|William Hall's Royal Navy career coincided with a period of rapid and often violent expansion of British imperial power worldwide: in eastern Asia, on the Indian subcontinent, and elsewhere. While Hall had no role in shaping imperial policy, the actions of which he was a part were instrumental in extending and consolidating colonial rule over large parts of the non-British world. These actions should be understood in the context of the broader processes of imperialism and resistance of which they are a part. The conflict in which Hall was decorated is today understood as the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a sustained campaign of resistance to the British East India Company's abusive governance.
The son of American slaves, William Hall was the first black person, the first Nova Scotian and one of the first Canadians to be awarded the Victoria Cross, the British Empire’s highest military decoration. Hall enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1852. Five years later, at the siege of Lucknow in India, he withstood a hail of enemy fire to man a gun battery as British forces tried to breach the walls of the Shah Najaf mosque. He won the Victoria Cross for this act of heroism. Back home in Nova Scotia, Hall’s extraordinary distinction went largely unnoticed during his lifetime. But since his death in 1904, he has gradually received the recognition he deserves.