A history of the Cross is set out at the Wikipedia Victoria Cross homepage. The Victoria Cross had been insitituted by Queen Victoria in January 1856 as a means of recognising acts of valour by all ranks. The Cross itself is not made of gold or silver but is made of bronze cut from the Russian cannon captured at Sebastopol in the Crimean War. The design of the Cross is a cross patte (similar to a Maltese cross) and it is 1 2/5 inches [3.17 cm] square.
The crosses have always been made by Hancocks of London. The Cross is hung on a ribbon 1 1/2 inches [3.8 cm] wide and the originally there was a red ribbon for Army winners and a blue ribbon for the Navy. When the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918 King George V decided that all winners would have the red ribbon. VC winners received a pension of 10 pounds a year and that was increased to 100 pounds in 1959.
While the monarch often personally awarded the Crosses, where naval winners were serving abroad (as with Samuel) the Admiralty sent the Victoria Cross from England so they could be invested on their overseas stations.
As required by the Royal Warrant establishing the Victoria Cross Samuel's award of the Victoria Cross was publicly notified in the London Gazette on 26 July 1864. The notice stated:
"Samuel Mitchell, Capt. of the Foretop of Her Majesty's Ship Harrier. For his gallant conduct at the attack of Te Papa, Tauranga, on the 29th April, 1864, in entering the pah with Commander Hay, and when that officer was mortally wounded, bringing him out, although ordered by Commander Hay to leave him and seek his own safety. This man was at the time Captain of the Foretop of the Harrier, doing duty as Captain's Coxswain, and Commodore Sir William Wiseman brings his name to special notice for this act of gallantry."
In the London Gazette of 16 August 1864 there was a further notice referring to Samuel:
"War Office 16-8-64. The Queen has been graciously pleased to signify Her intention to confer the Decoration of the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned officer, whose claim to the same has been submitted for Her Majesty's approval, for his gallant conduct in New Zealand, as recorded against his name."
( Samuel's Victoria Cross)
The Admiralty in London sent the Cross by sea to Sydney, Australia, and the award ceremony itself took place in Sydney Domain, Sydney, on Saturday 24 September 1864 in front of a crowd estimated at 10,000 which was said to be the largest crowd assembled in Sydney up to that time. It was also the first occasion a Victoria Cross was awarded in Australia.. The award of the Victoria Cross was made by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir John Young, and after the ceremony Samuel was placed on a horse and led through the streets of Sydney.
This is a transcription of the report in the Sydney Morning Herald of Monday 26 September 1864 about the ceremony where Samuel was awarded the Victoria Cross the previous Saturday.
"On Saturday afternoon, between nine and ten thousand persons assembled in the Outer Domain to assist at the public presentation of the Victoria Cross to Samuel Mitchell, an able seaman of the Curacoa (a well merited honour awarded to that individual by the express command of Her Majesty), and likewise to witness the distribution of the annual prizes adjudged by the New South Wales Rifle Association to those marksmen amongst our Volunteers who lately distinguished themselves in the amicable contest at Randwick. Anything more beautiful than the calm and cloudless day which had been selected , or more pleasing than the half-military half-civic pageant which gave life to the proceedings, it would be difficult - perhaps impossible - to imagine.
Dense masses of cheerful, well-dressed people of both sexes - who good-humouredly submitted to the judicious arrangements of the police, and those other restrictions which are inseparable from such an affair - congregated on the green sward of the domain for a considerable while before the appointed time, waiting for the programme to commence with that amount of patience and quiet decorum for which our great gatherings in Sydney are, happily, so remarkable. On the eastern barrier of the enclosure set apart for the twofold ceremony, there was, at half past two p.m., already a vast multitude of spectators - ladies and gentlemen on foot near the rails, and equestrians and "carriage folk" further back, on the rising ground beneath the trees. A similar concourse, extending its area every moment, having even then appeared on the western face of the Domain, along the road near the oak trees, and down the slope towards the spot to be occupied by His Excellency and suite, and by Commodore Sir William Wiseman.
