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Hall, Sir William Hutcheonlocked

  • J. K. Laughton
  • , revised by Roger T. Stearn

Hall, Sir William Hutcheon (1797?–1878), naval officer, son of William Hall and his wife, Mary, née Hutcheon, entered the navy in October 1811 on the Warrior, under the Hon. George Byng, and for the rest of the war served continuously in her in the North Sea and the Baltic. In November 1815 he was appointed to the sloop Lyra with Commander Basil Hall, and served in her during her voyage to China with Lord Amherst's embassy. Shortly after his return to England in November 1817, Hall was appointed to the frigate Iphigenia, carrying the broad pennant of Sir Robert Mends on the west coast of Africa, and from her was promoted master of the sloop Morgiana (18 guns). He served actively on the West Indian, the Mediterranean, and the home stations until 1836; then, after studying steam engines at Glasgow and on steamers trading to Ireland, he went to the United States, and was employed on steamboats on the Hudson and Delaware.

In 1839 John Laird, the Birkenhead shipbuilder and advocate of iron ships, built, in secrecy, on speculation, the first iron warship, the paddle-steamer Nemesis. Laird, as owner, appointed Hall to command her, and in 1840 sent her as a private armed steamer to the First Opium War. Her voyage out was the longest yet by a steam-assisted vessel, and she reached China in January 1841. She served with the East India Company's Bengal marine (that is, navy), and was bought by the company in 1841. She had a prominent, successful, and well-publicized role in the war, including assisting at the capture of Chuenpe (Chuanbi) Fort on the Canton River in January 1841.

Hall, by his energy and his skilful handling of the Nemesis, won mention in dispatches and the commendation of the naval officers under whom he served. Consequently, an order in council permitted his promotion to lieutenant (the commission was dated back to 8 June 1841); another order in council sanctioned his time on the Nemesis as though on a queen's ship; and on 10 June 1843 he was promoted commander. The Nemesis was paid off at Calcutta, and Hall returned overland. His report had considerable influence on the Admiralty decision to use iron ships from 1844 or 1845. Partly to distinguish him from Sir William King Hall, with whom he was sometimes confused, Hall became known in the navy as ‘Nemesis’ Hall. He invented iron bilge tanks for ships, adopted by the navy, and 'Hall's patent anchor'.

On 1 July 1843 Hall was appointed to the royal steam yacht Victoria and Albert, from which, on 22 October 1844, he was advanced to post rank. He served in Ireland in 1847 during the famine, and in 1848 against the attempted uprising, and then until 1850 commanded the steam paddle frigate Dragon in the Mediterranean. On 28 October 1849, when Sir William Parker brought the fleet to Besika Bay to show support to the Turks against the demands of Austria and Russia on the Hungarian refugees, Hall was sent with the news to the British minister at Constantinople. In 1847 Hall was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. On the outbreak of the Russian war, unable to obtain command of a vessel corresponding to his seniority, he accepted the Hecla, a small paddle-steamer, in which he served in the Baltic in 1854. In June 1854 the Hecla and two other ships under Hall's command, on his initiative, bombarded the Bomarsmund fortifications, but caused little damage. In 1855 in the Baltic he commanded the blockship Blenheim, in which he was present at the successful bombardment of Sveaborg (August 1855), and in July was made a CB. He had no further service, but became rear-admiral in 1863, was made a KCB in 1867, was advanced to vice-admiral on the retired list in 1869, and became an admiral in 1875.

On 30 April 1845 Hall married the Hon. Hilare Caroline Byng, third daughter of his first captain, Viscount Torrington; they had one daughter, married in 1879 to Captain C. D. Lucas RN, who, as a mate in the Hecla, had won the Victoria Cross by throwing a lighted shell overboard, before Bomarsmund, on 21 June 1854.

Hall was instrumental in establishing sailors' homes and in attempting to improve their social conditions. He published two pamphlets, Sailors' Homes, their Origin and Progress (1852; enlarged edn, 1854) and Our National Defences (1876); the latter contains autobiographical notes. He died at his residence, 48 Phillimore Gardens, Kensington, London, of 'apoplexy' on 25 June 1878, and was buried at Mereworth, Kent, on 29 June. His wife survived him.


  • The Times (27 June 1878)
  • B. Greenhill and A. Giffard, Steam, politics and patronage: the transformation of the Royal Navy, 1815–1854 (1994)
  • Proceedings [Royal Geographical Society], new ser., 1 (1879), 214–16
  • W. D. Bernard, Narrative of the voyages and services of the Nemesis from 1840 to 1843 (1844)
  • A. Phillimore, The life of Admiral of the Fleet Sir William Parker, 3 (1880)
  • S. Lane-Poole, The life of … Stratford Canning, 2 (1888)
  • Dod's Peerage (1878)
  • R. Gardiner and A. Lambert, eds., Steam, steel and shellfire: the steam warship, 1815–1905 (1992)
  • A. D. Lambert, The Crimean War: British grand strategy, 1853–56 (1990)
  • E. Holt, The opium wars in China (1964)


  • NMM, diary and papers
  • U. Birm. L., journal of naval service as master on HMS Morgiana off west coast of Africa
  • BL, letters and reports, mainly to Sir Charles Napier, Add. MSS 40024, 40030, 40033, 40042–40044


  • oils, 1854, NMM
  • wood-engraving, NPG; repro. in ILN, 25 (1854), 641–2

Wealth at Death

under £6000: probate, 27 July 1878, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

W. R. O'Byrne, (1849); repr. (1990); [2nd edn], 2 vols. (1861)