b. 01/05/1840 Topsham, Maine, USA. d. 01/10/1914 Dedham, Massachusetts, USA.
William Henry Harrison Seeley (1840-1914) was born on 1st May 1840 in Topsham, Maine, USA. Little is known of the first American born recipient of the Victoria Cross, before he enlisted with the Royal Navy.
The expansion of foreign trade into the Far East caused mounting resentment in Japan, and in 1863 the Daimyo (feudal landowner ) of the Choshu clan began action to expel all foreigners from their land around the Straits of Shimonoseki. His forces launched attacks on European and American vessels and naturally they fired back.
Hostilities continued, so the European powers formed an international squadron, which quickly wiped out the Choshu clan’s ships and forts. A treaty was signed with the Japanese government barring the fortification of the Straits of Shimonoseki and providing a large indemnity to the injured Europeans.
Before the attack on the batteries and defences of Shimonoseki on 6th September 1864, William Seeley was sent ashore alone to ascertain the enemy’s positions and strength. He carried out this duty with great daring and intelligence and afterwards took part in the final assault despite being shot in the arm.
Seeley was awarded the VC in the London Gazette on 21st April 1865. He was presented with his medal alongside two other Shimonoseki recipients in Duncan Boyes and Thomas Pride at Portsmouth on 22nd September 1865 from Admiral Sir M Seymour, Commander in Chief, Portsmouth. Following his award of the VC, not much is known about his later life.
Seeley died at his son’s home, 26 Barrows Street, Dedham, Massachusetts and was buried in a family plot in Evergreen Cemetery, Stoughton, Massachusetts. He was buried near to his sister Bessie’s grave. In 2009, Bill Sweeney, a member of the Medal of Honor Historical Society, who was also interested in American Victoria Cross recipients, became involved in trying to get Seeley’s name on a headstone in Evergreen Cemetery. Following his work, a commemorative plaque was placed in the cemetery in May 2009. The plaque was placed two plots back from his sister’s grave, which after research was decided was the correct location of his final resting place. His medal’s location is unknown, having believed to be in the possession of his grand-daughter until 1943. After this date, nothing has been heard of its location.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: EVERGREEN CEMETERY, STOUGHTON, MASSACHUSETTS, USA.
Family plot in daughter’s grave