The Volunteer Artillery were on the ground soon after half-past two o'clock, and took up their position in good style; shortly subsequent to which the exhilarating music of the fine band of the marines of HMS Curacoa was heard ringing merrily through through the trees as the seamen and marines of that ship and the Harrier and Esk, with a detachment of artillery, came sweeping along the road from Lady Macquarie's Chair to the post assigned to them as witnesses of the honours about to be conferred upon their gallant comrade. As the brave fellows stepped past the platform and in front of the people, they were received with unmistakable marks of admiration; and no wonder, for a finer body of men than the seamen of the above-named ships has never been seen in Sydney. They were obviously in an excellent state of discipline and honest, cheerful exultation, their appearance as they marched by - clad in their white and blue shirts and snowy caps, and armed with carbines - being highly creditable both to their commanders and respective officers.
The marines and artillery who came with them formed in columns four deep on the right of the platform; extending westerly so as to form part of the three sides of a cordon, by which the necessary space was kept clear for what was to take place. To the west of the Marines the line was continued by the dark blue and scarlet uniforms of the Artillery, - the Western and Northern boundaries being kept by a company of the 12th Regiment, by the two battalions of the Rifle Volunteers, and by the New South Wales Naval Brigade. Immediately facing the Rifles was a commodious platform shaded from the fervid rays of the sun with an awning, and draped with national flags. It was occupied by His Excellency Sir John Young, Sir William Wiseman, and Sir W.M.Manning, the president of the New South Wales Rifle Association, and by Mr. Walter Lamb, the vice-president, accommodation being there also afforded for Lady Young, Lady John Taylour, Lady Stephen, and several others. His Excellency and suite appeared on the ground in the company of Sir William Wiseman, shortly before four o'clock.
Doubtless the annual distribution of prizes to the Volunteers had much to do with the attraction which brought such crowds to the Domain, but there was, on the present occasion, something beyond the award of prizes to the best shots amongst our Volunteers. The unprecedented fact that there was to be a public presentation of the Victoria cross - a real order of merit initiated by Her Majesty (under a Royal Warrant dated 29th of January, 1855) for the purpose of adequately, and without discrimination as to rank or caste, rewarding the gallant services of officers and men in the British Army and Navy - was a circumstance which put all persons in Sydney on the qui vive, quickening their generous sympathies, and awakening their natural curiosity.Such a signal recognition of personal valour as was to be evidenced by the award of the glorious bronze cross for ever to be associated with the name of our honoured Sovereign - had never before been made in this colony, and there was a novelty about the idea in the minds of thousands, by whom such a decoration might perhaps, either be looked upon as a sort of semi-feudal distinction, or, on the other hand, at best be rendered as meaningless and common place as the testimonial pencil-case, gold tooth-pick, or preposterous piece of plate, which some persons are always presenting to nobodies for next to nothing.
To those who are familiar with the mighty influence exercised over millions of men in France by that grand and comprehensive institution, the Legion of Honour, the establishment by the British Queen, of such a distinction as the Victoria Cross for the common reward of British valour in the army and navy, will, nevertheless, be duly appreciated, and will be hailed as an installment of that public recognition of merit which all citizens in a free, well-governed State, have a right to aspire after and to enjoy. The institution of the Victoria Cross was, beyond all question, an admission that merit did exist and had existed, respecting which the Heralds College was (words unclear) - that long before the Moyen Age, and apart from its thousand glowing traditions, there was a natural inborn chivalry in which the prince's child and the peasant's son were or might be on terms of perfect equality in the minds of all right thinking men.
The recipient of the Victoria Cross on Saturday last is a slight, active, good-looking young seaman - if anything rather under the ordinary size of a full-grown man, with a frank and open face, in which a physiognomist would find it hard to trace any sign of the generous daring by which he has distinguished himself.And not only has he been distinguished for his courage, for which he has now received one of the highest marks of honour which his Sovereign can bestow, upon a subject in her own name and in the name of her people; for it is very gratifying to think that his conduct, as a seaman, is reported to have been, for many years past, "very good", so that in addition to our admiration for his valour we are happy to find that he is, in other respects, fully entitled to our esteem and respect.
