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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 103 - The Passionate Whirlings of an Old Sailor (Medals Week)

Tom's Notes:


I started this weeks’ research desperately trying to convince myself that the BALCO scandal of 2002 could be considered history. For those how don’t know, it was a high profile case of doping in American sport. What? Yes, you heard, doping in American sport. What? American sportsmen and women doping? Yeah, I know, who’d have thought it? It’s a great story – my favourite bit being that it all started when Trevor Graham, an international track and field coach, sent a vial of secret steroid to the United States Anti-Doping Authority for some odd reason, some think in an attempt to stuff up a rival coach. However, the whole thing royally backfired and Trevor Graham was investigated and given a life time ban from coaching. What a twat! The connection with medals being that lots of the athletes and coached involved had won lots of international track and field medals.

I decided to talk about people who were given British awards and medals, but then had them revoked. I started my research on this topic and found a cracker first up. So I decided to focus in on one man, and that man is Edward St John Daniel, born in 1837.

But before this, an honorary mention, Sir Eyre Coote, a general in the British Army and former Governor of Jamaica who became a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. In 1815 he was stripped of this honour after he entered a boys school and began offering the boys money if they let him flog them. When this was done, he offered them money to flog him.

Edward St John Daniel was award the Victoria Cross, the most prestigious medal in the British honour system. In fact, he was one of the first recipients of the Victoria Cross which was begun, by, yes you guessed it, Victoria Beckham, in 1856.

According to the, he was award the medal for three acts of bravery between 1854 and 1855. Lord Ashcroft is a British, conservative politician and successful businessman who like buying up old Victoria Crosses to wipe his millionaire arse with. He shouldn’t be confused with Richard Ashcroft, who doesn’t collect Victoria Crosses, he collects catching violin melodies from Rolling Stones b-sides. Anyway, here are quotes from the London Gazette that reported the award:

1st. For answering a call for volunteers to bring in powder to the Battery, from a waggon in a very exposed position under a destructive fire, a shot having disabled the horses.

2nd. For accompanying Captain Peel at the Battle of Inkermann as Aide-de-camp.

3rd. For devotion to his leader, Captain Peel, on the 18th June, 1855, in tying a tourniquet on his arm on the glacis of the Redan, whilst exposed to a very heavy fire.

Captain Peel was a naval officer who also won the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the Crimean War. It would appear that Peel and Daniel were very close. After the Crimean War, they were commanded to India on board HMS Shannon to help suppress the Indian Rebellion of 1857. I’ve got to be careful with where I go into too much detail this week, so I won’t go into the Indian Rebellion and the Crimean War. Anyway, during some fighting, Captain Peel was shot in the leg. Whilst recovering, he contracted small pox and died a year later in India in 1858. It would appear that this death affected Daniel badly.

In 1860 Daniel was presented before Queen Victoria and the Queen was said to be “much impressed with him”. He was still only 23 and had quite a collection of decorations. He was now a naval officer with excellent prospects. Things now start to go wrong for Daniel.

A few months after meeting Queen Victoria, Daniel was reprimanded twice for being absent without leave from a ship. A few weeks later he was found pissed as a fart in a wardrobe when he had duties that he should have been performing. He was court marshalled, thrown off the boat (not literally) and demoted for 2 years. He was also put on half pay.

In early 1861, Daniel was on HMS Victor Emanuel. He went missing on Corfu, couldn’t be found and was marked a deserter. In official documents regarding this event, reference is also made to a ‘disgraceful offence’. It has been suggested that he tried to drown another officer, it could have been more drunkenness. There is also a letter from a captain on the ship that contains the following: "taking indecent liberties with four of the Subordinate Officers of the Victor Emanuel".

Regardless, Queen Victoria signed a warrant revoking Daniel’s Victoria Cross. The first to have this done of only 8 people.

Daniel reappears in Britain later in 1861 and boards a ship for Melbourne. There are suggestions that he Royal Navy actually assisted him on a number of occasions; first to go missing in Corfu and secondly to get out of Britain. This could have been to avoid the embarrassment of a high profile court martial. I also wonder, and this is with very minimal research, so it’s just a casual thought, whether or not he was homosexual or suffering with a mental health problem, and some in the Royal Navy sympathised with his position but realised that his behaviour and/or illness could never be accepted in the Royal Navy. Or maybe he was a bit of a wildcard and people appreciated him for his acts of gallantry but he was just a bit of a loose cannon.

He lays low in Australia for a few years before finding his way to New Zealand where he fights against the Maoris in the Maori Wars. Again, Daniel keeps flitting from 19th century war zone to 19th century war zone, so I can’t explain all these wars in great detail. In a few sentences, the colonial government of New Zealand was fighting the Maoris – the native population of New Zealand. Only about 3000 people died in these wars and they were just a bit of a power struggle. The British were doing what they do best, landing somewhere and tricking the natives into signing a document that they don’t fully understand. They then get tetchy when the natives talk back, use this as an excuse to increase their power and possessions, and eventually beat them into submission.

