b. 05/11/1846 Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. d. 26/01/1869 Dunedin, New Zealand.
Duncan Gordon Boyes (1846-1869) was born at 3 Paragon Buildings, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, the son of John Boyes and his wife Sabina on November 5, 1846. His sister Louisa Mary was later to marry Thomas James Young, who was awarded a Victoria Cross at Lucknow, India in 1857. Duncan was educated at Cheltenham College before he enlisted with the Royal Navy. He was assigned to the HMS Euryalus on the East Indies Station.
At the age of just 17, on 6th September 1864, at Shimonoseki, Japan, Boyes would carry the Queen’s Colour into action with the leading company attacking the enemy’s stockade. He kept the colours flying in spite of the direct fire which killed one of his colour sergeants. Boyes and Colour Sergeant Thomas Pride, who was badly wounded, wanted to continue to press forward, but were ordered not to do so by a superior officer.
After the action, it was discovered that the Colour carried by Boyes was pierced six times by musket balls. He was gazetted for the VC alongside Thomas Pride on 21st April 1865, and was presented with his medal by the Commander in Chief, Portsmouth, Admiral Sir M Seymour on 22nd September 1865.
Following his VC investiture, Boyes’ life took a tragic turn. On 9 February 1867, he and another midshipman were court-martialled for disobedience of the Commander-in-Chief’s Standing Order by breaking into the Naval Yard at Bermuda after 11pm, after they had been previously refused admittance by the Warder at the main gate for not having a pass. Both admitted their guilt and were sentenced to be dismissed from the service. There is some speculation that there was more to this to warrant such a harsh penalty.
The disgrace of this was too much to bear for Boyes and he began to suffer tremendously from fits of depression and began drinking heavily. For the sake of his health he went to New Zealand to work with his brother on his sheep station, but the scandal appears to have followed him, for he was to suffer a complete nervous breakdown and he committed suicide by jumping from the window of a house on 26 January 1869 at Dunedin, aged 22 years and 2 months.
He was buried originally in the local Southern Cemetery, but in May 1954, he was reburied in the servicemen’s section of Anderson’s Bay Cemetery, Dunedin. His medal was held by his old school, Cheltenham College, from 1978-1998, when the Ashcroft Trust purchased it in a private sale at Spinks in 1998 and its now displayed in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
ANDERSONS BAY CEMETERY, DUNEDIN, NZ. ANGLICAN SECTION, BLOCK 6 GRAVE 24
Thomas Stewart – Cheltenham College Memorial Board
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Grave Image