Samuel Mitchell was one of those who were in the disastrous and bloody affair at the storming of the Gate Pah, at Turanga, in New Zealand, on the 29th of April last, when, through some surprise, the British troops were seized with a sudden panic at the moment of victory, and - in spite of the heroic efforts of their officers, most of whom were slain in the vigorous discharge of their duty - fled from the murderous fire of their assailants. Amongst these officers who were shot down by the Maoris, as they lay hidden in their wall constructed casemates, was the lamented Commander Hay of the Harrier, the leader of the forlorn hope, who fell mortally wounded, near where Samuel Mitchell (an able seaman then under his command) was standing.
Whilst a general rush was being made from the spot on the part of the seamen engaged and of the troops of the 43rd Regiment, Mitchell turned, and raising his commander in his arms began to carry him out of the spot under a heavy fire of musketry. The dying man said to his humble friend and follower - "Mitchell, I am mortally wounded; never mind me; save yourself". Samuel Mitchell replied - "Shall I leave you here to be butchered? Certainly I will not. I will carry you whilst I can walk;" - and carry him he did out of that accursed spot to a place of safety. The officer died, but with his dying breath he expressed an earnest hope that Mitchell's heroism would be rewarded as it deserved to be. That desire has been fulfilled. The heroism of his preserver will now never be forgotten; when the history of the New Zealand war comes to be written, and as long as valour is honoured, the name of Samuel Mitchell shall be had in our remembrance, and his conduct held up as a noble example.
The troops took up their position in the prescribed order,viz.: the Seamen and Marines of H.M. ships now in harbour, the Artillery, troops of the line, Volunteers, and Naval Brigade, numbering (1,313).
His Excellency inspected the troops, and afterwards went to the covered platform, accompanied by Commodore Wiseman. By desire of His Excellency, the naval portion of the Brigade took up a position in front of the stage, - a formation which had the effect of entirely shutting out the Volunteers from any view of the proceedings - the mounted officers, however, by perhaps excusable laxity of discipline, left their places to catch a glimpse of the imposing ceremony - the other officers remained in the line in open order.
His Excellency then spoke as follows:I felt assured the moment Sir William Wiseman made it known that there was to be a presentation of the Victoria Cross in Sydney that the public would zealously respond, that crowds would hasten to do honour to the ceremony, and that the Volunteers would co-operate to the utmost, as indeed it is evident they have done by joining the meeting in force, and having the distribution of their prizes in the Domain than as usual in Randwick. My expectations have not been disappointed. The immense assemblage which spreads over the Domain in every direction manifests the warm sympathy entertained by the people of New South Wales for British arms and British interests, and their resolve to do all they can to add weight to the reward about to be bestowed on their valiant countryman.
The Volunteers, whose ranks I rejoice to see so well filled, cannot but feel well content to stand side by side with sailors and soldiers. - few, indeed, in numbers, but a worthy sample of the whole - who have seen active service in various parts of the world, and have recently been engaged in perilous warfare in defence of our fellow-colonists in New Zealand. The association cannot but be gratifying to the Volunteers on an occasion likely to be memorable in the annals of the place as it is novel and interesting. It cannot fail to be interesting to all who value at their just rate the qualities on which the defence and independence of a country must ever be based. To most present it cannot but be novel. To myself it has this of novelty - that although on occasions when the officer commanding the troops in Corfu presented the Victoria Cross to men who had earned it by the valorous discharge of their duty in the presence of the enemy I have attended and witnessed the presentation, yet I have never before had the honour of acting for the Sovereign, and of making the presentation myself.
For the prominent position I am placed in at the present moment, my acknowledgments are due to Sir William Wiseman, who might properly have vindicated it for himself on account of his high command, of his having stood "in the front of bloody war" just lately in New Zealand,, and of his having on more than one occasion risked his life with distinction in the service of his Queen and country. But Sir William Wiseman - so well entitled to the foremost place - has yet assigned it to me, and I will attempt to fulfil its functions by first reading the dispatch which Sir William Wiseman has received from the Lords of the Admiralty, stating the gift of the Cross, and the form in which they wished the presentation to be made.
