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13 November 2014

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You are in: Guernsey > People > Profiles > Sir Isaac Brock

Sir Isaac Brock

The Guernseyman who is credited with saving Upper Canada in 1812 is commemorated in North America and the island.

Sir Isaac Brock

Sir Isaac Brock. Courtesy Archives of Ontario

Born on 6 October 1769 Isaac Brock grew up in St Peter Port and was educated in the island until the age of ten when he was sent to a school in Southampton, his families' house at the bottom of Smith Street is marked with a plaque.

In March 1785 he followed his eldest brother John into military service when he got a commission as an ensign in the 8th Regiment of Foot and rose through the ranks to command the 49th Regiment of Foot before they were transferred to Canada in 1802.

Although he was promoted during his time in North America he would have preferred to be fighting Napoleon in Europe, but when war broke out with the American colonies in 1812 and Brock was standing in for the administrator of Upper Canada (Ontario), who was on leave in England, he took command of the military defence of the province.

Known for his good relations with the local tribesmen, who he made alliances with, one of his finest hours came when although outnumbered he forced the surrender of Detroit in August 1812. He died on 13 October 1812 leading his troops against an American invasion attempt at Queenston Heights, leaving a strong legacy among the Canadian people of the man who saved Upper Canada.

Brock's military career saw him become a lieutenant in 1790 and later that year obtain the rank of captain by raising a company of men which was a way for the government to quickly bolster the size of the standing army.

In 1791 he transferred to the 49th Foot and six years later was the senior lieutenant colonel, and therefore in command, of his regiment.

He was wounded, but not seriously, while fighting in Holland and was at Copenhagen in 1801 when Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson (later Admiral Lord Nelson) destroyed much of the Danish fleet, so it may seem his career took a turn for the worse when his regiment was sent to British North America (Canada).

Plaque about Brock

This plaque is outside the Town Church

During the ten years between 1802 and 1812 while Europe was embroiled in war as Britain and her allies fought against Napoleonic France, Brock who was an ambitious military man spent a peaceful but frustrating time in North America.

Although during this time he did get a lot of hands-on experience as an administrator and several promotions, first to full colonel in 1805, then brigadier general in 1807 and major general in 1811 when he was also made provisional administrator of Upper Canada in the absence of Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore.

He was an effective military administrator, persuading his superiors to renovate and strengthen the neglected defences of Québec City, which was considered very important to the province's defence.

Early in 1812 Brock was given permission to return to England but with the unrest in the American colonies he believed that duty required him to stay in Canada where he was needed.

At the outset of the War of 1812 Brock's early actions in ordering the capture of Michilimackinac and leading the attack on Detroit raised the confidence of the British forces which were a mix of regular army, militia and natives.

The Battle of Queenston Heights was the largest clash of the war up to that point and a British victory as an attempt by the American militia to cross the Niagara River ended in much of their force being forced to surrender when cut off from the rest of the army.

Plaque about Brock

This plaque sits above Boots in the High Street

Brock was killed while leading troops against an American battery, he had celebrated his 43rd birthday only one week before.

His body was interred at Fort George before later being moved to the summit of Queenston Heights and the Canadian people also paid for a plaque to him to be made which was put on the side of the Town Church in which he is described as "One of Canada's outstanding military heroes".

He never knew he had been given the order of a Knight of the Bath, which he had been awarded for his victory at Detroit, as the news did not reach Canada before his death.

His last words are recorded as "Push on brave York Volunteers" referring to one of the Canadian militia units.

As to his legacy his actual role may be less than he is given credit for, but what his work before the war and his military actions during the first few months did was brought the province time to organise its defences, motivated the populations of Upper and Lower Canada and let them know that the American invaders could be beaten which is an impressive legacy.

Image Credit

The top image is of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K. B., [ca. 1883] George Theodore Berthon (Government of Ontario Art Collection, Archives of Ontario, 694158)

last updated: 26/01/2009 at 16:11
created: 26/01/2009

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