b. 18/04/1827 Horton, Nova Scotia, Canada. d. 27/08/1904 Avonport, Nova Scotia, Canada.
William Edward Hall (1827-1904) was born on 18th April 1827 at Horton’s Bluff, Nova Scotia, Canada, becoming, simultaneously, the first VC recipient of Afro-Caribbean origin, as well as the first Canadian-born sailor, and the first Nova Scotian to be so honoured.
His father Jacob, had escaped from slavery in Virginia during the War of 1812, fought between Britain and the United States, and made his way to British lines. His mother, Lucinda, had joined the British at the same time as their attack on Washington. Like several hundred other “negroes”, they were evacuated to Nova Scotia at the end of the war and here they were married and began a family. William was just 12 when he first went to sea. By the time he was 18, he had developed into a strong and active young man with, for his age, a wealth of seagoing experience. For around 18 months he served in the American Navy before returning once more to the merchant marine.
The winter of 1852 found Hall in Liverpool and, on 2nd February, he joined the Royal Navy and HMS Rodney. In March 1854, Rodney was ordered to the Mediterranean, where a fleet was gathered at Malta, and was soon on their way to the Black Sea where, on 22nd April, she took part in the bombardment of Odessa. 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 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.
On 16th November 1857, Hall was part of a six man gun crew tasked with battering down the walls of the Shah Najaf Mosque. Hall was a number two in his team. The gunnery men were taking many casualties, and Lieutenant Thomas Young (also VC in this action) was moving from gun to gun, calling for volunteers to keep the guns firing. Hall came to his aid, causing Young to exclaim “Ah Hall, you’re the man.” Under heavy enemy fire, the two men kept the guns in action until a breach was made in the wall.
Hall and Young were awarded the VC on 1st February 1859, and Hall received his medal on board HMS Donegal on 25th October 1859, from Rear-Admiral Charles Talbot at Queenstown, Ireland. He also received his Indian Mutiny medal with the Relief of Lucknow clasp. Hall continued to serve in the Royal Navy, until 1876, when he was retired while serving as quartermaster and petty officer. He returned to Nova Scotia, where he died on 25th August 1904 in Avonport. He was buried in Hantsport Baptist Church Cemetery, and his medal is held by the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MARITIME MUSEUM OF THE ATLANTIC, HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA.
BURIAL PLACE: HANTSPORT BAPTIST CHURCH CEMETERY, NOVA SCOTIA.
William Edward Hall VC, the first black man to be invested with the highest gallantry medal in the Armed Forces. He was a recipient of the VC during the Siege of Lucknow in 1857. His medal is displayed at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Ben Van der Heiden