Isaac Brock

This article refers to the British general. For the musician, see Isaac Brock (musician).

Template:Infobox Biography Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K.C.B. (6 October, 1769October 13, 1812) was a British major-general and administrator, who served in various parts of the Empire for nearly thirty years, serving in the Caribbean, Denmark, and elsewhere. During that time he challenged duelists, nearly died from fever, was injured in battle, faced both desertions and near mutinies, and also had the privilege of serving alongside Lord Nelson. However, he is best remembered for his actions while assigned to the Canadian colonies.

Brock was assigned to Canada in 1802, eventually reaching the rank of Major-General. In this capacity, he was responsible for defending Canada from the United States during the War of 1812. While many in Canada and in England felt war could be averted, Brock began preparing the army, the militia, and the populace for what was to come. Thus, when war broke out, Canada was prepared, and quick victories over Fort Mackinac, and at the Battle of Detroit, which crippled American invasion efforts, secured Brock's reputation as a brilliant leader and strategist. His death at the Battle of Queenston Heights was a crushing blow to British leadership. Brock's efforts earned him accolades, a knighthood, and the moniker 'The Hero of Upper Canada'.



Missing image
St. Peter Port, where Brock was born

Brock was born in Saint Peter Port on the Channel Island of Guernsey, as the eighth son of a moderately wealthy family. He earned a reputation during his early education as a good swimmer and boxer. He kept a reputation as a physically commanding man throughout his life, and is said to have stood between 6 ft 2 in and 6 ft 4 in (1.88 and 1.93 m) in height. He was also noted as a serious scholar, who took education very seriously, even at a young age. Following in the footsteps of his father and three of his older brothers, Brock decided to join the British military.

Military service

Although he is best known for his role in the Battle of Detroit, and for his other actions in the War of 1812, Brock had a successful pre-war career, and a quick rise through the ranks which many commented on at the time. Some credited luck, and others skill, in his rapid promotions, and it's fair to say that Brock had substantial portions of both on his way to prominence.

Early career

Brock started as an ensign in the 8th Regiment of Foot in 1785 at the age of 15, where he was likely given responsibility for the regimental coloursTemplate:Ref. Brock reached the rank of captain, and transferred to the 49th Foot (also known as the Hertfordshire Regiment of Foot) on June 15, 1791. His nephew and biographer (Ferdinand Brock Tupper) asserts that shortly after joining the regiment, a professional dueler forced a match on him. As the one being challenged, Brock had his choice of terms, and so he insisted that they fight with pistols. His friends were shocked, as Brock was considered only a moderately good shot, while this man was an expert. Brock, however, refused to change his mind. When the duelist arrived at the field, he asked Brock to decide how many paces they would take. Brock subsequently insisted that the duel would take place, not at the usual range, but at handkerchief distance. The duelist declined and subsequently was forced to leave the regiment. This contributed to Brock's popularity and reputation among his fellow officers, as this duelist had a formidable reputation, and thus bullied other officers without fear of reprisal. During his time with this regiment, he served in the Caribbean. At some point during his service there, Brock fell ill with fever and nearly died; only recovering once he had returned to England.

First command

In 1797, Brock purchased the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and became commander of the regiment. In 1799, the 49th was assigned to an expedition against the Batavian Republic (now known as the Netherlands), to be led by Sir Ralph Abercromby. During the troop landings, Brock saw his first combat, on September 10, 1799, under the command of then-Major General John Moore. Given that the 49th was in poor shape when Brock took command, they saw little of the actual combat. Likely Moore was sparing them, and using more experienced troops to establish the beachhead. Finally, on October 2, the 49th was actively involved in heavy combat, at Egmont-op-Zee, where they acquitted themselves well, only sustaining 33 fatalities. This was remarkable given the circumstances of the fight. The 49th had been ordered to proceed up the beaches of Egmont-op-Zee, a steep climb through sand dunes and poor terrain. The situation was exacerbated by harassment from French sharpshooters, who had excellent cover. After about six hours of heavy fighting, the attack was stopped about a mile short of their objective. After an hour of close combat, including fist and sabre fighting, the French began to withdraw. Brock himself was injured in the fighting, when he was hit by a spent musket ball in the throat. A neck cloth prevented a possibly fatal injury. In his own words, “I got knocked down shortly after the enemy began to retreat, but never quitted (sic) the field, and returned to my duty in less than half an hour.”

