The Story of Isaac Brock: Hero, Defender and Saviour of Upper Canada/5
|←4||The Story of Isaac Brock: Hero, Defender and Saviour of Upper Canada by
V. Brock in Canada
Isaac Brock received with regret his orders to proceed with the 49th to Canada. Europe was still in the clutches of war. Great opportunities awaited the soldier of fortune in the struggle waging in the Peninsula. The prospect for military advancement in Canada was not encouraging. America was at peace. Canada was but slowly developing. While her exports of lumber and fish attracted the attention of the British merchant, her great resources were unknown except to the fur trader and the few United States speculators whose cupidity kept pace with their knowledge. Though the known sympathy of the United States for France was regarded as a possible excuse for hostility towards England, as yet this sympathy had found no official utterance, hence the outlook from a soldier's standpoint was far from desirable. Brock's life in the West Indies had created a distaste for garrison duty. While a past master in the details of barrack life, his career under arms had created an aversion for the grind of drill and parade.
Life in the high latitudes of Canada would present a clean-cut contrast to tropical Barbadoes, but it was out of harmony with his ambition, and, judging by his spirits, he might have been embarking for penal servitude at Botany Bay rather than for the land which was to bring him lasting fame. Even the attentions of the devoted[Pg 37] Dobson, who had just filled his pipe, did not serve to arouse him. Brock's depression was short-lived. His optimism and faith banished gloomy thoughts. The ship had hardly dropped the last headland of the Irish coast when the winds bred in Labrador awoke the Viking strain in him and filled his soul with hope. The swinging seas of this northern ocean revived thoughts of the long-ago exploits of Sebastian Cabot, the discoverer of Newfoundland, and of his own sea-dog ancestors, those rough-riders of the sea who had defied the banks of Sable Island and returned to St. Peter's Port with their rich cargoes of contraband, looking innocent as kittens, while the ship was bursting with fur, fin and feather. So, pipe in mouth, with the frigate close-hauled, watching her bows splintering the sea into a million jewels, he left care behind, and thenceforward his busy brain was forming plans that would soften his exile in that land of chilling promise he was approaching.
He had been told to expect magnificent scenery, but was quite unprepared for the picture that the Gulf of St. Lawrence unfolded. The Straits of Belle Isle, the Magdalen Islands, the brazen bosom of the Bay of Chaleur that had allured Jacques Cartier 265 years before, the might of the noble river and the glorious vista of the citadel and frowning heights of Quebec, where Wolfe and Montcalm fell—the ancient Stadacona framed in the sunset—amazed him. A presage of coming conflict crowded his brain.
"Manfully tell me the truth."
Carr, an educated soldier of the 49th, was hesitating. Desertions had been frequent at Quebec, and discipline must be restored. Stepping up, with hand clenched, the officer continued, "Don't lie! Tell the truth like a man. You know I have ever treated you kindly." The confession of intended desertion followed. "Go, then," said Colonel Brock,—"go and tell your deluded comrades everything that has passed here, and also that I will still treat every man of you with kindness, and then you may desert me if you please."
During the three years of his command at Montreal, York, Fort George and Quebec, though mutiny was epidemic in both Europe and America, Brock had lost but one man by desertion. He had won the loyalty of the rank and file. FitzGibbon said of him that "he created by his judicious praise the never-failing interest of the men in the ranks." His accurate knowledge of human nature served him in the graver experiences of life which followed. His stay in Quebec was short. A study of the ancient citadel and its incomplete fortifications occupied his time. In the summer of 1803 he was stationed at York, a hamlet carved out of the backwoods, sustaining a handful of people, but famous as the gathering-place of many wise men. He found that desertions in Upper Canada had become too frequent. The temptations offered by a long line of frontier easy of access, and the desperate discipline in the army, had led to much brutality in the way of punishments.
Such were the conditions in Upper Canada when Brock reached York. Shortly after his arrival six men, influenced by an artificer, stole a military batteau and started across the lake to Niagara. By midnight Brock, with his trusty sergeant-major and the ever-watchful Dobson, in another batteau with twelve men, passed out of the western gap in hot pursuit of the defaulters. Though the night was calm the trip was perilous. Before them stretched a waste of water, but our hero was in his element. He was living over again his daring visits to the Casquets through the furious seas that raced between St. Sampson and the Isle of Herm.
The crew was divided into "watches," six taking an hour's "breather" while the other six rowed, hour and hour about, alternately rowing and resting. When the wind served they hoisted their big square sail, our hero at the tiller. On this occasion there was little wind, and "Master Isaac," for example's sake, and "to keep my biceps and fore-arm in good condition"—as he told the sergeant-major—took his regular spells at the oar. On arriving at Fort George, Colonel Hunter, Governor and Commandant, rebuked him for rashly venturing across the lake in an open boat, "a risk," he said, "never before undertaken." The expedition, however, was successful, for the deserters were surprised on the American shore and made prisoners.
- Lake Ontario was crossed from Toronto to the wharf at the mouth of the Niagara River in an ordinary double-scull, lap-strake pleasure-skiff, by the writer and another Argonaut—Herbert Bartlett—one unruly morning in the summer of 1872. Though a risky row, and not previously attempted, it was not regarded as a remarkable feat by the performers.