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General Brock
Chapter II - Service Abroad - Holland


ISAAC BROCK had now been thirteen years in the army, but, although his promotion had been rapid, he had as yet seen but little of active service. In 1798 his regiment was quartered in Jersey. In 1799 it was ordered to England to be in readiness to take part in an expedition against Holland, then occupied by the forces of the French republic.

It was at the breaking out of the war in 1793 that the first expedition to that country had taken place under the command of the Duke of York. At that time England was in alliance with Austria, whose army was commanded by the Prince of Coburg. The campaign, which began auspiciously, ended most disastrously for the allies, and the army was only saved from utter destruction by the skill, energy and wisdom of General Abercromby, who conducted the retreat. In spite of his former failure the Duke of York was again entrusted with the command in 1799. With him went also General, then Sir Ralph, Abercromby, who, in 1796, had won such triumphs for England in the West Indies by the capture of Grenada, Demerara, Essequibo, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Trinidad.

General Moore, who had also greatly distinguished himself at the capture of those islands, accompanied the expedition to Holland. England on this occasion had entered into an alliance with Russia, who sent to Holland an army of sixteen thousand men. The objects of the expedition were to make a diversion in favour of the Russian general Suwarrow and the Archduke Charles of Austria, who were fighting the French in Italy and Switzerland, and to cooperate with the English fleet on the coast of Holland. Ostensibly England's purpose was to rescue Holland from the thraldom of France.

Abercromby's division of ten thousand men set sail from England on August 13th, 1799, and with it went the 49th Regiment under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Brock, who was then just thirty years of age. After a stormy passage they landed near the Helder on the 27th of that month. A short engagement ensued, when the British troops compelled the enemy to retreat and Sir Ralph Abercromby took possession of the peninsula, entrenched himself there, and occupied the evacuated batteries. When the Dutch fleet saw the entrenchments of the Helder occupied by the English they slipped their cables and tried to escape, but were chased by the British fleet and compelled to surrender.

The second division of the army, under the Duke of York, followed on September 9th, as soon as news was received of the successful landing of the first. It consisted of thirty battalions of infantry, five hundred cavalry and a train of artillery. The fleet remained at anchor off the coast of North Holland. It was certainly unfortunate, as results proved, that the chief command, by the arrival of the Duke of York, was taken from Sir Ralph Abercromby, for the position of the army on a hostile shore opposed by that skilful French general, Marshal Brune, required a leader of consummate experience. Abercromby's methods had inspired the troops under him with confidence, while, to say the least, the Duke of York had but an indifferent reputation as a commander.

Isaac Brock was accompanied on this campaign by his younger brother Savery, who had entered the navy some time before as a midshipman but had been compelled to retire from that service., on account of some breach of discipline. He had volunteered for this expedition and had been allowed to join his brother's regiment as paymaster.

The account of the landing and subsequent events is related by Brock in a letter to his brother John, who was then stationed at the Cape of Good Hope in command of the 31st Regiment. Brock says:—"After beating the seas from the 8th to the 27th of August we landed near the Helder. The fourth brigade was under General Moore and consisted of the Royals, 25th, 49th, 79th and 92nd. To our utter astonishment the enemy gave us no annoyance. On the contrary he evacuated the town which we took quiet possession of on the following morning. The next evening a reinforcement of five thousand men arrived, but could not land for two days, and in the meantime our troops lay exposed on the sand hills without the least shelter to cover them from the wind and rain. At length the army moved forward eleven miles and got into cantonments along a canal extending the whole breadth of the country from the Zuyder Zee on the one side to the main ocean on the other, protected by an amazingly strong dyke running half a mile in front of the line."

The army, by the arrival of sixteen thousand Russians, was now increased to thirty-five thousand men, but these allies became rather a source of trouble than a help. Though brave, they were undisciplined, and in the advance on Bergen, on September 19th, after driving the enemy before them, they dispersed for plunder, whereupon the French rallied, and drove the disorganized Russians at the point of the bayonet before them, without giving them a chance to reform. At last they encounted a British brigade, whom they blamed for not coming sooner to their support. The Russians had, unfortunately, been entrusted by the Duke of York with the principal attack, while Sir Ralph had been detached with ten thousand men to attack the town of Hoarn. October 2nd was fixed upon for a final assault on Bergen. In this, Abercromby led the right column along the sand to Egmont op Zee. He was successful, but by the failure of the other division the victory was of no avail in the final disaster that overtook the English troops.

In his letter to his brother, Brock, who was in Abercromby's column, describes the battle known as Egmont op Zee. He says:—"No commanding officer could have been more handsomely supported than I was on that day, ever glorious to the 49th. Poor Archer brought his company to the attack in a most soldier-like manner; and even after he had received his mortal wound he animated his men, calling on them to go on to victory, to glory, and no order could have been more effectually obeyed. I got knocked down soon after the enemy began to retreat, but never quitted the field, and returned to my duty in less than half an hour."

On this occasion Brock's life was saved, it is said, by his wearing, as the weather was cold, a stout cotton handkerchief over a thick, black silk cravat, both of which were perforated by the bullet. The violence of the blow was so great that it stunned and dismounted him. Another fellow-officer wounded at the same time was Lord Aylmer, afterwards governor-general of Canada.

