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General Brock
Chapter XIII - The New Governor


TO be a major-general, and governor, and commander-in-chief of a province at the age of forty-two was no doubt an enviable position, but, with the irony of fate, just as he had reached it, an unlooked-for financial misfortune, involving his whole family, came upon Isaac Brock. Apart from the personal loss to himself, there was besides a threatened rupture of friendship between his brothers which touched his tender heart most keenly. The story of the misfortune is as follows: In June, 1811, a firm of London bankers and merchant brokers failed. Isaac Brock's eldest brother, William, was the senior member of the firm, and it was from this brother that he had received about three thousand pounds for the purchase of his commissions. William Brock had no children, and never intended to ask for the repayment of this sum. Unfortunately the loan appeared on the books of the firm, and General Brock was on the list of its debtors. The news of the failure came with double poignancy to Brock, on account of the difficulties in which it involved him, and also on account of the distress which had overtaken his favourite brother. Savery Brock was also a loser by the failure, which was aggravated by a coolness and estrangement that arose between William and his brother Irving, who was also connected with the firm.

General Brock writes from York to his brother Savery on October 7th, 1811: "I have this instant finished a letter to Irving. I attempted to write composedly, but found it impossible. The newspapers gave me the first intimation of the heavy misfortune we have all sustained. To this day I am without a single line from any of the family. Let me know how William and his wife support the sad change in their affairs. I want to be at once apprized of the full extent of our misery. Why keep me in this horrid suspense? I write merely to say —for my poor head will not allow me to say more— that to-morrow I enter into the official duties of president of this province. The salary attached to the situation is a thousand pounds, the whole of which I trust I shall be able to save, and after a year or two earn more. I go to Niagara next week, and shall again write through the states. Yesterday was the first truly gloomy birthday I have ever passed."

It was indeed a stinging blow to one who was the soul of honour and scrupulous to a degree in money affairs to find himself a debtor to such an amount, with no prospect of being able to discharge the debt. One may be sure, however, that sore as was the heart of the general, in outward appearance he was calm and unruffled, and none of the many who must have offered congratulations upon his inauguration as governor of the province would guess at the sorrow that weighed upon his heart.

The first letter that he received from home brought also the news of the estrangement of his brothers, Irving and William. General Brock writes to the former on October 30th: "Your letter of the 3rd of August was only received this day. To what a state of misery are we fallen! Poverty I was prepared to bear, but oh, Irving, if you love me, do not by any action or word add to the sorrows of poor unfortunate William. Remember his kindness to me—what pleasure he always found in doing me service. Hang the world!—it is not worth a thought —be generous, and find silent comfort in being so. Oh, my dear boy, forget the past, and let us all unite in soothing the griefs of one of the best hearts that heaven ever formed. I can well conceive that the cause of his ruin was excited by too ardent a wish to place us all in affluence. His wealth we were sure to divide. Why refuse him consolation? It is all, alas, I can offer. I shall write to him the instant I feel sufficiently composed. Could tears restore him he would soon be happy— every atom of resolution leaves me the moment I require it most. I sleep little, but am compelled to assume a smiling face during the day. My thoughts are fixed on you all, and the last thing that gives me any concern is the call which Savery prepares me to expect from the creditors. I did not think that I appeared in the books. The mistake was wholly mine. Let me know the sum. Are my commissions safe, or must they be sold? Can I not retain out of the wreck my two or three hundred a year? They would save us all from want, and we might retire to some corner and still be happy. You know the situation to which I have been lately raised. It will enable me to give up the whole of my salary — a thousand pounds yearly—and I shall enclose a power of attorney to enable you to receive it. Do with it what justice demands—pay as fast as you receive, unless, indeed, want among any of you calls for aid; in that case make use of the money and let the worst come. I leave everything to your discretion. If you possibly can satisfy my creditors, do so. I have been at three or four hundred pounds' expense in outfits, which I fear will prevent my remitting anything home this year, but the next I hope to spare to that amount. Depend upon my exercising the strictest economy, but I am in a position which must be upheld by a certain outlay. Did it depend upon myself, how willingly would I live upon bread and water. Governor Gore is gone home with a year's leave. Probably he will not return as long as the war continues. I ought not, however, to look to retain my situation above two years. I shall make all I can out of it by any fair means, for be satisfied that even your stern honesty shall have no just cause to censure one of my actions. But I cannot 164 look for much popularity in the homely way. I shall be constrained to proceed in the administration. Much show and feasting are indispensable to attract the multitude, especially in a colony like this where equality prevails to such a degree that men judge of your disposition by the frequency of the invitations they receive. At present all classes profess great regard and esteem for me, but although I hope they may, I cannot expect such sentiments will continue long. If I retain the friendship of the considerate and thoughtful I shall be satisfied, and I shall strive to merit the good opinion of such men. Henceforth I shall address you without reference to the past; we must consider how to get on in the future. You have read much, and I trust will profit by the lessons philosophers inculcate. Believe me, yours till doomsday."

