves to frequent movements, and as they have no choice, it often happens they are placed in situations little agreeing with their wishes." His regrets were lessened by his promotion to the rank of brigadier-general. But he prayed for active service, still trying to secure a staff appointment in Portugal, and awaited the result of his brother Savery's efforts, hoping he might yet be ordered to join "the best disciplined army that ever left England."
"Your Excellency," he said to the Governor-General, "I must see active service, or had much better quit the army, for I can look for no advantage if I remain buried in inaction in this remote corner of the earth, without the least mention ever likely being made of me."
Unsuspected by our hero, fate in his case was only "marking time."
Day after day Brock saw British ships weigh anchor at Quebec with Canadian timber for the building of English vessels of war. The importance of these Canadian provinces to Great Britain awoke in him dreams of a federation of all the colonies. Cargoes of timber, that would require more than 400 vessels to transport, were then lying on the beaches of the St. Lawrence. "Bonaparte," he wrote, "coveted these vast colonial areas, and desired to repossess them."
Brock's mind was busy trying to solve these problems. "A small French force of 5,000 men," he told the Governor, "could most assuredly conquer the Province of Quebec. In the event of French invasion, would the volatile Lower Canadian people, in spite of all their privileges, remain loyal?" A certain class of habitant argued that Napoleon, who was sure to conquer Europe, would of course seize the Canadas, encouraged by the United States. "Would Englishmen," asked Brock, "if positions were reversed, be any more impatient to escape from possible British rule than were French Canadians from the possible rule of France?"
"Blood, my good FitzGibbon," he declared to his protege, "is thicker than water. You cannot expect to get men to change their nature, or the traditions of their race, through an act of parliament at twenty-four hours' notice. Old thoughts and habits die hard."
Though Brock's perceptive faculties were well developed, his forecasts, built upon the evidences of opposition among certain Lower Canadians, happily proved only in part correct. Later, when his plan of campaign was menaced by still greater disaffection in Upper Canada, he found he had not reckoned on the influence of his own example, which, added to his power of purpose, "disconcerted the disloyal." In proof of this fact Detroit and Queenston Heights were splendid examples.
It was this spirit of unrest among the people of Quebec that moved Sir James Craig to keep Brock within easy reach until the growing discord in Upper Canada called for the presence of a man of tact and resolution, one to whom all things seemed possible—and Brock knew no such word as "impossible." On one occasion the "faithful sergeant-major" had ventured to declare that a certain order was "impossible." "'Impossible!'" repeated Brock, "nothing should be 'impossible' to a soldier. The word 'impossible' must not be found in a soldier's vocabulary."
THE MASSACRE AT MACKINAW.
It was while stationed in Montreal that our hero met Alexander Henry, ex-fur-trader and adventurer and coureur de bois—then a merchant and King's auctioneer—a notable personage and leader in many a wild exploit in the far West, an old though virile man after Isaac's own heart.
From Henry he learned much of the Indian wars in the West, and the strategic value of various points on the frontier, possession of which in the event of war he foresaw would be worth a king's ransom. Not least were details respecting Michilimackinac, the Mackinaw already referred to. Nearly half a century before, Henry, a native of New Jersey, of English parents—his ambition fired by tales of the fabulous fortunes to be made in the fur trade—obtained from the commandant at Montreal a permit to proceed west as a trader. He outfitted at Albany, and the following summer set out for Mackinaw.
Meanwhile the Indian allies, under control of the great Pontiac, were fighting immigration and civilization. Between Fort Pitt—Pittsburgh— and the Fox River, in Wisconsin, the home of the Sacs and Foxes, they had captured nine out of thirteen military posts, and were secretly planning the downfall of Fort Mackinaw. This was regarded as an impregnable post and vulnerable only through strategy—in Indian parlance another name for duplicity. Fort Mackinaw, as Brock well knew, was the most important trading entrepot west of Montreal. It served a territory extending from the Missouri in the west to the far Kissaskatchewan in the north.
On Henry's arrival his friendship was sought by an Indian chief, Wawatam. Between these two men a remarkable attachment developed. They became brothers by mutual adoption. At this time the fort was garrisoned by ninety British regulars. One day, outside the walls on the surrounding plateau, several hundred savages were encamped, ostensibly for purposes of trade, some of them killing time by playing the Indian game of ball—the baggatiway of the red-man, la jeu de la crosse of the voyageur. Henry, acting upon a veiled warning by Wawatam, suggested to the officer in command extra precaution.