Missing image
The Battle of Copenhagen

In 1801, while aboard the 74-gun HMS Ganges (commanded by Captain Thomas Fremantle, a personal friend of Brock's), Brock was present at the Battle of Copenhagen, where it was intended that his troops would lead an assault on the forts at Copenhagen. Although the outcome of the battle made such an assault unnecessary, Brock observed first hand the tactical brilliance of Lord Nelson. After the battle, along with Fremantle, he was among those to personally congratulate Nelson. In 1802, Brock and the 49th Foot were ordered to Canada.

Transfer to Canada

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Major General Sir Isaac Brock, portrait by John Forster

Brock arrived in Canada, along with the rest of the 49th foot, and was initially assigned to Quebec City. Almost immediately, in 1803 he was faced with one of the primary problems in Canada, desertionTemplate:Ref. Seven soldiers stole a boat and fled across the border into the United States. Brock sent a party across the border in pursuit, and the men were captured.


A short time later, Brock was sent a report by an officer at Fort George that some of the garrison were planning to imprison the officers and flee to the United States. Immediately, he boarded the schooner that had brought the message and went on it to Fort George, which was under the command of then-Lieutenant Colonel Roger Hale Sheaffe. A hastily assembled honour guard formed to greet Brock's unexpected arrival. Accompanied by an orderly and another soldier who would form his reputation in Canada, James Fitzgibbon, Brock had the sergeant of the guard disarmed and confined. Then he entered the fort.

As it was the dinner hour, all the soldiers were in barracks. Brock sent his orderly to bring him a soldier suspected of being one of the mutiny's ringleaders. As soon as he entered the room Fitzgibbon pinned the man and threatened to kill him if he cried out. One at a time, other suspected mutineers were captured in the same way. Finally, Brock ordered the drummers to assemble the men. They filtered out of the barracks and formed a line in front of Brock. Brock ordered that all men involved in the mutiny step forward, and a number did so, and were arrested. Brock then addressed the regiment, and asked for the obedience of those who had not known about the mutiny. The men pledged this obedience, and returned to the barracks.

Brock sent the twelve mutineers and the seven deserters to Quebec for court martial. There it was discovered that the mutineers had planned to jail all the officers, save Sheaffe, who was to be killed, and then cross the Niagara into America at Queenston. Seven soldiers were subsequently executed by firing squad. Ferdinand Tupper was present at the trial and executions, and wrote about them to Brock. He described how the mutineers had testified that they were forced to such measures by the severity of Sheaffe, and how, had they continued under Brock's command, they would never have taken such action. Brock was evidently much moved by the letter. As a result of his continued competence, Brock was promoted to colonel on October 30, 1805.

Pre-war preparations

By 1806 the United States was becoming increasingly hostile to the British Empire, and would continue to do so until war broke out in 1812. The chief reasons for this were the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy, the blockade of French ports, and a belief that the British were secretly inciting American Indians to attack United States settlements on the western frontier. War Hawks in the United States called for an invasion of Canada to punish the British Empire and to end the American Indian threat. Historians have also speculated that a belief in manifest destiny contributed to the decision to go to war, and this is taught in Canadian schools.

In response to this emerging threat, Brock moved quickly to bolster Canadian defenses. He strengthened the fortifications of Quebec by building walls and an elevated battery. Although having little formal education, Brock succeeded in creating a formidable defensive position largely due to his reading, which included several volumes on the science of running and setting up artillery. He also re-arranged the marine department (responsible for lakes and rivers), which lead to the development of a naval force capable of holding the Great Lakes. This was to be pivotal during the war.

