William Henry Belpitt MOH

b. 03/05/1860 Ryde, NSW, Australia. d. ? Sydney, Australia.

DATE OF MOH ACTION; 07/10/1884 Foochow, China.

As a child he was a troubled child whose problems appear to have started after the death of his father in 1866 and although his mother married John Brown in 1868, he was later taken into an institution with his 2 brothers, John Charles Belpitt and Thomas Herbert Belpitt, when his mother could not be located. His step father John Brown was a seaman and obviously away from the family home for considerable periods. His mother later claimed the children back.

After having served time as an inmate on the youth training ship Sobraon in New South Wales mainly as a result of being an uncontrollable child involved in petty crime, he somehow made his way to Fremantle in Western Australia where he managed to get himself in trouble with the law and subsequently served a term of imprisonment in Fremantle Gaol. On release from Gaol on 16 November 1878 it is fairly assumed that he joined a ships crew on a voyage to England and at some stage joined the British Navy where in his own word’s he took “leg ball” before turning up in New York where in 1881 he joined the United States Navy, signing on for 3 years as an ordinary seaman on the USS Monocacy a sidewheel gunboat whose task was to patrol the coasts of Japan, Korea and China. He was later promoted to the rank of Petty Officer where he served as Captain of the Afterguard. The After-Guard have the care of the starboard side of the quarter-deck, poop and starboard mizzen channels. At the conclusion of his initial enlistment he re-signed with the US Navy for another 3 year period.

On 7 October 1884 whilst the USS Monocacy was at anchor in Fuzhou (Foochow) Harbour in China, Belpitt observed a man fall from his small boat into the water where he began to panic and was in immediate danger of drowning, without thought for his own safety Belpitt dived into the water from the deck of the Monocacy and rescued the drowning man to the great cheers and applause of all those who witnessed his feat. He was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour for his actions. He was presented with his Medal on 19 April 1885 on board USS Monocracy off the coast of Shanghai, China, by Commander Francis Higginson.

At the end of his service with the United States Navy, Belpitt returned to Sydney, Australia his home town where on 21/1/1888 he married Minnie Gould at St Marks Church, Darling Point and settled into a maritime career on the waterways of NSW in his appointment by the government of the day as Harbour Master – Harbour and River which was gazetted on 5 July 1893 (Certificate number 593). In 1896 he wrote a number of damning letters to the NSW parliament highlighting the brutality and abuses he had personally witnessed on the training ship Sobraon and it is believed he may in fact have been on the staff of this ship just prior to the writing of these letters. He was a regular contributor to newspaper columns across Sydney and wrote letters on a number of subjects, one of those being suggestions for the entertainment of the American Fleet visiting in 1908. In 1909 his occupation was listed as fireman on the wedding certificate of his son. He suffered several bouts of illness during the late 1890’s and early 1900’s finally succumbing to illness at the Rookwood Infirm Asylum in 1912 suffering from Ascites amongst other ailments. He was buried in Rookwood Cemetery in an unmarked grave.



On board the U.S.S. Monocacy, Foochow, China, 7 October 1884. Jumping overboard from that vessel on the morning of this date, Belpitt sustained, until picked up, a Chinaman who had been thrown into the water by the capsizing of a canoe.