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General Brock
Chapter I - His Birthplace


"Thou Guernsey! bravely crowned With rough embattled rocks: . . ."
—Drayton "Severe et douce."—Victor Hugo.

"IN that corner of the old Norman land where live the little people of the sea, in that island of Guernsey, stern yet mild," Isaac Brock was born.

It was a rough cradle, yet not an unkind one. Though for countless ages its shores have been beaten about and broken by its relentless enemy, the ocean, yet behind that bold and serried front lie peaceful glens and valleys carpeted with heather and gorse, and fair fields full of lovely ferns. Cruel reefs lie around the island—the terror of sailors, and out from the sea fog that hovers over them loom giant rocks, strange and grotesque shapes, into which the sea has hollowed many a cavern, haunted, as old legends tell, by the evil spirits of the deep.

Guarded by those granite cliffs, apart from the world—for in the eighteenth century there was but little communication with either England or France —the simple folk of the island lived. The women were famed for their beauty, blue-eyed and rosy-cheeked, a combination of Saxon fairness and Norman freshness; the men were hardy, bold and daring, as became those who gained their living in such a precarious way as sailors and fishermen and smugglers of the Channel Islands.

In addition to the fishermen and the sailors there were the country people who lived on and cultivated their own estates, the largest of which did not exceed seventy-five English acres. Wheat was the principal crop, and dairy products the chief source of profit. Beside the country people there lived in or near St. Peter's Port, the capital, another distinct set of inhabitants, who may be called the upper or governing class. To this class the family of Brock belonged.

Guernsey contains about twenty-five square miles. Its shape is that of a right-angled triangle. The sides face the south, the east, and the north-west, and are respectively about six and one-half, six, and nine miles long. The only town of importance and the seat of government is St. Peter's Port, situated on the slope of a hill about the middle of the more sheltered eastern coast. South of the town rise the cliffs crowned by a strong fortress. At the entrance of the harbour is Castle Cornet, once a detached island fort, dating from Plantaganet days, afterwards the residence of the governors and also a prison.1 The appearance of the town on approaching it by sea is imposing, but the streets are narrow, steep and crooked, and the houses, although substantial, are dusky looking and old. The harbour of St. Peter's Port was begun by order of Edward I., and was in course of construction for two centuries. St. Peter's Church, a fine building of the fourteenth century, was consecrated in 1312. It was not until the sixth century that Christianity was introduced into the island by Sampson, Archbishop of St. David's, whose memory the small town of St. Sampson on the east coast still keeps green. Previous to this Druidism had been the religion, and cromlechs and relics of that old system still remain.

The Channel Islands were once included in the "Duchy of Normandie," and are the only parts of that duchy which remain to the English Crown. Again and again Guernsey has been unsuccessfully attacked by the French, who, from the days of Edward I. to those of Edward VI., strove to subdue its Anglo-Norman inhabitants. Through the centuries they retained their northern love of independence, and Guernsey is still governed by its own laws and ancient institutions. It is divided into ten parishes, whose rectors, appointed by the Crown, sit in the elective states. The chief court of justice in the island is the royal court, whose falling, and ruinous through default of the timber, and asks permission to take the timber from a house called "The Priory of the Vale," to s assist in repairing the castle, as he could procure no timber either from Normandy or Brittany, or any other port, on account of the war power is very extensive and rather undefined. It consists of the bailiff, appointed by the Crown, who presides, and twelve jurats appointed by the islanders through their delegates to the elective states. There is an appeal in certain cases to the king in council. The French language is used in the courts and on public occasions. The dialect of the people in the eighteenth century was still the pure Norman of many centuries before. Each parish had a school, but the principal one was Elizabeth College, originally a grammar school founded by Queen Elizabeth, where Hebrew, Greek and Latin, French, German, Spanish, Italian, drawing, music, fencing, and drilling were taught for the modest sum of twelve pounds a year.

Although wealth and luxury were almost unknown among them, the governing class in St. Peter's Port formed an extremely aristocratic and exclusive set, vying in dress, manners, and language with society of the same rank in England. Their children were frequently sent there to school, and as their sons grew up, commissions in the English army and navy were eagerly sought, and in many a hard-fought battle on land and sea, the men of Guernsey have won renown. It was not the gentler born alone that were trained to arms. By the law of the island, every male inhabitant between the age of sixteen and thirty-three was bound to render "man service to the Crown," and in the stormy days of the latter half of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, they were often called on to take their share in the king's wars.