In 1807, Brock was made a brigadier-general by Governor General Sir James Henry Craig. He was to take command of all forces in Upper Canada in 1810. During this time, Brock continued to ask for a posting in Europe. In 1811 he was promoted to Major General, and in October of that year, Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore, left for England. This made Brock the provisional Lieutenant Governor, and as such, administrator of Upper Canada, putting him fully in charge of both the military and the civil authority. Thus, when permission to leave for Europe finally came in early 1812, Brock declined the offer, seeing it as his duty to defend Canada in war against the United States.

As Upper Canada's administrator, Brock made a series of changes designed to help Canada in the event of a war. He amended the militia act, allowing the use of all available volunteers, and he ordered enhanced training of these raw recruits, despite opposition from the provincial legislature. Furthermore, he continued strengthening and reinforcing defenses. Also, Brock began seeking out American Indian leaders, such as the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, to see if they would ally with him against the Americans in the event of war. Although the conventional wisdom of the day was that Canada would fall quickly in the event of an invasion (various American politicians, particularly Thomas Jefferson, boasted that it would be a "mere matter of marching"), Brock pursued these strategies to give the colony a fighting chance.

War of 1812

Early war and the Battle of Detroit

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Governor General Sir George Prevost, whose approach to the war conflicted with Brock's

The United States declared war on Britain on June 12, 1812. Brock's preparations meant that Canada was not unprepared for the war; however, Brock felt that those preparations would not be enough to keep the colony secure. Thus he immediately moved to capture the strategically important Fort Mackinac. This attack was a complete success, but Brock felt he needed to go further. He was hampered in these efforts by the directions of Governor General George Prevost (Prevost replaced Craig in late 1811), who favoured a cautious approach to the war. Prevost felt that a strict emphasis should be placed on defense, and was against any attack into American territory.

Brock's adversary at the , General William Hull
Brock's adversary at the Battle of Detroit, General William Hull

On July 12, U.S. General William Hull invaded Canada at Sandwich (later known as Windsor). The invasion was quickly halted, and Hull withdrew, but this gave Brock the excuse he needed to abandon Prevost's orders. Securing Tecumseh's aid, Brock advanced on Detroit. At this point, even with his American Indian allies, Brock was outnumbered approximately two to one. However, Brock had gauged Hull as a timid man, and particularly as being afraid of Tecumseh's natives. Brock thus decided to use a series of tricks to intimidate Hull. First, he allowed a message (ostensibly to Prevost) declining reinforcements to fall into Hull's hands. The reason given was that Brock had more than enough native allies to take the fort, and thus did not need additional British troops. Brock then laid siege to Fort Detroit, and through a carefully crafted series of marches, made it appear he had far more natives with him then he actually did. Additionally, he ordered Tecumseh's forces to make as much noise at possible, thus giving the impression of a much larger force and intimidating Hull with the show of a raucous, barely controlled group of natives. Finally, he sent Hull a letter demanding his surrender, in which he stated, in part, "Sir; it is far from my inclination to join a war of extermination, but you must be aware that the numerous body of Indians who have attached themselves to my troops will be beyond my control the moment the contest commences." Brock then hammered the fort with cannon fire. On August 16, two hours after receiving Brock's letter, Hull surrendered unconditionally.

From Hull's perspective, there was one, paramount reason for his surrender. Detroit was filled with civilians, including Hull's own daughter and grandson, and Hull greatly feared what would happen should he lose the battle. At his court-martial, he stated, "I have done what my conscience directed- I have saved Detroit and the Territory from the horrors of an Indian massacre." This was a huge victory for Brock for a number of reasons. First, it struck a massive blow to American morale, and eliminated the main American force in the area as a threat. Secondly, it gave a badly needed corresponding morale boost to the Canadian population, many of whom had not believed Canada stood a chance against the superior military might of the United States (some had even defected to the U.S, and many were recent immigrants from that country). Third, it allowed Brock to take the American supplies at Detroit and use them for his own forces, particularly the ill-equipped militia. Finally, it secured the support of Tecumseh and the other American Indian chiefs, who took it as both a sign of competency and a willingness to take action.

