Museum acquisition a signature event

March 18, 2013

The heavy paper is badly creased and slightly torn where it has been folded, and the large red seal in the upper left hand corner is hard to decipher today. But the name printed boldly atop the document, and then repeated in elegant copperplate at the bottom is unmistakable: Isaac Brock.

Purchased at auction by the Canadian War Museum in December 2012, it is a commission signed by Major-General Sir Isaac Brock in February 1812, appointing one Christopher Hagerman — “Gentleman,” as the document helpfully points out — to the rank of ensign in the First Regiment of Lennox Militia.

The language is ornate and the typography spindly, reminders of past times. To see Brock’s signature, though, gives us an immediate, somehow personal, connection to the man who played so great a role in preserving Canada. He reaches out to us across two centuries. And the commission, says Carol Reid, Collections Manager, Archives, at the Canadian War Museum, “reminds us that Brock was also an administrator, not just a battlefield general. The Lieutenant Governor was out of the province [of Upper Canada] at this point, so Brock was virtually running it.”

Christopher Alexander Hagerman, the recipient of Brock’s commission, was an interesting figure in his own right. Born in 1792 and known popularly as “Handsome Kit,” the well-placed Hagerman (his father was a prominent Loyalist) practiced law at Kingston before war broke out. He was present at the Battles of Crysler’s Farm, Oswego and Lundy’s Lane, and ultimately reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He enjoyed a successful postwar career, being appointed King’s Council in 1815, and elected to represent Kingston in the House of Assembly in 1820. He became solicitor general in 1829 and attorney general of Upper Canada in 1837, the first ever native-born Canadian to hold the post. Appointed a judge in 1840, he died in Toronto on May 14, 1847.

The commission’s first stop on arrival at the Museum will be conservation, to repair some small tears and de-acidify the paper. Once this work is finished, Reid says, “It may end up in our permanent galleries,” perhaps paired with the uniform General Brock was wearing when he died at Queenston Heights. “But even if it’s not on exhibition, it will always be available for consultation in the Military History Research Centre.”