Duncan Gordon Boyes

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Duncan Gordon Boyes
Duncan Boyes.jpg
Duncan Gordon Boyes VC in his midshipman's uniform
Born 5 November 1846
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Died 26 January 1869 (aged 23)
Dunedin, New Zealand
Buried at Andersons Bay Cemetery
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Rank Midshipman
Battles/wars Shimonoseki Expedition
Awards Victoria Cross
Relations Thomas James Young VC (brother-in-law)

Duncan Gordon Boyes VC (5 November 1846 – 26 January 1869) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He won the award during the Shimonoseki Expedition, Japan in 1864.

Early life[edit]

Duncan Gordon Boyes was born at 3 Paragon Buildings, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, the son of John Boyes and his wife Sabina on 5 November 1846. His sister Louisa Mary was later to marry Thomas James Young, who won a Victoria Cross at Lucknow, India in 1857.

Duncan was educated at Cheltenham College (hence their reason for having the Cross from 1978 until 1998) and joined the Royal Navy. He was assigned to HMS Euryalus on the East Indies station.

The British Naval Brigade and Royal Marines storm the stockade at Shimonoseki in September 1864. Illustrated London News, 24 December 1864.

Victoria Cross[edit]

He won his VC at the age of 17, for his part in action at Shimonoseki, Japan on 6 September 1864. Midshipman Boyes of HMS Euryalus. He carried the Queen's Colour into action with the leading company attacking the enemy's stockade. He kept the colours flying in spite of direct fire which killed one of his colour sergeants. Boyes and Colour Sergeant Thomas Pride who was badly wounded, were only prevented from going further forward by direct orders from their superior officer.[1]

The citation was published in the London Gazette of 21 April 1865 and read:

Duncan Gordon Boyes, Royal Navy, Midshipman of Her Majesty's Ship Euryalus

For the conspicuous gallantry, which, according to the testimony of Capt. Alexander CB, at that time Flag Captain to Vice-Admiral Sir Augustus Kuper KCB, Mr. Boyes displayed in the capture of the enemy's stockade. He carried a Colour with the leading company, kept it in advance of all, in the face of the thickest fire, his colour-sergeants having fallen, one mortally, the other dangerously wounded, and he was only detained from proceeding yet further by the orders of his superior officer. The Colour he carried was six times pierced by musket balls.[2]

Sir Ernest Satow mentioned Duncan Boyes in his memoirs entitled A Diplomat in Japan (London, 1921) in the following terms: "Lieutenant Edwards and Crowdy of the Engineers were ahead with a middy [midshipman] named D.G. Boyes, who carried the colours most gallantly; he afterwards received the V.C. for conduct very plucky in one so young." (A Diplomat in Japan, first edition, p. 112).

The toast of the Royal Navy, Duncan Boyes was invested with his Victoria Cross on 22 September 1865 by Admiral Sir Michael Seymour GCB (Commander-in-Chief to Portsmouth) on the Common at Southsea, along with William Seeley and Thomas Pride who also won their VCs at Shimonoseki. Hugh Talbot Burgoyne VC, John Edmund Commerell VC and others who had already won the medal also attended the ceremony.

Later life[edit]

Duncan Boyes V.C. in civilian clothes

Duncan's short life was to take a turn for the worse from then on. 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. On his death certificate, the cause was listed as delirium tremens.

He was buried locally in the Dunedin Southern Cemetery with a stone at his head and feet, though on 4 May 1954 the Dunedin branch of the Royal New Zealand Returned Services' Association (RSA), in consequence of his VC, reburied him in the servicemen's section of Andersons Bay Cemetery in Anglican Southern Section, Block 6, Plot 24.[3][4] The original grave exists still in the southern cemetery, though looking quite weathered and scruffy.

The medal[edit]

The Boyes V.C. realised GBP 51,750 and was sold at Spink, the auctioneers in London, on 21 July 1998 (lot 212) on behalf of Cheltenham College for the purpose of establishing a scholarship in Boyes' name.[5][6]

Lord Michael Ashcroft bought the medal at the auction in 1998 for his collection. It is now in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum. (See this list.) A replica of the Boyes medal is on permanent display in Big Modern, the library of Cheltenham College.

Recent developments[edit]

A series of posters of Duncan Boyes VC and other medal winners was put on view on the Victoria line in London on 11 November 2004.[7] [8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ flag
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 22913. p. 5471. 18 November 1864. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  3. ^ Dunedin branch - RSA
  4. ^ Boyes' grave/memorial headstone
  5. ^ Spink
  6. ^ John Vincent in the Sunday Times, 22 July 1998
  7. ^ BBC Report
  8. ^ PDF of the Boyes poster

External links[edit]