In enlisting the help of Tecumseh, Brock made a number of commitments to the Shawnee. He promised to negotiate no peace treaty without addressing the Shawnee's vision of an independent homeland. Although this was undoubtedly because Brock needed the help of Tecumseh, there is no evidence Brock negotiated in bad faith. Also, Tecumseh evidently trusted and respected Brock, reportedly saying, "This is a man" after meeting him for the first time.

The capture of Detroit also led to British domination over most of Michigan. Brock had planned to continue his campaign into the United States, but he was thwarted by the negotiation of an armistice by Prevost with American Major General Henry Dearborn. This stalled Brock's momentum, and gave the Americans time to regroup and prepare for an invasion of Canada. Unable to predict the point of invasion, Brock frantically worked to prepare defenses throughout Upper Canada.

Death at Queenston Heights

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General Roger Hale Sheaffe, who took command upon Brock's death

Meanwhile, Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer, in command of a sizable army near Lewiston, came under presidential pressure to invade. Although Van Rensselaer had severe doubts about the quality of his troops, he had no choice but to attack. Making matters worse, Van Rensselaer was a badly inexperienced militia general, and thus not trusted by the majority of regular army troops. In the early morning of October 13, 1812, he attempted to cross the Niagara River, leading to the Battle of Queenston Heights. Despite heavy fire from British artillery, the first wave of Americans (under Captain John E. Wool) managed to land, and then follow a fishermen's path up to the heights. From this point, they attacked and overwhelmed the British artillery.

From nearby Fort George, Brock hurried to take command of the small British force stationed at the heights. Fearing that the Americans, with the artillery out of the way, would move the rest of their troops across the river, he ordered an immediate attack on their position. True to his personal philosophy of never ordering men where he would not lead them, he personally led the charge. The charge nearly succeeded, but was repelled. Brock himself was wounded in the hand, but then immediately led a second charge. An obvious target in his general's uniform, Brock was shot and killed by American sharpshooters. Brock's last words have been reported as "surguite" (press on), or "Push on, brave York Volunteers" (in reference to a group of the militia Brock favoured) and even "My fall must not be noticed or impede my brave companions from advancing to victory." It has also been reported that Brock died immediately, however, so these accounts are by no means certain.

Following his death, Roger Hale Sheaffe arrived at the battle scene and took command of the British forces. In sharp contrast to his predecessor's direct attack, Sheaffe took a more cautionary approach. This ultimately proved successful, leading to a total victory over the Americans at the cost of only fifty of his own men. During the battle, it is reported that the 49th used "Revenge the General" as a battlecry.


After the battle, Sheaffe and his staff decided to entrust the funeral arrangements to Captain John Glegg, who had served with Brock for many years.

On October 16, a funeral procession for Brock and Colonel Macdonell went from Government House to Fort George, with soldiers from the British Army, the colonial militia, and the American Indian tribes on either side of the route. The caskets were then lowered into a freshly dug grave in the northeast corner of Fort George. The British than fired a twenty-one gun salute in three salvos, in a gesture of respect. Later that day, the American garrison at Fort Niagara respectfully fired a similar salute. Several thousand people attended the funeral, a remarkable number given the population of Upper Canada at that time.

All told, Brock and Macdonells' remains were moved a total of three times, until finally coming to a permanent rest inside Brock's monument, on October 13, 1853. Between twelve and fifteen thousand people were on hand for the final burial.