For generations the Brocks had lived in St. Peter's Port, and as Guernsey chronicles go back to legendary times, the story that they were descended from one Sir Hugh Brock who came there in the fourteenth century is perhaps a true one.

It seems that in the reign of Edward III. an English knight of that name was keeper of the castle of Derval, in Brittany. When the French overran that country this castle was besieged by the Duke of Bourbon, the Earls of Alen9on and Perch e, and a gallant array of the chivalry of France. Now Sir Hugh Brock's cousin, Sir Robert Ivnolles, who was governor of the duchy of Brittany, was also at that time besieged in Brest by the famous Bertrand du Guesclin. He succeeded in driving off his assailants, and then marched to the relief of his cousin, Sir Hugh, who was on the point of surrendering when the timely succour arrived. The English were, however, soon after driven out of France by the valiant du Guesclin, and as Guernsey lies directly between the coast of Brittany" and England it is not improbable that this same Sir Hugh or some of his family settled there.

Toward the close of the seventeenth century, one William Brock, of St. Peter's Port, had three sons and one daughter. The eldest son, William, married Judith de Beauvoir, also of an ancient Guernsey family. The third son, Henry, married Susan Saumarez, the sister of that valiant sailor, afterwards the celebrated Admiral Lord de Saumarez. The second son, John, born on January 24th, 1729, married in 1758 Elizabeth de Lisle,1 daughter of the bailiff of the island, whose ancestor, Sir John de Lisle, had been governor of Guernsey in the reign of Henry IV. By her he had fourteen children, of whom ten lived to- maturity. Isaac was the eighth son, and was born on October 6th, 1769,2 the year that also saw the birth of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1777 the family was deprived of a father's care, for Mr. John Brock, formerly a midshipman in His Majesty's navy, died at Dinan in that year at the early age of forty-eight. His two eldest sons had already entered the army, John as an ensign in the 8th (King's), Ferdinand in the 60th, that famous regiment once known as the Royal Americans, which was raised in the colonies in the time of the struggle with France, and which afterwards did such good service in the American war. These were strenuous times, and England was fighting in all parts of the world.

In 1779, just two years after his father's death, s The house where the family lived and in which Isaac was probably born and certainly brought up, is a very fine granite one, which still remains, in the centre of the town of St. Peter's Port It was bought by his father, John Brock, on July 29th, 1769, possession to be had at the ensuing Michaelmas Day, which fell a week before Isaac's birth.—From information given by Miss Henrietta Tupper.

Ferdinand, a youth of nineteen, was killed at the defence of Baton Rouge, on the Mississippi. Isaac was then ten years old, a strong and lusty youth. At that age he was sent to school, for a short time to Southampton, and afterwards under the care of a French pastor in Rotterdam. While in Guernsey he attended Queen Elizabeth's school, where the Rev. C. Crispin was headmaster. But school life and academical distinction were not to be his portion. At the early age of fifteen he followed the example of his brothers, and on March 2nd, 1785, he obtained a commission, by purchase, in the 8th Regiment, in which his eldest brother had just purchased a captaincy, after ten years' service in America. Though young in years he even then showed proofs of that indomitable will which so distinguished him in after life. Feeling the defects of his education he determined to devote his leisure to study, and often the young ensign would, in despite of jeers, turn from his gay comrades to pass his time among his books, with his door locked to prevent intrusion. Not that he was by any means a prig, for, trained to athletic sports from his earliest years, Isaac Brock had the reputation of being the best boxer and the boldest swimmer among his competitors at school and on the island.

When he entered the army it was at a time of peace, when England was recovering from her long and disastrous American war, and the French Revolution with all its horrors had not yet convulsed Europe. It was well for the young soldier that peaceful garrison duty at home was his lot for a few years. There was plenty of work in store for him abroad. In 1790 he purchased his lieutenancy and for a time was quartered in Guernsey and the neighbouring island of Jersey.

At the same time, though not in the same regiment, there was quartered with him Mr. Francis Gore, exactly of his own age, who had entered the army about the same time, and who was destined in after years to be associated with him in Canada.

In 1791, having raised an independent company, Isaac Brock was gazetted as captain and exchanged into the 49th, then ordered on foreign service in the West Indies. He was now no longer a stripling but a man of twenty-two, of commanding stature, very erect, of a strong athletic build, with a frank, open countenance and very winning manners. Though of a very gentle disposition, he yet possessed that quickness of decision and firmness in peril which on many trying occasions during his military career proved most useful qualities. From 1791 to 1793 he was quartered in Barbadoes and Jamaica.