The letter continues: "Savery acted during the whole of this day as aide-de-camp either to Sir Ralph or to General Moore, and nothing could surpass his activity and gallantry. He had a horse shot under him, and had all this been in his line he must have been particularly noticed as he has become the astonishment of all who saw him. We remained that night and the following on the sand hills; you cannot conceive our wretched state as it blew and rained nearly the whole time. Our men bore all this without grumbling, although they had nothing to eat but the biscuits they carried with them which were completely wet. We at length got into Egmont, and the following day, the 5th, into Alkmaar, where we enjoyed ourselves amazingly."

It is always with pride and affection that Isaac Brock speaks of his brother Savery, who resembled him much both in appearance and character. The offence for which this young midshipman had been dismissed from the navy was one occasioned by the goodness of his heart, for, indignant at the cruel punishment of mast-heading then prevalent, he had dared to sign a round robin asking for its discontinuance. Savery remained in his brother's regiment as paymaster for about six years and then volunteered for Sir John Moore's expedition to Spain, where he acted as aide-de-camp to that general until his fall at Corunna. In the Peninsular epoch, to have been one of Sir John Moore's men carried with it a prestige quite sui generis.

A sergeant of the 49th (Fitz Gibbon, Afterwards the distinguished Colonel Fitz Gibbon) gives this tribute to the young paymaster's conduct during the battle of Egmont op Zee. He writes:—"After the deployment of the 49th on the sand hills I saw no more of Lieutenant-Colonel Brock, being separated from him with that part of the regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Sheaffe. Soon after, we commenced firing on the enemy and at intervals rushing from one line of sand hills to another, behind which the soldiers were made to cover themselves and fire over their summits. I saw at some distance to my right Savery Brock, the paymaster, directing and encouraging the men while passing from the top of one sand hill to another. He alone kept continually on the tops of the hills during the firing, and at every advance from one range to another he led the men, and again was seen above all the others. Not doubting but that great numbers of French soldiers would be continually aiming at him—a large man thus exposed—I watched from moment to moment for about two hours expecting to see him fall; while in my view, he remained untouched. Being at this time only eighteen years of age, I did not venture to give any orders or instructions although a sergeant, but after witnessing Savery Brock's conduct I determined to be the first to advance every time at the head of those around me. I made up my mind then to think no more, if possible, of my own life, but leave the care of it to Divine Providence and strain every nerve to do my duty. I make this statement to show that to the conduct of Savery Brock on that day I was indebted for this valuable example and lesson."

As an instance that discretion is sometimes'the better part of valour the narrator continues, "About five o'clock p. m., on the same day, while overheed-lessly running too far ahead of my men, I was cut off by some French soldiers who issued from behind a sand hill on my flank, and made me prisoner alone. After my return from prison in the January following I heard the soldiers repeat Colonel Brock's words to the paymaster when he first saw him among the men in action on that day, 'By the Lord Harry, Master Savery, did not I order you, unless you remained with the general, to stay with your iron chest? Go back to it, sir, immediately,' to which he answered playfully, "Mind your regiment, Master Isaac, you would not have me quit the field now?'"

In the victory of Egmont op Zee several pieces of cannon, a great number of tumbrels, and a few hundred prisoners were taken, and the loss of the French was estimated at more than four thousand men. Unfortunately the success of the division led by Abercromby was more than counterbalanced by the disasters that befell the rest of the army. The Russians alone in this short campaign lost four thousand men and two of their generals were taken. The allies now were unable to advance or to draw any resources from the country, but had to obtain their supplies from the fleet.

When the Duke of York first arrived in Holland he had issued a proclamation announcing that the invasion was undertaken to deliver the country from the servile yoke of France, and calling on all patriotic Dutchmen to rise in arms. This invitation had not been accepted.

The Duke then assembled a council of war, and in spite of Abercromby's protest, it was decided that the allied forces should fall back and await orders from the British government. In the meanwhile the English and Russian troops concentrated behind their entrenchments on the Zyp, where they were hard pressed by the enemy. As the season was so far advanced and winter made the navigation of the coast more dangerous, the Duke was ordered to evacuate the country. He therefore sent a flag of truce to General Brune proposing a capitulation on the basis of an armistice or free embarkation of his army. The English restored their prisoners on condition of being allowed to sail immediately. This was agreed to at Alkmaar on October 18th, and thus ended this memorable expedition, which, in spite of individual bravery, reflected but little credit on British arms. One result of it was the withdrawal of Russia in anger from the alliance. That country had certainly been most unfortunate not only during the campaign, but afterwards.

As foreign troops were not allowed in England and as it was too late in the season to send them home, the Russians were quartered in Jersey and Guernsey where a disease contracted in the marshy lands of Holland broke out and carried off great numbers.

The 49th Regiment returned to England, and then was sent to Jersey. Lieutenant-Colonel Brock obtained leave of absence and spent some time at his home in Guernsey. His junior, Lieutenant-Colonel Sheaffe, was left in command, but for some reason or other incurred the dislike of the men. At the first regimental parade after Brock's return the men as soon as they saw him gave him three cheers. For this breach of discipline their beloved colonel marched them into the barrack square, rebuked them for unmilitary conduct and confined them to barracks for a week.


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