Admiralty, 25th July 1864
Sir, - I have received and laid before my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, your dispatch of the 3rd of May last, reporting the gallant conduct of Samuel Mitchell, captain of the foretop of the Harrier, at the attack at Te Papa, and I am authorised by their Lordships to transmit to you herewith the decoration of the Victoria Cross which Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to confer upon Samuel Mitchell.
I am desired by their Lordships to signify their direction to you to take the earliest opportunity of having the Cross presented to Samuel Mitchell in Her Majesty's name.
The presentation to take place in such a formal and public manner as may be considered best adapted to evince Her Majesty's sense of the noble daring displayed by Samuel Mitchell before the enemy, and to enhance the value of the decoration; and a report of the proceedings which may be adopted on this occasion is to be forwarded for the purpose of being recorded in the register of the decoration, as well as a copy of any general order you may issue on the subject.
Commodore Sir William Wiseman, C.B.
I will next read a statement of Samuel Mitchell's service for which the decoration was awarded:-"On the 29th of April, when the Pukehinahina pah was stormed, Samuel Mitchell, at that time acting as coxswain to the late commander Hay, who led the storming party, accompanied him into the pah, when commander Hay was mortally wounded, and the storming party were compelled to retreat, leaving several of the wounded officers and men behind, Samuel Mitchell refused to leave his commander, although repeatedly ordered to do so and seek his own safety by commander Hay; he carried his wounded commander out of the pah under a very heavy fire, and saw him conveyed safely into camp. For this signal act of valour her Majesty has been pleased to confer the order of the Cross on Samuel Mitchell."
I am very happy to add that this young man, so distinguished for bravery and coolness, bears an excellent general character, as the following proves:-Curacoa, Fitzroy Dock,
Samuel Mitchell entered Her Majesty's navy August 1857, and has served up to the present time, a period of seven years, with the character of "very good."
The gift of the day - the Order of the Victoria Cross - was established by her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen as an honourable distinction to be worn by those of her subjects who distinguished themselves above their fellows in action.It likewise entitles the holder, if a petty officer or seaman, to a gratuity of 10 pounds per annum for life with an additional 5 pounds for every bar that may be awarded to the Cross.
I will now proceed to touch on the times and events which led to the institution of this order of merit - this much-coveted decoration - the Victoria Cross. The happy thought is said to have occurred to her Majesty the Queen when her lamented consort was still alive, and at a conjuncture when it was well known the royal pair sympathised deeply and warmly with the feelings which agitated the public mind during the Crimean War, with all its excitements and exigencies, its triumphs and its sufferings.Their hearts beat in unison with the heart of the country. They shared the common joy which pervaded all ranks when the tidings came that our soldiers had scaled the heights over the Alma and forced back from their position the brave and well disciplined Russian columns, and still more when it was told how the ground was held at Inkerman, against the same redoubtable foemen, coming on in overwhelming numbers - held with stubborn valour till time was given for our own relief and supports, and for our gallant French allies, to form up and secure the victory which the surprise of the attack and the vast preponderance of force had in the first instance well nigh wrested from our standards.
Great was the pride and joy of those days; not less the tribulation when it came to be known that winter and privation, and disease, had thinned the ranks capable of such achievements, and that the men whose force and onset the enemy had been unable to withstand in the field, were lying by thousands in hospitals helpless and feeble, imploring and blessing the ministration of a woman's hand. Never were a nation's feelings more deeply stirred.
From this conflict and variety of emotions grew the desire that some memorial of the time should be invented. Something special, as a landmark for the future, and a token of the appreciation in which the country held the efforts of those who were exhausting their lives for her glory and defence. The Queen, ever equal to the occasion, and ever true to her people's sympathies, insitituted the order of merit which bears her name. The Victoria Cross met the requirements of the hour and of the country, and at the same time supplied a want long felt and with regard to the British Naval and Military services.There was no order open to all ranks, in distinction, which the private soldier might share in common with his officer. The French had instituted the Legion of Honour, open to all, and it diffused chivalrous sentiments throughout their whole army.