Although many Canadians have come to view Brock as one of their own, Brock never really felt at home in Canada. Although he was complimentary toward Quebec City, on the whole Brock viewed the country as a backwater, and earnestly wished to return to Europe to fight against Napoleon Template:Ref . Furthermore, Brock mistrusted the Canadian colonistsTemplate:Ref, many of whom he suspected of being American sympathizers, and was reluctant to arm them to help defend the colonies; he was far happier fighting alongside British regulars and Tecumseh's native fighters.

His attitude towards Tecumseh and his other American Indian allies is noteworthy. Although Brock's correspondence indicates a certain amount of paternal condescension for the nativesTemplate:Ref , he seems to have regarded Tecumseh himself very highly (calling him the "Wellington of the Indians", and saying "a more sagacious or a more gallant warrior does not I believe exist"), and also to have a certain respect for native peoples. Brock's personal integrity has been well documented, and suggests that if he had lived he would have kept his word to provide the Shawnee with their own homeland.

Despite his lack of an extensive formal education, Brock appreciated the importance of it. It is reported that he often spent his leisure time sequestered in his room, reading books in an attempt to improve his education. His tastes varied, and he read many works on military tactics and science, but he also read on philosophy and other, less immediately practical, topicsTemplate:Ref . At the time of his death he was in possession of a modest library of books, including works by Shakespeare, Voltaire, and Samuel Johnson.


Missing image
St. Paul's Cathedral, home to a memorial for Brock

On British leadership

British military leadership, which had been decisive up to Brock's death, suffered a crushing blow with his loss. His direct successor, Major-General Sheaffe, although successful in his approach at Queenston Heights, was never able to live up to Brock's reputation. He was criticized by many, including John Strachan, for his retreat at the Battle of York, and was shortly after recalled to England, where he went on to have a successful, if not brilliant, military career. Brock's successor at Detroit, however, fared much worse. Colonel Henry Procter faced an attack from a resurrected American Army of the Northwest under future President William Henry Harrison. Harrison set out to retake Detroit, but a detachment of his army was defeated at Frenchtown on January 22, 1813. Procter, displaying poor judgement, left the prisoners in the custody of his native allies, who proceeded to execute 60 of them. Subsequent American victories allowed Harrison to attempt another invasion of Canada, which led to the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813. After a successful American charge, Procter's forces turned and fled, leaving Tecumseh and his American Indian troops to fight alone. They fought on, eventually being defeated. Perhaps of more importance to the British, at this battle Tecumseh died, and their alliance with the American Indians was effectively over. As for Governor General Prevost, who often clashed with Brock, he remained in command of all British forces until after the Battle of Plattsburgh, in 1814. The battle was intended to be a joint naval/infantry attack, but Prevost didn't commit his forces until after the naval battle had nearly ended. When he finally did attack, his forces proved unable to cross the Saranac River bridge, which was held by a small group of American regulars under the command of the recently promoted John E. Wool. Despite a heavy advantage in manpower, Prevost finally retreated upon hearing of the failure of the naval attack. For his failure at Plattsburgh, Prevost was recalled to England to face an inquiry. Prevost's health failed him, and he died in early 1815.

In Canada

Canadians regard Brock as one of their greatest military heroes, since he helped save the Canadian colonies when all seemed hopeless. He was even voted #28 on The Greatest Canadian, despite not actually being a Canadian. A web-based surveyTemplate:Ref by Angus Reid polling group placed him as the greatest of Canadian military heroes. A small cairn at the foot of the escarpment marks the spot where Brock fell while an impressive monument, built by public subscription, overlooks the Heights as a lasting tribute. The monument was bombed and heavily damaged in 1840 by Irish-Canadian terrorist Benjamin Lett, but it was later repaired, although the bodies inside had to be temporarily moved so as not to damage them. Inscribed on the monument are the words: "He fell in action the 13th day of October 1812, in the 43rd year of his age. Honoured and beloved by the people whom he governed, and deplored by his Sovereign to whose service his life had been devoted. His remains are deposited in this vault, as also those of his aide de camp, Lieutenant-colonel John Macdonell, who died of his wounds, the 14th of October 1812, received the day before in action." There is a monument to General Brock's horse Alfred Template:Ref located at the south end of the village of Queenston nearby the cairn marking the spot where Brock fell. In 1816, a series of private half-penny tokens were issued by an unknown company bearing Brock's name and the title "The Hero of Upper Canada". This was somewhat ironic, as private copper tokens had become common in Canada due to initial distrust of "army bills", which were paper notes issued by BrockTemplate:Ref. Also in tribute to him are named the City of Brockville Template:Ref, the Township of Brock, and a university at St. Catharines, Brock University. Other schools named in his honour include the Isaac Brock School in Winnipeg (built in 1913), and the Sir Isaac Brock Public schools in Guelph, Hamilton and London, Ontario. Various roads throughout Ontario are also named after him. There is also at least one vessel named after him, the SS Isaac BrockTemplate:Ref. The Bruce Trail has its southern terminus about 200 metres from Brock's Monument on the easterly side of the Monument park grounds.

