[…] that an humble address be presented to Her Majesty to institute an ‘Order of Merit’ to be bestowed upon persons serving in the Army or Navy for distinguished and prominent personal gallantry during the present war and to which every grade and individual… may be admissible.
In March 1855 the Government announced that such an order of merit would be instituted. Queen Victoria herself had a role in approving the text of the Warrant and the design of the medal, which was finally settled upon in March 1856. Mr C.F. Hancock, a London jeweller, was given the appointment to produce 106 specimens. The medal was to be made from the bronze of Chinese cannons seized from the Russians at the siege of Sebastopol in 1855 (although analysis confirms that through the years different sources of metal have been used).
The first presentation was made in Hyde Park on 26th June 1857 where Queen Victoria decorated 62 servicemen for showing valour “in the face of the enemy” during the Crimean War. The first recipient was Commander Henry Raby RN who was recognised for his part in rescuing a wounded soldier while under fire during an attack on the Redan on 18th June 1855. Fourth in line was Charles Davis Lucas, a mate in the Royal Navy who, three years earlier, had thrown a live shell overboard after it landed on deck of his ship, the HMS Hecla. This act of bravery was the earliest to have been rewarded with the medal. The VC remains the highest military decoration awarded in the United Kingdom.
The Victoria Cross Society website includes a biography of Charles Lucas on its page of sample journal articles.