Nova Scotia

HMCS William Hall named after first African Canadian to win Victoria Cross

A soon-to-be built Arctic patrol ship will bear the name of Petty Officer William Hall, the first African Canadian man to win the Victoria Cross for his actions at the Relief of Lucknow in 1857.

William Hall was first African Canadian to win service medal for bravery

Descendants of William Hall, the first black man, Nova Scotia and Canadian sailor to win the Victoria Cross, stand with an image of an Arctic patrol ship which will bear his name. (CBC)

A soon-to-be built Arctic patrol ship will bear the name of Petty Officer William Hall, the first African Canadian man to win the Victoria Cross for his actions at the Relief of Lucknow in 1857. 

On Friday, the associate minister of National Defence Julian Fantino, Rear Admiral John Newton, and Hall's great-great niece Sharon Rivest attended a ceremony held in Africville for the announcement.

Sharon Rivest, Hall's great-great niece, says her family feels vindicated by the honour. (CBC)

"For the whole family and to me, we feel vindicated, we feel healing and yet humbled," Rivest said.

"The racial inequality that was here in this province and part of the nation for a long time, to see that peoples' hearts are turning and are really recognizing that it's not the language or the country you come from, but who you are."

HMCS William Hall will be one of three other Arctic/offshore patrol ships being built in Halifax by Irving Shipbuilding that will also be named after prominent Canadians who served with distinction. These ships will be known as the Harry DeWolf Class. 

The $2.3 billion shipbuilding contract is set to begin this fall.

Gallantry and service

Hall was born in 1829 and grew up on the banks of the Avon River. His father had been American slave who arrived in Nova Scotia during the War of 1812.

Hall briefly served in the American Navy in the mid-1840s, but later volunteered in the Royal Navy in 1852. He served on the battleship Rodney for four years as the captain of the siege batteries during the Crimean War.

HMCS William Hall will be one of three other Arctic/Offshore patrol ships that will be built in Halifax under the Irving Shipbuilding deal and named after prominent Canadians who served with distinction. (CBC)

In 1857, Hall was sent to Calcutta, India (now Kolkata) with other reinforcements when the Indian Rebellion broke out. Hall was one of many seamen who served in a naval brigade that would later march in the Relief of Lucknow.

On Nov. 16 1857, Hall's crew was tasked with breaching the walls of a mosque that had been fortified as a defensive stronghold. Under heavy fire, Hall and one other sailor were soon the only crew members left alive.

Despite the odds, the two men worked their two, 24-pound guns through an onslaught of grenade and gun fire. Together, they fired the last cannon shot within 20 yards of the wall and broke through the fortress' defences. 

A concept design of one of the new Arctic/Offshore Patrol ships that will be built in Halifax as part of the Irving Shipbuilding contract. (CBC)

On Oct. 28 1859, Hall became a man of several firsts: the first black man, the first Nova Scotian and the first Canadian sailor to receive the Victoria Cross.

After retiring from the navy in 1876, Hall lived out his years on the family farm in Hantsport. until his death in 1904. He was later buried in the grounds of the Hantsport Baptist Church.

In 2010, during the Navy's Centenary, Canada Post released a stamp featuring Hall.

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