"I told him," said he, while Brock drank in every word, "that Indian treachery was proverbial." Now this recital was of the deepest interest to our hero, for Mackinaw, then in the possession of the United States, held the key to the Michigan frontier and control of the upper lakes. While the huge log fire that roared in the chimney cast light and shadow on polished wall and the oak beams of the big dining-hall, Brock puffed away at his huge partiga, weighing every word that fell from the bearded lips of the trader.
"Major Errington," continued Henry, "while thanking me, laughed at my forebodings. Then Wawatam urged me, as his adopted brother, to depart for Sault Ste. Marie. But I delayed and once more sought Errington, who still ridiculed my fears. While I was yet expostulating with him we heard the louder shouts of the Indians. They had rushed through the fort gateway into the enclosure within the palisades in pursuit of a lost ball. This was but a ruse to gain admittance, for in a moment the laughter and shouts changed to wild yells and warwhoops. The guard was overpowered in a flash, and in the attack that followed almost the entire garrison was tomahawked and scalped."
"Ah!" said Brock, "so British lethargy and self-complaisance succumbed to Indian duplicity."
Then his thoughts turned to Niagara. He saw the open portals of Fort George, and Tuscarora youths playing the Indian game of ball in the meadows of the Mohawk village.
"Those who escaped massacre at Mackinaw," said Henry, refilling his stone pipe and resuming his story, "were preserved for a worse fate. Pontiac's allies—and you, Colonel, know something of these matters from the tales told you by the officers of the North-West Company—entered on a carnival of blood. From a garret, where a Pawnee Indian woman had secreted me, I saw the captured soldiers tomahawked and scalped, and some butchered like so many cattle, just as required for the cannibal feast that followed."
"Tortured?" interrogated Brock.
"Tortured!" repeated Henry. "Why, the diabolical devices that those men resorted to to inflict acute physical agony were inconceivable— unutterable, Colonel." He paused.... "After all, no worse, perhaps, than the tortures that have been inflicted by civilized fanatics in Europe."
There was silence for a moment. Both men were buried deep in thought, the one living in the past, the other striving to forecast the future.
"Through the intercession of Wennway, another friendly Indian," continued Henry, "my life was spared. Preparations were made for my secret departure. As I shoved my canoe into the water, en voyage for Wagoshene, the prayers of Wawatam rang in my ears as, standing on the yellow beach with outstretched arms, he invoked the Gitche Manitou, the Great Spirit, to conduct me in safety to the wigwams of my people."
"Surely, Master Henry," commented Isaac Brock, "with all the latent qualities for good that seem to underlie the outward ferocity of some redmen, firmness and kindness are alone needed to convert them into faithful friends."
"An Indian, or Indians collectively," said Henry, pausing before he answered,—"I speak from personal experience only—are faithful so long as you keep absolute good faith with them. In this particular they are no different from white people; but never deceive them, even in trifles, and never subject them to ridicule. Then, if you treat them with consideration, you can reasonably depend upon their individual loyalty. They expect a lot of attention. Yes! an Indian is naturally grateful, probably far more so than the ordinary white man, and seldom forgets a kindness. Should you come into closer contact with the redman, Colonel, as I have a presentiment you will before long, never forget that an Indian, by right of his mode of life, is deeply suspicious and painfully sensitive. He has a keen sense of humour, however, and is quick to discern and laugh at the weak points of others, which, until you understand his language, you will be slow to suspect. On the other hand, he won't stand being laughed at himself or placed in a foolish position. For that matter, who can? Occasionally you will meet a savage with strangely high principles. Among the redskins there is a proportion of good and bad, as there is in all races, but less crime, under normal conditions, than there is among the whites. So, summing up his vices and virtues, the North American Indian, allowing for heredity and surroundings, differs little from ourselves."
"They are brave," interrupted Brock.
"Oh, yes," said Henry, "splendidly reckless of life. The courage of the fatalist I should say. You see, they are so constantly on the war-path that fighting is a compulsory pastime."
"Still," said Brock, "with what daring they fight for their homes."
"True, Colonel," retorted Henry, "but when it comes to fighting for home, a hummingbird will defend its nest. Their peculiar traits are largely the result of a nomadic life and tribal strife, hence, their duplicity. Superstition influences them greatly, as it does all savage races. In one respect they are at least superior to some of our own people—I refer to their treatment of their children. Their lovingkindness is pathetic. Contact with civilization, as you may discover, develops at first all their bad qualities, for they are apt imitators, so when the pagan Indian meets a trader without a conscience—and there are some, you know—why, he is not slow to adopt the bad Christian's methods."