I recollect seeing, years ago, in my boyhood, two French veterans, once privates, wearing decorations of a high class; one had saved the life of an Austrian officer of rank in one of the great victories won by the first Napoleon; the other had performed a feat like that whose reward we are assembled to witness and applaud - he had carried his wounded colonel off one of those hotly contested fields in which the French encountered the British soldiery in Spain.
The great military historian of that very war in Spain wrote - "The rays of glory fall but feebly on the helmets of those who serve in the ranks." But now it is no longer so; the reproach is taken away. There is a distinction open to all grades, and amidst the advantages and improvements which the foresight and justice of the country have of late years imparted to the Army and Navy the Victoria cross stands eminently forth - an order of merit open to all grades, a freemasonry of honour, an equality of distinction which would add lustre to the loftiest nobility, and which will be ever as much coveted by the high-born and the wealthy as by the poorest man; whose valour and good fortune place his name on the glorious list. Such personal distinctions as the Victoria Cross are the moral treasures of a State by which it animates and rewards public virtues and public services, and which, without national injury,or entailing burdens on the country, operate with resistless force on brave and generous minds. In the name of, and on behalf of the Queen, I have the high honour and satisfaction of presenting the Victoria Cross to Samuel Mitchell.
The insignia of the Victoria cross is of that octagonal, or eight-pointed form usually designated as Maltese, being formed of bronze, with the Royal crest - the "crowned lion" - on a crown in the centre, having underneath it an escroll bearing this inscription - "For valour." It is worn on the left breast (with a blue ribbon for the navy), being attached to the ribbon by a bar, in the middle of which is a V. - the initial of Her Majesty, the founder.
At the conclusion of the address, his Excellency descended from the platform, and advancing to Mitchell, proceeded to pin the cross on his breast, amidst a low murmur of intense excitement, that broke forth like a torrent when his Excellency, who had returned to the stand, called for three cheers for the gracious Sovereign on whose behalf he had acted. The cheers ran down the line of the troops, regular and irregular, and were caught up by the crowd on the front, rear, and each flank. Then followed three cheers for the brave recipient of the regal favour; and then came a scene that was remarkable in every way. Mitchell, who was about to retire, was stopped by the ladies and gentlemen who had the privilege of entry to the enclosure, and his medal was examined, and he himself congratulated to a greater extent than the crowd behind thought justifiable.
After numerous calls to Mitchell to "Never mind them, but come here", and to "Give fair play", the crowd became unmanageable, and the paltry barrier of iron hurdle disappeared, and in an instant the place was innudated by a living wall of people, who rushed upon Mitchell, eager as hungry wolves, but only eager to do honour to the brave, and to make much of the recipient of royal favour. He was surrounded, pulled hither and thither, but all in the best of spirit and with a kind of bearishness of frolic that nautical Jack in particular so well understands, and so fully appreciates.The police could do nothing. The affair was so unpremeditated and spontaneous an outburst that they were powerless, whilst it was so hearty and genuine, that it was better left to work itself off. This was to some extent done by Mitchell, at the instance of those who surrounded him going to the line of rails that kept back the crowd, in order to give them what they demanded, a sight of the hero of the day. But here he was seized upon and raised upon the shoulders of some half-dozen sturdy fellows, and in this way was paraded up and down the field, and the last we saw of him in the distance was his figure mounted high up above the enthusiastic crowd, and disappearing through St. Mary's Gate, where they set him on a horse, - and so they accompanied down Kingstreet and through the other principal streets of the city the man whom their august Sovereign had - and not without good reason - delighted to do public honour.
After this episode, the seamen were marched back to their old position of the right of the line, and the winners of prizes in the late matches of the N.S.W. Rifle Association were marched to the front. .... (There then followed the presentation of prizes to the Rifle association).
The prizes having all been presented the sailors marched back to their place of embarkation, and the troops and volunteers to their respective parade grounds."
(Drawing taken from a photograph of
Samuel Mitchell at 23 a short time
after he was awarded the Victoria Cross
in September 1864.)