William Hall is the namesake of the Royal Canadian Navy’s fourth Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) being built at Halifax Shipyard. This is the first Royal Canadian Navy ship named after a Black Canadian.
Petty Officer William Hall was the first Black person, first Nova Scotian, and third Canadian to receive the British Empire’s highest award for bravery, the Victoria Cross.
The son of former American slaves, Hall was born in 1827 in Horton, Nova Scotia. As a young man, he worked in shipyards in Hantsport, building wooden ships for the merchant marine. Hall enlisted in the Royal Navy as an able seaman in February 1852.
In 1856 he was assigned to the frigate HMS Shannon. When the Indian Mutiny broke out in May 1857, Hall and the crew of Shannon were sent to Calcutta to assist the British army. Hall was one of the seamen from the Shannon who formed a naval brigade to march to the relief of Lucknow, then besieged by mutineers.
The enemy concentrated its fire on the Shannon’s gun crews who were attempting to breach the walls of an enemy strong point. Of the Shannon crew, only Hall and one officer, Lieutenant Thomas Young, were left standing. The two worked the gun in a storm of bullets, firing until a breach had been made and British troops had passed over the enemy’s walls. Their gallantry contributed materially to the lifting of the siege, and they were successfully nominated for the Victoria Cross.
His naval career continued aboard many ships, among them Bellerophon, Hero, Impregnable, Petrel and Royal Adelaide, until he retired in 1876 as quartermaster. He returned to Nova Scotia to settle on the family farm near Hantsport.
Hall’s valiant actions during the battle at the relief of Lucknow are an inspiration to the Royal Canadian Navy.
Inside Halifax Shipyard’s facilities, the Royal Canadian Navy’s third and fourth AOPS, the future HMCS Max Bernays and the future HMCS William Hall, are under construction. The first two major sections of the future HMCS Max Bernays are scheduled to be moved outside in spring 2020.