In England

Although Brock's achievements were overshadowed by larger-scale fighting in Europe, his death was still widely noted, particularly in Guernsey. Subsequent failures by other British commanders in Canada helped to cement Brock's outstanding reputation. In London, he is remembered at a moderate memorial in St. Paul's Cathedral, and in Guernsey he has been commemorated by a series of stamps. He was given the title 'Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB)' posthumously for his victory at the Battle of Detroit. The depot of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, created in 1881, is named "Brock's Barracks", in his honour. A British naval vessel, the HMS Isaac Brock, was destroyed while under construction at the Battle of York.


  1. Template:Note Traditionally, the regimental colours were placed in the care of the regiment's most junior officer, which in this case would be Brock.
  2. Template:Note It was estimated that throughout the 19th century, annual desertion rates were occasionally as high as five percent of all British soldiers posted. Brock described desertion as a "contagion".
  3. Template:Note See letters from Brock to his brothers dated September 5, 1808 and November 19, 1808.
  4. Template:Note See letters from Brock to his brothers dated December 31, 1809, and to the Right Honourable W. Windham, dated February 12, 1807, and also to Lt.-Gen. Prevost, dated December 2, 1811.
  5. Template:Note See letters from Brock to Lt.-Gen. Prevost, dated December 2 and 3, 1811.
  6. Template:Note See Chapter 1 of Tupper.
  7. Template:Note The survey was conducted during the time that The Greatest Canadian was airing, and was not scientifically accurate, since it was internet-only. See opinion poll.
  8. Template:Note Colonel John Macdonell, taking command until the arrival of Sheaffe, rode Alfred while leading a charge immediately after Brock's death. Macdonell was injured and died after the battle, and Alfred was shot and killed during the battle.
  9. Template:Note Canada had no official currency at the time, and English currency was rare. This left the primary currencies in Canada as American and Spanish dollars. Brock's "army bills" were in terms of Spanish dollars, and ceased circulation after the war.
  10. Template:Note Originally Buell's Bay, renamed after Brock's death in 1812.
  11. Template:Note This website discusses the SS Isaac Brock. [1] (


  • Benn, Carl. The War of 1812. Osprey Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1841764663
  • Berton, Pierre. The Invasion of Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1980. ISBN 0316092169 (v. 1)
  • ———. Capture of Detroit. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991. ISBN 0771014252
  • ———. Death of Isaac Brock. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991. ISBN 0771014260
  • Ferguson, Will. Bastards & Boneheads. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1999. ISBN 1550547372
  • Hitsman, J. Mackay, et. al. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History. Orig. pub. 1965, reprinted by Robin Brass Studio, 2001. ISBN 1896941133
  • Malcomson, Robert. Burying General Brock. Peninsula Press, 1996. ISBN 0969929811
  • Tupper, Ferdinand Brock. The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K.B. Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1845.

External links


Preceded by:
Francis Gore
Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada
Succeeded by:
Roger Hale Sheaffe

Template:End boxde:Isaac Brock


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