By Haydn Brown.
Nothing is known with certainty of Revd. John Brooke’s early life and education, only a guess that he was probably born in Norfolk in 1709; however, it is recorded that he died at Colney, near Norwich on 21 January 1789. In between John Brooke was ordained a priest on 17 June 1733, and between 1733 and 1746 he became Rector, or perpetual curate, of five parishes in and around Norwich, England, all but one of which he held until his death.
In 1756 Brooke married Frances Moore, he was 15 years her senior. Frances was his second wife and already a prominent literary figure; they were to have a son and probably a daughter. Brooke was appointed acting chaplain in the British Army in February 1757 and was shipped out to Canada where he served as chaplain at the garrison at Quebec; he was part of the British forces fighting the Seven Years’ War with France, which included the territorial struggle for Canada. Frances, three months pregnant, went to live with her sister Sarah. On the other side of the Atlantic, Revd. Brooke was deputy chaplain in the 22nd Foot. By August 1758 he was garrison chaplain at Louisburg, Cape Breton Island until July 1760, when he went to Quebec.
In December of that year, Quebec’s Governor James Murray, who was a personal friend of Brooke for some 20 years, unofficially appointed him minister of Quebec and chaplain to the garrison. In Quebec, Church of England services, which had been celebrated in the Ursuline chapel from September 1759 until the summer of 1760, were held in the Recollet church following the Roman Catholic service. Neither the newly appointed Revd Brooke nor the Roman Catholic Church appreciated the arrangement; Brooke, in fact, considered it a humiliation for the state religion. In August 1761 about 100 civil officers and merchants in Quebec petitioned the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) to appoint Brooke its missionary at Quebec with a French-language assistant. By 28 Oct. 1761, Brooke was formally commissioned garrison chaplain, by which time he was also chaplain to the Royal Americans (60th Foot).
In 1763, with the war over with France, Frances Brooke set sail for Canada to join her husband after a six-and-a-half-year separation. She was accompanied by her sister and her son John Moore [Brookes], born on June 10, 1757, who had yet to meet his father. They arrived on October 4, 1763. In January 1764 he was chosen by the absentee auditor general, Robert Cholmondeley, as his deputy at Quebec. Murray reported to London in October the presence of 144 Protestant householders, Church of England and dissenters, in the town; the following month about 80 people repeated the petition of 1761 to the SPG. Murray officially supported the petition, but unofficially he began to criticise Brooke. To the SPG he regretted that Brooke did not understand French. To Cholmondeley he complained that Brooke:
“cannot govern his tongue and will perpetually interfere with things that do not concern him . . . ; Brookes certainly is an honest man and a man of parts, he is very well informed too and when passion does not interfere is a most agreeable companion [but] his sprightly imagination makes him . . . frequently forget that he wears Black. . . .”
Although Brooke, as garrison chaplain and unofficial minister of the town, was expected by Murray to be a peacemaker in the agitated relations between civilians and the military in the colony, his meddlesome and prickly nature, plus his good relations with the merchants, who were the military’s most persistent critics, provoked the garrison to question his value as a chaplain. Particularly galling was his appearance on behalf of the merchant George Allsopp who, charged with failure to carry a light after dark as required by law, had brought a suit for brutality against the two soldiers responsible for his arrest.
Governor Murray himself was probably angered most by Brooke’s friendship with Allsopp – the Governor’s obstreperous political opponent. Indeed, in July 1765 Murray identified Brooke to the Earl of Hillsborough, Secretary of State for the American Colonies, as a member of a cabal seeking to have him replaced; this cabal was composed mainly of merchants who, unlike the more patient Governor, sought the colony’s rapid anglicisation and protestantisation in order to facilitate integration into Britain’s political and economic Empire.
Murray was succeeded in July 1766 by Guy Carleton, who tended at first to sympathise with the merchants. Revd. Brooke became friendly with the new Lieutenant Governor and with his Huguenot attorney general, Francis Maseres who found Brooke “a very sensible and agreeable companion,” at first, but shortly after wrote that, although Brooke was a fine minister, he was also “rather too warm in his Temper which hurries him now and then into indiscreet Expressions.”
Guy Carleton and Maseres soon parted ways as the former came to realise the necessity of James Murray’s policy of conciliation with the Roman Catholic Church while Maseres was strongly anti-Catholic. Brooke was caught in the middle when in the summer of 1767 Leger-Jean-Baptiste-Noël Veyssière, a Recollet and parish priest converted to Protestantism, presented himself to the garrison chaplain to take the oath of abjuration, but Brooke refused to administer the oath to Veyssière. But if Veyssière had been temporarily hindered by Brooke, it was the latter whose future was cloudier. The two petitions in favour of Brooke’s appointment as an SPG missionary at Quebec were never granted. Brooke continued his unofficial ministry until 1768, even travelling back and forth between Montreal and Quebec for six months in 1766 until the arrival of David Delisle as Protestant chaplain in Montreal.
In July 1768 Revd Brooke auctioned off the household belongings. Some of these indicate that he and his wife Frances, who had first come to Quebec in 1763, lived comfortably; their home, a former Jesuit mission house at Mount Pleasant in Sillery, had been sublet to them by the merchant John Taylor Bondfield. In August 1768 the Brookes left for England and, despite his permanent absence from Quebec, Revd John Brooke drew full pay as garrison chaplain until his death.
Little is known of Revd John Brooke after his return to England, although he seems to have resumed his Norfolk church positions. In 1769, a year after their return, John’s wife Frances published The history of Emily Montague . . . in London, an epistolary novel, much of which was set in Canada. Émile Castonguay, Canadian author, has speculated that John Brooke actually wrote the letters of one of the novel’s characters, Sir William Fermor. Frances’ dedication of the novel to Guy Carleton, her husband’s patron, as well as John’s vocation and longer experience in the colony, would make it reasonable to speculate that, at the very least, Revd. John Brooke contributed substantially to the book’s comments on religion, politics, and the character of the Canadians which predominated in Fermor’s letters.
John Brooke died at Colney, near Norwich, Norfolk on 21 Jan. 1789, by which time his son, John Brooke, Jr, was also a minister – in Lincolnshire. Frances had been with her son in his parish ever since late 1788 when she had suddenly fallen ill, thereby missing her husband’s death. Frances died on January 23, 1789, two days after that of her husband’s in Norfolk – one day shy of her 65th birthday.
As for the Reverend John Brooke; his eight years in Quebec left no lasting impression, and he is now all but forgotten. He represents, however, that group of clergies, all chaplains, who served as a stopgap while the Church of England pondered the best pastoral approach to a colonial population almost entirely French speaking and Roman Catholic, but on to which had been grafted a minuscule but fractious band of British and French Protestant merchants, office-holders, and soldiers. Although his own unclerically febrile temperament and James Murray’s well-placed censures no doubt hurt Brooke’s chances of remaining in Canada, it was the church’s decision that a French-language clergy would best serve its cause which ultimately displaced Brooke and other British chaplains.
James H. Lambert http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/brooke_john_4E.html
James H. Lambert, “BROOKE, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003.