Edward St John Daniel VC

b. 17/01/1837 Bristol. d. 20/05/1868 Hokitika, New Zealand.

Edward St John Daniel (1837-1868) was born at the family home, 1 Windsor Terrace, Clifton, Bristol on 17th January 1837, the first child of a well known attorney, Edward Daniel. His mother was Barbara Bedford, the granddaughter of the 12th Baron St John. Edward was one of five children, with one brother, Henry and three sisters, Barbara, Adela and Lucy. Sadly, Edward’s mother died shortly after Lucy’s birth in 1850 from an inflammation of the vein, when he was barely 13. His father would remarry four years later to a younger woman, Darkey Knight Cox and they had 7 children together over the next 15 years, 4 boys and 3 girls (though 1 of each died in early infancy).

Edward St J Daniel VC

On 7th January 1851, just prior to his 14th birthday, Edward enrolled as a naval cadet with HMS Dauntless. In March 1852, after a short spell on HMS Blenheim, he joined the flagship HMS Winchester under the command of Captain Granville Loch. Edward soon saw action in the Second Burmese War of 1852-53 and was awarded the Indian General Service Medal with the clasp for “Pegu”. During his time in Burma, he developed chronic leg ulcers, a condition which would affect him for the rest of his life.

On 7th September 1853, Edward joined HMS Diamond under the command of the celebrated Captain William Peel, third son of Sir Robert Peel, and later a Victoria Cross recipient. Daniel was promoted the following day to Midshipman. HMS Diamond was sent to the Crimea in 1854, and the men from the Diamond formed part of the Naval Brigade, under Captain Stephen Lushington of HMS Albion. Daniel was appointed Aide-de-Camp to Captain Peel and was devoted to his leader. Peel’s other Aide-de-Camp was Henry Evelyn Wood (later Sir and also VC).

On 18th October 1854, Daniel and Wood volunteered to bring up boxes of ammunition up to the Diamond Battery, under heavy Russian fire. The fire had disabled the horses which is why the two ADC’s had to go on foot. On 5th November 1854, at the Battle of Inkerman, Daniel was a conspicuous figure on the battlefield riding his pony, and was at Peel’s side as he led seven separate charges against the Russians, and assisted the Grenadier Guards, who were cut off, to defend their colours.

On 18th June 1855, during the unsuccessful assault on the Redan, Peel, in leading the first Ladder party, was shot through the left arm. Daniel rendered first aid under heavy fire, and helped Peel to safety, narrowly missing injury himself. His clothes were riddled with bullets.

For the three acts of bravery, Daniel was awarded the Victoria Cross (London Gazette, 24th February 1857). At the time of his award, he was the youngest recipient, aged 17. Daniel was unable to attend the first investiture of the VC at Hyde Park on 26th June 1857, as he and Peel (also now VC) were sent to China aboard HMS Shannon, although they were re-routed to India on the outbreak of the Mutiny.

Peel formed the Shannon Brigade on arrival in Calcutta, and Daniel became an artillery officer, and his guns were decisive in the capture of Lucknow. Peel was wounded during the assault, and tragically died of smallpox at Cawnpore on 27th April 1858. Daniel was devastated by his Captain’s death and it is believed this may have had a bearing on what happened in the rest of Daniel’s short life.

On 13th July 1858, Daniel received his VC at Gyah, Bengal from Captain Francis Marten, the new Captain of Shannon’s Brigade. During 1859, Daniel was promoted to Lieutenant and joined HMS Mars. In 1860, he met Queen Victoria at St James Palace, and she was quoted as saying “much impressed by him”. At the age of 23, it seemed Daniel would have an outstanding naval career.

Sadly, it was not meant to be. Just one month after meeting the Queen, on 24th May 1860, he was severely reprimanded for being twice absent without leave. On 9th June 1860, he was found in a drunken state in the wardroom on HMS Forte. He was court-martialled and dismissed from his ship.

On 28th June 1861, Daniel was listed as a deserter, when he disappeared from his new ship, HMS Victor Emanuel. He was removed from the Navy List the following month. Daniel was due to be court-martialled for what was described as a “disgraceful offence”. There is speculation regarding the exact nature of the offence, the clearest evidence being from Captain Clifford of the HMS Victor Emanuel, who stated in a letter that Daniel was arrested for “taking indecent liberties with four of the Subordinate Officers of the Victor Emanuel”.

Whatever the full truth, Queen Victoria on 4th September 1861 at Balmoral, signed the Royal Warrant that made Daniel the first man to “forfeit” the VC. He was the first of just eight cases of forfeiture, the last in 1908. In 1920, King George V expressed his displeasure at these decisions, and no further forfeitures were to take place.

Following Daniel’s desertion at Corfu, he made his way back to England, and less than 2 weeks after the forfeiture, he was aboard “Donald McKay” on route for Melbourne, Australia. It is believed he spent the next two years in Australia digging the Gold Fields around Melbourne, though this is not fully confirmed. In early 1864, the New Zealand Colonial Government was enlisting men for the Maori War, and on 18th January, the day after his 27th birthday, Daniel enrolled in No 5 Company of the Taranaki Military Settlers. His time in the Company was short-lived, as on 8th August 1864, he was sentenced to 168 hour’s intensive labour for an “unspecified” offence.

Three years later, Daniel became a Constable in No 2 Division of the NZ Armed Constabulary. He later was promoted to Lance Corporal. In March 1868, he was sent to Hokitika on the South Island to help quell disturbances between Irish Catholics and Protestants. Shortly afterwards, Daniel fell ill on 16th May 1868, and was admitted to Hokitika Hospital where he died four days later. He was just 31 years of age, and his cause of death was listed as “delirium tremens”. He was given a full military funeral the following day at the Municipal Cemetery in Hokitika. His death was reported in the Bristol Times back in England on 1st August 1868 where no mention was made of his VC forfeiture or his exile in Australia and New Zealand.