Michael Daniels
Edward St John Daniel VC
 The story of the first man to forfeit the Victoria Cross



The Life of Edward St John Daniel




The 15th Article of the Royal Warrant of 29th January 1856, instituting the Victoria Cross states:

"if any person on whom such distinction shall be conferred, be convicted of treason, cowardice, felony, or of any infamous crime, or if he be accused of any such offence and doth not after a reasonable time surrender himself to be tried for the same, his name shall forthwith be erased from the register of individuals upon whom the said decoration shall have been conferred by an especial warrant under Our Royal Sign Manual."

In the War Office file of correspondence relating to Edward St John Daniel's case, the offence for which he was due to be court-martialled is unspecified. In a minute dated 8th August 1861, Sir George Lewis (Secretary for War) wrote to Sir Edward Lugard (Under-Secretary, War Department):

"I privately heard of this bad case, but we now have it on record from the Admiralty that it was disgraceful, tho’ not specified fully. Prepare Warrant?"

There have been several suggestions as to what Daniel's "disgraceful offence" may have been. One suggestion is that Daniel attempted to drown a fellow officer. Another is that his offence was drunkenness, although it seems unlikely that, on its own, this would have been considered sufficiently disgraceful. The clearest evidence, however, is contained in a letter from Capt. William Clifford of HMS Victor Emanuel to Rear Admiral Dacres, which states that Daniel was arrested for "taking indecent liberties with four of the Subordinate Officers of the Victor Emanuel".

Whatever the full truth of Daniel's offence, at Balmoral on 4th September 1861, Queen Victoria signed the Royal Warrant that made Edward St John Daniel the first man to forfeit the Victoria Cross:

"Whereas it hath been reported unto us that EDWARD ST. JOHN DANIEL late a Lieutenant in Our Navy, upon whom we have conferred the decoration of the Victoria Cross, has been accused of a disgraceful offence, and having evaded enquiry by desertion from Our Service, his name has been removed from the list of officers of Our Navy ... Know ye therefore, that we are pleased to command and declare that the said Edward St. John Daniel shall no longer be entitled to have his name enrolled in the Registry of persons on whom we have conferred the said decoration, but shall be and he is hereby judged and declared to be henceforth removed and degraded from all and singular rights, privileges and advantages appertaining thereunto."

Of the 1356 Victoria Crosses that have been awarded to date, only eight have been forfeited, for offences ranging from theft of a cow to bigamy. Of these, Daniel was the only officer and the only Royal Navy man. The last forfeiture was in 1908.

In 1920, King George V expressed his displeasure with Victoria Cross erasures, his Private Secretary stating in a letter the King's view that:

"no matter the crime committed by anyone on whom the VC has been conferred, the decoration should not be forfeited. Even were a VC to be sentenced to be hanged for murder, he should be allowed to wear his VC on the scaffold."


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