William Hall, VC. Government of Nova Scotia photo.

We Canucks seldom, if ever, honour our heroes and heroines -- no Davy Crocketts or Jim Bridgers or Alvin Yorks here.

It doesn't matter much to us that we had a prime minister who won the Nobel Peace Prize or doctors and scientists who have achieved international reknown or even that everyday folk pitch in when it's needed, even if it's dangerous.

But maybe, just maybe, we should pay a little more attention, particularly during Black History Month.

Take Rev. Josiah Henson, for example. You'd best know him as "Uncle Tom" from Stowe's famed novel. He loved his adopted country so much that, during the Rebellions of 1837-38, he raised his own militia regiment and marched it more than 60 miles to defend the border with the United States -- capturing an American schooner in the icy midwinter waters of the Detroit River in the process.

But there's another man who never took the time to write about his exploits, nor had anyone other than the official London Gazette to remark on them.

His name was William Hall, and he was the second Canadian and the first Black man to win the Victoria Cross for his gallantry and courage.

Born in 1827, he was the son of slaves rescued by the Royal Navy during the War of 1812-14. They settled near Halifax, Nova Scotia, bought a farm and raised a family.

Hall went to sea when he was 17, joining the Royal Navy in 1852. He served ashore in the Naval Brigade during the Crimean War while a crewman aboard HMS Rodney, and was awarded British and Turkish campaign medals for his service.

But it was with HMS Shannon, as Captain of the Foretop, that he was to win accolades ... and undeserved obscurity.

The so-called Indian Mutiny was in full spate when the Shannon was diverted to India to aid in the relief of Lucknow.

Once again ashore with a naval force, Hall and gun crews fired their twenty-four-pounder cannons across open sights at the fortress walls of a stoutly defended, rebel-held mosque until only he and Lieut. James Young were left standing. Their valour was not in vain -- they breached the walls to allow the infantry to enter -- nor was it unremarked.

They were awarded the then relatively new Victoria Cross for what they did. Interestingly, the ribbons for their medals -- cast from Russian cannons captured in the Crimea -- were blue instead of the normal dark maroon. Well, they would be blue, as befitted recipients who were in the Senior Service -- the Royal Navy.

Hall retired as a Petty Officer, First Class, in 1876, and returned to Nova Scotia to live with two of his sisters.

It wasn't until 1901, during a visit by a royal personage, that anyone really asked about the peculiar-seeming medals he wore on ceremonial occasions.

He died three years later, and was at first buried without any honours whatsoever in an unmarked grave. Decades on, he was disinterred and properly reburied. His medals were finally repatriated to Canada in 1967, where they should have been all along. He was commemorated on a stamp in 2010, and it's been said a patrol vessel of the Royal Canadian Navy will be named for him, assuming it's ever built.

Here, as usual, it's all pretty much a big "meh". But it's a shame we don't really remember William Hall, that no one has written about him, that no one has done a movie featuring his exploits.

I don't know, he seemed a modest man, and -- typically Canadian -- would have been perhaps mildly embarrassed at the attention.

What I believe is that he shouldn't be forgotten, and during Black History Month, one man at least is going to splice the mainbrace in his honour -- and repeat the centuries old Royal Navy toast: Confusion to the enemy.

Views: 72

Comment by JMac1949 Today on February 29, 2016 at 9:06am

R&L... How many thousands of stories are to be discovered about the American slaves who fled to find homes in Canada?

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on February 29, 2016 at 9:18am

Terrific. Thank you!

Comment by Zanelle on February 29, 2016 at 11:36am

He was on a stamp...that is pretty cool.  Thanks for this post.

Comment by koshersalaami on February 29, 2016 at 12:44pm
So that's why Canadian entertainers come South. In Canada, it's rude to self promote
Comment by Myriad on February 29, 2016 at 1:44pm

Great post.

You're right - we don't pay much attention to our history.

Given the many underground railway people who settled in Nova Scotia, southern Ontario and even out west, there must be many stories...

Comment by Ron Powell on March 1, 2016 at 6:57am
This story is a gem. Thanks for bringing it to us. You've done well to point out that Black History in the Western Hemisphere is not limited to the United States.....Thanks!
Comment by Boanerges on March 1, 2016 at 7:54am

Many, JMac. Just in this small area alone, the stories are legion. Wish I knew more, but I don't.

Glad you liked it, Jon.

Yeah, Zanelle, he was: Not just our entertainers, Kosh -- compare photos of the aborted Avro Arrow project with the space shuttle. We've made a habit of exporting our best ... and then complaining about it. Makes me crazy.

Hi, Myriad. Yes, there are (sorry about this) myriad tales I wish I knew.

You're welcome, Ron. The region where we live was the main terminus of the Underground Railway, and I'm damned proud of that.


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