During those years, though still at peace, England had spent three millions in increasing her navy, and was, therefore, well prepared to hold her supremacy on the sea.

In 1793 the war that the great minister, Pitt, had vainly tried to avert, broke out, and from that time until the peace of Amiens in 1801, England was engaged in a desperate struggle with her hereditary foe led by the consummate genius of Napoleon. On December 1st, 1793, the French Convention declared war on Great Britain and Holland. Pitt thought that the war would be brief, but he had miscalculated the power and resources of the enemy, and for more than seven years it raged without intermission.

Service in the West Indies had proved disastrous to Brock, for he fell ill of a fever there which nearly cost him his life, and to which his young cousin succumbed. Through this illness Brock was most tenderly and skilfully nursed by his servant Dobson, who followed his fortunes and was his faithful friend throughout his life. On his recovery, Captain Brock was ordered home on sick leave, and the healing salt breezes of his native island soon restored him to health. In September, 1794, it was the intention of the royal court of Guernsey to raise a local regiment for the defence of the island, and the majority in it was offered to Captain Brock, then on leave. He accepted conditionally, but the appointment which would have changed his whole career fell through, as the intention of the government was not carried out.

He was then employed in the recruiting service in England, and on June 24th, 1795, he purchased a majority in his own regiment. That year his mother died. Two years later, at the early age of twenty-eight, he became senior lieutenant-colonel of the 49th. His predecessor had been obliged to sell out on account of some mismanagement, and had left the regiment in a most disorganized state, requiring a firm hand to bring it under control.

The year 1797 was one of the most disastrous that England had ever experienced. Although in 1795 the Cape of Good Hope and Ceylon had been added to the English Crown, the powers of Europe were now combining against her. Prussia, Sweden, and Spain had come to terms with the republic of France. Bonaparte had overrun the north of Italy, and in October, 1796, Spain had been forced to declare war against England. The Dutch, French and Spanish fleets formed a powerful armada for the invasion of England, while in Ireland the Black flag of rebellion had been raised. There was dearth and famine and discontent at home, while generals and armies were uniformly unsuccessful abroad.

Once again, though, as of old, the wooden walls of England proved her salvation. By a brilliant victory off Cape St. Vincent on February 14th, 1797, Jervis and Nelson crushed the Spanish fleet and put a stop to the meditated invasion. Worse than attacks from the enemy abroad was the discontent that had crept into both the army and navy of England, and which broke out into open mutiny during this year. There were grievances, no doubt, for soldiers and sailors at that time were treated with the greatest severity. Recruited as the service was by means of the press gang, it was impossible to expect a high standard of conduct from those who were pressed from the prisons and the slums. It is rather to be wondered at that with such material England's navy did so well.

It was in the month of April, 1797, that the crews of the Channel fleet rose. in rebellion, and the disaffection spread with extraordinary rapidity all over the world. At the Cape of Good Hope the squadron stationed there rose in revolt. In the West Indies, off Porto Rico, the crew of the Hermione, infuriated by the cruelty of their captain, killed all their officers and delivered the ship over to the Spaniards. At the mouth of the Texel, Admiral Duncan, who was blockading the coast of Holland, was deserted by all of his ships save two, and only by skilful manoeuvring succeeded in keeping the enemy in ignorance of his perilous position.

The mutiny came at a time when England was pressed on all sides, and had the state of affairs been known by the French and the Dutch, irremediable disaster would probably have resulted. Even the army was affected. At Woolwich the artillerymen were insubordinate, and it was believed that secret agents of the French were at work corrupting the army.

The 49th at that time was quartered on the banks of the Thames. As the privates of the regiment evidently sympathized with the mutineers, Brock kept a strict watch over the regiment, seldom going to bed before daylight, and always sleeping with loaded pistols beside him. During the day he frequently visited the barrack rooms to tear down or erase such inscriptions as, "The Navy Forever."

Fortunately for England, the blaze that threatened to break out in both services, died out in a few weeks. The courage, good sense and intrepidity of the officers in command soon restored order, and the glorious victory of Camperdown in October, when Admiral Duncan destroyed the Dutch fleet showed that the "mariners of England" had once more returned to duty.

The young colonel of the 49th now devoted himself to getting his unruly regiment into a good state of discipline. He proved most successful in the management of his men. "Severe et douce" his stern yet mild rule won the commendation of the commander-in-chief, who declared that Lieutenant-Colonel Brock, from one of the worst, had made the 49th one of the best regiments in the service.


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