Another letter is from the unfortunate cause of the trouble. William Brock writes: "You have received, or will receive shortly, a letter from our assignees, desiring to be informed in what manner the debt, which appears in our books as owing by you, is to be liquidated. Too well do I know, my dearest Isaac, your inability to pay it off yourself. It now amounts to something above three thousand pounds. The assignees will not, I believe, take any unpleasant steps to enforce the payment, yet it will be natural that they shall exact some sort of security from you. It was reported that legal proceedings were commenced against you, and upon this report, a young man lately from Canada, a Mr. Elliee, called on Charles Bell to enquire if it were so, and told Bell that rather than anything unpleasant should happen to you, so great was his esteem and friendship for you, that he would contrive to pay the debt himself. Besides his attachment to you, he told Bell you were so beloved in Canada that you would not want friends who would feel pleasure, in assisting you to any amount, if necessary. I know your love for me, and shall therefore say a little about myself. Savery was in London when the house stopped, and never shall I forget what I owe him for the warmth and interest he has uniformly shown in this hour of need. Do not, I pray you, my dearest Isaac, attribute my former silence to any diminution of affection, but to a depression of spirits which this final catastrophe has in some measure relieved, as a reality of misfortune is probably less painful than the preceding anxiety of it. Let us pray the prospect may again brighten. In you is all my present pride and future hope. Savery has within the last few days sent me a copy of your welcome letter of September 10th, from Montreal, and most cheering it is to our drooping spirits. May this find you well and hearty in your new honours at York."

The state of affairs in England at this time (1811) is told in a contemporary letter from Thomas G. Ridout, who was then on a visit there. He writes to his father, the surveyor-general of Upper Canada: "Trade is at a total stand here. In July and August the merchants made a desperate effort to get off their goods, and loaded eight hundred ships, which they sent to the Baltic for Russia, Sweden and Prussia, under an insurance of forty per cent. Some were lost on the sea, others taken by privateers, and the remainder got into ports where they were immediately seized and condemned. In consequence, most of the insurers at Lloyd's have failed, along with many rich and reputable houses. The foreign trade is almost destroyed, the Custom House duties are reduced upwards of one half. Of such dreadful power are Bonaparte's orders or edicts which have of late been enforced in the strictest manner all over the continent, that the commerce of England has been almost ruined."

This was doubtless the financial crisis in which William Brock had lost all.

Isaac Brock was not of a temperament to brood over his misfortunes; rather, he set himself with a will to the work that lay before him. There was much to be done in the province he had been called upon to govern, for his predecessor, Mr. Francis Gore, was an easy-going man, who had been content to leave affairs much as he found them, and many abuses had crept into the civil administration. One rather amusing instance was the discovery that two oxen had been maintained for some years at the public expense, for the purpose of making a road and of clearing away the heavy timber that lay between the garrison and the town. As the work was still unfinished, though years had passed since General Hunter had given orders for it, it was surmised that the oxen had been idle or kept for other purposes. General Brock requested the commander-in-chief to allow the oxen to resume their work, a completion of which was most necessary. So bad was the road at that time that communication between the garrison and Little York except by water was very difficult.

A letter from Surveyor-General Ridout tells of the new governor's energy. He writes from York on December 18th, 1811, "General Brock intends making this his headquarters, and to bring the navy, engineers and all the departments here in the spring. He told me a day or two ago that he will build an arsenal between the park and the beach on the lake, the government buildings, or rather, the public offices, in front of Mr. Elmsley's house, a regular garrison where the government house now is, and a government house contiguous to the public buildings. These intentions seem to show that he thinks of remaining with us for a certain time at least. I own I do not think that Governor Gore will return hither, but if this is not to be a permanent military government, I should think that depends upon himself. General Brock has also required from me plans of all the townships in the province, with the locations, which will be very heavy work." We can almost hear the sigh with which the worthy gentleman writes: "I own I do not like changes in administration."


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