The distribution of the Victoria Cross by Her Majesty Queen Victoria had been held the previous day at Southsea Commons reported the News Letter on this day in 1858.
It was “an event of no ordinary interest, and to the inhabitants of the locality it was a great patriotic festivity, numbers being attracted from the surrounding districts to witness the proceedings”.
The troops began to assemble on the common at about half-past three o’clock, and formed into two brigades, the first commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Cole of the 15th Regiment, and the second by Colonel Hurdle, CB, of the Royal Marines Light Infantry.
There were in all about 4,000 infantry, “a very respectable gathering, considering the large drafts that have recently gone out to India, and including, besides, some companies of Royal Artillery, the 15th Regiment of the line, and five regiments of militia”.
The officers and colours were drawn up in front of the line of continuous columns, awaiting the arrival of Her Majesty.
For the accommodation of the Queen, an elevated dais, suitably decorated, had been erected in front of the brigades, and in the rear of the platform was a Royal pavilion or tent for Her Majesty and the Royal party.
Enclosures were set apart for the officers of the garrison and their friends, among whom were, of course a large number of ladies.
These enclosures flanked each side of the platform erected for the Sovereign, while a line of sentries, extending a considerable distance in front of the enclosures, formed a square, in the centre of which were stationed the brigades.
The general public thronged the space immediately beyond, and obtained “no very distinct view of the ceremony itself”.
A grandstand was provided for the use of those who chose to pay for an elevated position, but the situation was more favourable for a coup d’œil than for minute inspection.
The esplanade was decorated with particoloured flags, and here also were erected a number of small platform, the property of enterprising speculators “in the gratification of public curiosity”.
The Queen landed at the stairs in the dockyard under Royal salutes shortly after four o’clock, the crown of the vessels in harbour manning yards and cheering the Royal approach and disembarkation, and the ships themselves being dressed in their colour.
Her Majesty proceeded at once to Southsea Common. She was saluted in passing opposite the fleet at Spithead by the magnificent screw vessels at anchor, “and similar homage was paid by the garrison battery”.
The Royal carriage entered the ground by the eastern enclosure, and stopped for two or three minutes alongside the dais, while Her Majesty gazed on the beautiful scene before her, the principal feature of which was the gallant band whose deeds were the occasion of the ceremony.
On the right of Her Majesty was His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, on horseback in the uniforim of a Field Marshal; on the left was His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge.
In the carriage with the Queen were the Princess Alice and the Princess Helena, and a Lady-in-Waiting. “There was a numerous and brilliant staff,” it was noted.
At a signal from Her Majesty the Royal cortège proceeded to the Eastern extremity of the two brigades, and traversed the whole front from end to end at a slow walking pace, then returned amid the cheers of the multitude to the dais appointed for the ceremony of distribution, which Her Majesty immediately ascended, accompanied by the two Royal Princesses, the Prince Consort, and the Duke of Cambridge, and by General Peel, Her Majesty standing in front.
The officers and men selected to receive the Victoria Cross where then ordered to advance, which they did successively, and each in turn had the gratification of having the cross fastened on his breast by the hand of the Queen herself - “an honour which seemed to have a rather dazzling and bewildering effect on some of them, as was shown by a forgetfulness of the military salute, and a certain amount of bashfulness in retiring”.
This distinguished honour was conferred on the following commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers, and private: Lieutenant-Colonel E W D Bell, 2nd Battalion 23rd Regiment; Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel M D Dixon, Royal Artillery, Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals, James Mount, CB, late 6th Dragoons, Major Thomas Esmond, late 18th Foot; Major D M Probyn, 2nd Punjab Cavalry; Captain H E Elphinstone, Royal Engineers; Captain A S Jones, 18th Hussars, late 9th Lancers; Lieutenant Robert Blair, 2nd Dragoon Guards; Deputy Assistant-Commissary of Ordnance, John Bnckley, East India Company’s Service; Colour-Sergeant Henry McDonald, Royal Engineers; Sergeant Henry Ramage 2nd Dragoons; and Private Joel Holmes, 84th Regiment.
The troops on the ground numbered near 5,000 men, comprising the Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery, Royal Marines, Royal Marines Artillery, Royal Horse Artillery, Royal Lancashire Artillery Militia, Royal Wiltshire Militia Regiment the 15th Regiment of the Line, the North Lincoln Militia Regiment, and the Wexford Militia Regiment.
The esplanade being considerably above the level of the common enabled those in carriages to have an excellent view. No vehicles were permitted on the common during the ceremony. The esplanade was handsomely decorated with flags and laurels.
Her Majesty was on the ground at half-past four o’clock.