Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 3A6
William Hall, V C
ﬁrst Black person, the ﬁrst Nova Scotian and one of the ﬁrst Canadians to receive the Empire’s highest award for bravery, the Victoria Cross. The son of former American slaves, Hall was born in 1827 at Horton, Nova Scotia, where he also attended school. He grew up during the age of wooden ships, when many boys dreamed of travelling the world in sailing vessels. As a young man, Hall worked in shipyards at Hantsport for several years, building wooden ships for the merchant marine. He then joined the crew of a trading vessel and, before he was eighteen, had visited most of the world’s important ports. Perhaps a search for adventure caused young William Hall to leave a career in the American merchant navy and enlist in the Royal Navy in Liverpool, England, in 1852. His ﬁrst service, as Able Seaman with HMS Rodney, included two years in the Crimean War. Hall was a member of the naval brigade that landed from the ﬂeet to assist ground forces manning heavy gun batteries,
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and he received British and Turkish medals for his work during this campaign. After the Crimean War, Hall was assigned to the receiving ship HMS Victory at Portsmouth, England. He then joined the crew of HMS Shannon as Captain of the Foretop. It was his service with Shannon that led to the Victoria Cross. Shannon, under Captain William Peel, was escorting troops to China, in readiness for expected conﬂict there, when mutiny broke out among the sepoys in India. Lord Elgin, former Governor General of Upper Canada and then Envoy Extrodinary to China, was asked to send troops to India. The rebel sepoy army had taken Delhi and Cawnpore, and a small British garrison at Lucknow was under siege. Elgin diverted troops to Calcutta and, as the situation in India worsened, Admiral Seymour also dispatched Shannon, Pearl and Sanspareil from Hong Kong to Calcutta. Captain Peel,...