Able Seaman William Neilson Edward Hall

Able Seaman William Hall
Able Seaman William Hall

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 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. His citation 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 Nujeff, at Lucknow, on the 16th of November, 1857.

William Neilson Edward Hall was born at Summerville, 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, NS 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 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’s Victoria Cross was repatriated from Britain in 1967 by the government of Nova Scotia and is on permanent display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax. 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 Nationally 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.

Service Details
ConflictIndian Mutiny
DecorationsVictoria Cross
ActionNovember 16, 1857 in Lucknow, India
DiedAugust 25, 1904 in Hantsport, Nova Scotia
UnitHMS Shannon, Royal Navy

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