Most mortals content themselves with the thought that, when they have passed to the Great Beyond, each will receive the common heritage of man,—six feet of earth beneath the sod in some secluded, well-kept 'God's Acre'. To few is given the distinction of having more than one burial, yet such an honour was accorded Sir Isaac Brock, the Hero of Upper Canada.
No braver soldier than General Brock ever fought to defend the British flag against the attack of an enemy. Every Canadian is familiar with the story of the Battle of Queenston Heights, when Brock, at the head of his small band of volunteers, bravely commenced the steep ascent, even though he knew that the ambushed enemy on the top of the mountain far outnumbered his own men. Soon after the upward climb was commenced Brock fell, a victim of the enemy's lire, on the hillside, as did his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant McDonnell.
The bodies were hidden in a nearby stone house while the battle raged. Later they were taken to Niagara, where Brock's body lay in state at Government House for three days. Then, on October 16, 1812, he was buried in the Cavaliers' bastion at Fort George, where he lay undisturbed for twelve years.
In 1824 the government granted money for the erection of a monument on Queenston Heights to commemorate the memory of General Brock. On October 13, of the same year, his body and that of his aide, McDonnell, were removed from Fort George to Queenston Heights where an impressive ceremony took place in the presence of five thousand people. The funeral procession was two miles long, and took three hours to traverse the distance between Niagara and Queenston, where it slowly ascended the Heights.
A poster, printed by William Lyon MacKenzie, a copy of which is in the Niagara Historical Society Museum at Niagara-on-the-Lake, gives an outline of the funeral arrangements, in 1824. The First and Fourth Regiments of Lincoln Militia, the Royal Artillery, the Grenadiers and the 76th Regiment are mentioned.
An amusing story is told in connection with the erection of the first monument. As is the custom, copies of the newspapers of the day, along with coins, were placed in the foundation stone. When Sir Peregrine Maitland, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, discovered that a copy of Sir William Lyon MacKenzie's paper, 'The Colonial Advocate," then being printed at Queenston, was among the number, he ordered it removed, after which the ceremony proceeded.
On April 17th, 1840, this first monument was blown up, supposedly by a Fenian named Benjamin Lett, who had taken part in the Rebellion of 1837-38, and had fled across the border. The explosion which was heard for many miles around, did not seriously damage the huge shaft, but the charge of gunpowder completely demolished the winding stairway, leaving the interior "as clean as a gun barrel".
On July 30th of the same year, an "indignation meeting" was held on the Heights to consider ways and means of replacing the wrecked monument. An immense crowd of 8,000 persons gathered, producing one of the most spectacular sights ever seen in Canada. Ten steamers ascended the river, coming from Kingston, Cobourg, Hamilton and Toronto, H.M.S. "Traveller" bringing up the rear with the Governor and his suite on board. At the same time there was a huge procession on land, and cheers from ship to shore and shore to ship echoed up and down the river. The presence of the Royal Artillery, the 93rd Highlanders and the Dragoons with their burnished helmets added brilliancy to the scene.
A large pavillion had been erected on the Heights and dinner provided for one thousand persons, for which tickets were sold at 7s:6d. Eloquent speeches were made by many notables of the day, among whom were David Thorburn, William Woodruff, Colonel McDougal and William Hamilton Merritt. There were eleven resolutions, and as each resolution afforded an opportunity for a speech from both the mover and seconder, it was late before the meeting closed. A legend exists at Niagara that the caterers who had so lavishly provided for so great a number of hungry people, lost heavily.
A thrilling incident happened on that memorable occasion. The committee had made arrangements for a man from Buffalo to place a British flag on top of the shattered column. After ascending only twenty feet he returned to the ground with the excuse that he could not find a foothold. Matthew Murphy, a young Irishman, twenty-one years of age, who was a sailor on H.M.S. "Traveller/' was suddenly heard to shout:
"I'll put the British flag on top, or die in the attempt, before any foreigner will do it!"
He called for thirty fathoms of twine, one end of which he attached to his suspenders. Then, while the speeches were still being made, he started the perilous climb. At a distance of 150 feet from the ground a twelve-foot platform or gallery extended around the monument. Soon Murphy climbed over the edge of this, and easily ascended the remaining height. The flag staff leaned, refusing to stand upright. Young Murphy called for chips with which to wedge it, but at first could not make himself understood. Finally the required chips were hoisted by means of a small rope fastened to the end of the twine. In the same way the flag was carried aloft and was soon floating on the breeze, greeted with rousing cheers from the anxious crowds below.
The descent of the monument was even more perilous, but was finally accomplished in safety. Murphy was presented with a hat, well-filled with money, which had been passed among the watchers.
The bodies of Brock and McDonnell had been placed in the Hamilton Burying Ground at Queenston while the second monument was being constructed. The corner-stone of this one was laid on October 13th, 1853. 850,000 had been subscribed by the military, civilians, and Indians, supplemented by a grant from the government. Every soldier had contributed one day's pay to the fund. Upon its completion another impressive funeral procession was held up the Heights from the village of Queenston.
In 1860, the late King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, laid the corner-stone of the small monument on the slope of the Heights, to mark the spot where the brave Brock fell.
Sir Isaac Brock's famous cocked hat, another prized possession of the Niagara Historical Society, played an important part in all three public funeral processions of the General, also in the ceremony at the obelisk at the foot of the Heights. It had reached Canada after Brock's death, had been taken in charge by his nephew, Captain Brock, who gave it to the Ball family. They, in turn, presented it to the Niagara Museum. It was handled and tried on by so many people on these occasions that it was returned in a very shabby state.
The famous monument on Queenston Heights is annually visited by thousands of tourists. Few of them realize, however, that beneath this imposing column of masonry there lies buried, along with his aide-de-camp, "The Man Who Had Four Burials"—the brave and gallant Sir Isaac Brock.