William Edward Hall VC (28 April 1827 – 27 August 1904) was the first black person, first Nova Scotian, and third Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross. He received the medal for his actions in the Siege of Lucknow during the Indian Rebellion. Hall and an officer from his ship continued to load and fire a 24-pounder gun at the walls after the rest of the party had been killed or injured by the defenders
William Edward Hall was born at Horton, Nova Scotia, in 1827 as the son of Jacob and Lucy Hall, who had escaped American slave owners in Maryland during the War of 1812 and were brought to freedom in Nova Scotia by the British Royal Navy as part of the Black Refugee movement. The Halls first lived in Summerville, Nova Scotia where Jacob worked in a shipyard operated by Abraham Cunard until they bought a farm across the Avon River at Horton Bluff. Hall first worked in shipyards at nearby Hantsport, Nova Scotia, before going to sea at the age of seventeen. He sailed first on merchant ships based out of the Minas Basin including the barque Kent of Kentville, Nova Scotia.
Hall volunteered for the British Royal Navy in February 1852, serving at first aboard HMS Rodney. Hall fought in the Crimean War serving ashore in a Naval Brigade from Rodney at the battles of Inkerman and Sebastapol in 1854.
When the Indian Mutiny broke out in May 1857, Hall was on the screw frigate HMS Shannon en route to China. She was intercepted and ordered to Calcutta (since renamed Kolkata). A Shannon Brigade was formed of several gunners, sailors, and marines, under Captain William Peel. The ship was towed over 600 miles up the Ganges River to Allahabad. Then the force fought across country to Campbell’s headquarters at Cawnpore and were in time to take part in the Siege of Lucknow.
Relief of Lucknow
On 16 November 1857 at Lucknow, India, naval guns were brought up close to the Shah Nujeff mosque, and the gun crews kept up a steady fire in an attempt to breach and clear the walls, while a hail of musket balls and grenades from the mutineers inside the mosque caused heavy casualties. Able Seaman Hall and Lieutenant Thomas James Young, the battery’s commander, were eventually the only survivors, all the rest having been killed or wounded, and between them they loaded and served the last gun, which was fired at less than 20 yards from the wall, until it was breached. The joint citation in the Gazette reads:
Lieutenant (now Commander) Young, late Gunnery Officer of Her Majesty’s ship ” Shannon,” and William Hall, “Captain of the Foretop,” of that Vessel, were recommended by the late Captain Peel for the Victoria Cross, for their gallant conduct at a 24-Pounder Gun, brought up to the angle of the Shah Nujjiff, at Lucknow, on the 16th of November, 1857.
Hall remained with the Royal Navy for the rest of his career. He joined the crew of HMS Donegal in 1859 and on October 28, 1859, he was presented with the Victoria Cross by Rear Admiral Charles Talbot while Donegal was anchored at Queenstown Harbour. Hall rose to the rating of Petty Officer First Class in HMS Royal Adelaide by the time he retired in 1876. He returned to his home village in Horton Bluff where he ran a small farm until his death in 1904.
Hall is buried in Hantsport, Nova Scotia where his grave is marked by a monument at the Baptist church. The Royal Canadian Legion in Hantsport is named “The Lucknow Branch” in honour of his Victoria Cross action.
Hall is also featured in exhibits at the Halifax Citadel and at the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia. Canada Post commemorated William Hall on a stamp, first issued on February 1, 2010 in Hantsport, Nova Scotia and officially launched at the Black Cultural Centre on February 2, 2010. Hall was designated a National Historic Person by the Canadian Historic Sites and Monuments Board at Hantsport on October 8, 2010 and a new plaque was unveiled in his honour.
In November 2010, a connector road in Hantsport was named the William Hall V.C. Memorial Highway. A sign, bearing Hall’s likeness, was erected on the road from Highway 101 to Trunk 1 near Hantsport.
- Hall’s middle name is sometimes given as “Edward” but Parks Canada historian David States located his baptismal certificate which records his middle name as “Nelson”, sometimes misspelled as Nielson. States, David W. “William Hall VC of Horton Bluff, Nova Scotia Nineteenth Century Naval Hero”, Collections of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society Vol. 44 (1996), p. 71
- Hall’s date of birth is sometimes given as 1829 or 1826 but based on his birth certificate and military records, the Nova Scotia Museum concluded he was born in 1827. “William Hall VC, Biography from the Nova Scotia Museum
- “Lucy Hall.” Maryland State Archives Biographical Series
- States, p. 71-72
- “William Hall VC, Biography from the Nova Scotia Museum, p. 1
- Ferguson, Charles Bruce, Nova Scotia Journal of Education (Fifth Series) , Vol. 17, No.2, December 1967, p. 2
- States, p. 73
- States, p. 73-74
- The London Gazette: . 1 February 1859. Retrieved 26 September 2009.