Daniel fights in the Maori Wars for the next 3 years. He gets into more trouble, the details of which are unclear. He ends up in New Zealand’s West Coast gold fields policing riots and troubles between Catholic and Protestant miners. The West Coast gold rush was centred on a coastal town called Hokitika on the South Island of New Zealand. Within 2 years of this town being founded as a result of gold being discovered, it became the largest city in NZ and had over 100 pubs! If you’ve seen the Luminaries on BBC (based on a book) this is set in Hokitika. Like in the book, the port is dreadfully dangerous. Between 1865 and 67, 32 ships were lost and 108 were stranded trying to get it. You don’t swim on the beach either – very dangerous. It does however have a Wild Food Festival once a year, I drove over there with friends as part of a stag-do about 4 years ago. It was rather funny – the stag was put in a wheelchair and dressed as father Jack because he was Irish and had recently had a knee operation. Everyone else was dressed up as characters from Father Ted. You could eat really weird things like grubs and I seem to remember sheep-eye shots. We also had the worst curry every there – the guys who owned this curry house just had no idea. I had a mild curry that was like a vindaloo and someone else ordered a vindaloo and it tasted like someone had just poured a whole pot of chilli powder in it. It was so bad that everyone in the restaurant was discussing how bad it was and whether they should just walk out or not. Anyway, as with a lot of these gold rushes, it was short lived and Hokitika is now a really very dull little town.

With nothing to do, because Hokitika was a sausage fest, unless Daniel was indeed gay in which case, sausage fest! Daniel just hit the boozers. In 1868, at the age of 31, he died, of delirium tremens – alcohol withdrawal. Also known as the West Coast wobbles. The six-finger shake. The ‘this place is so fucking boring and full of inbred elderly people that I’m just going to drink myself into oblivion’ shivers.

This is from the West Coast Times, abbreviated:

He served three years in No. 5 Company of the Taranaki Military Settlers - from 1864 to 1867, in which year he joined the Armed Constabulary, by the members of which body he was much respected. The men of both forces started from the barracks at two o’ clock, and proceeded to the landing stage, Gibson’s Quay, to take charge of the body, and on the coffin being received, the firing party presented arms, and then, reversing arms, moved on in front, the remainder of the force counter-marching inwards. The body having been placed in the hearse, the band took up its position in front, the firing party leading... The body was then taken out of the hearse, and borne by four of the deceased’s comrades through the ranks of the firing party, the remaining portion of the procession following, the firing party bringing up the rear… At the conclusion of the funeral service the firing party fired three volleys, the reveille being sounded by the drums and fifes between each volley, and thus was rendered the last military honors to the departed soldier.

Well that’s all very nice I hear you cry (PAUSE), but not hugely interesting. Well! There is a theory that Daniel did not actually die, but that this was all a hoax.

Let’s move to a man called William Lumis, a British Military Historian who was an expert on the Victoria Cross and a few other things, namely Rourke’s Drift, the subject of the Michael Caine film Zulu, where 11 men were given Victoria Crosses. He lived from 1886 to 1985 for reference (not Michael Caine, the historian). He came into possession of a portrait of Daniel in which he appears to be in his 30s or 40s. This portrait made its way to an expert on the 8 forfeited Victoria Crosses, a man called Victor Tambling. I couldn’t find out any more about this bloke but this is recent history, he could well still be alive. This photograph has been analysed by experts and deemed to have been taken around 1875, seven years after the supposed death of Daniel. It also looks a lot like a portrait of Daniel from 1860, just with Daniel looking a bit older!

Victor Tambling has a theory, which is that Daniel’s identity was switched with a man called Robert Daniels of Birmingham. The two almost certainly new each other and probably sailed to New Zealand together. Apparently there is evidence in the New Zealand archives that the two men’s records were switched. I was really quite disappointed that I couldn’t find any more about Victor Tambling and his research, so I have had to rely on other references to his work, so I can’t tell you any more about this unfortunately.

On one final note, Jack London, who was an American author most famous for The Call of the Wild and White Fang, visited London in 1902 to explore London’s underworld, the slums, the workhouses and the poor, wretched people who were unfortunate enough to sit at the bottom of the social pyramid. He published a book about what he witnessed called The People of the Abyss. In it, he has a short story entitled A Winner of the Victoria Cross. This I was able to find online.

London joins a queue to get into a workhouse so that he can find out what’s it like in there. He basically being a poverty tourist. In front of him in the queue is a man, this is from the book:

He whirled with fierce passion on me: “Don’t you ever let yourself grow old, lad. Die when you’re young, or you’ll come to this. I’m tellin’ you sure. Seven an’ eighty years am I, an’ served my country like a man. Three good-conduct stripes and the Victoria Cross, an’ this is what I get for it. I wish I was dead, I wish I was dead. Can’t come any too quick for me, I tell you.”

The moisture rushed into his eyes, but, before the other man could comfort him, he began to hum a lilting sea song as though there was no such thing as heartbreak in the world.

Given encouragement, this is the story he told while waiting in line at the workhouse after two nights of exposure in the streets.

This poor old man tells Landon about how he fought for the Royal Navy in China, enlisted with the East India Company, served in Burma, served in the Crimean War and had been almost all over the world. In his career in the Navy, he earned himself the Victoria Cross. One day on board ship, the Lieutenant was in a bad mood and called this old man a dreadful name that we don’t know, probably something like farty-pants or bum-bum-face, the old man lost his shit and smacked the Lieutenant over board with an iron bar. Realising that he was done for, he jumped overboard with the plan to drown both of them. He wasn’t successful, was saved and as they were being pulled back on board ship, the man was still punching the Lieutenant. The man was court-martialled and, amongst other punishments, had his Victoria Cross stripped off him.

Now reading this original story from Landon, there are a lot details that don’t correlate, but a lot that do. Only 8 people have ever been stripped of the Victoria Cross, and 7 of these could work in with the time-frame. So there is a good chance that the theory, that this old man was actually Daniel, is true.

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