The CSC was instituted in June 1901. Its institution has its origins in a Memorial from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to the King, dated 15th June 1901. The Commissioners argued that there should be "some means of recognising Distinguished Service before the Enemy on the part of Warrant officers and Subordinate Officers of Your Majesty's Fleet, who by reason of not holding a Commission in the Royal Navy, are not eligible for appointment to any existing Order or Decoration. We beg leave to recommend that Your Majesty will be graciously pleased by Your Order in Council to institute a Decoration to be designated the Conspicuous Service Cross". No one could be nominated who had not been mentioned in despatches. On 14th October 1914, eligibility for the Cross was extended to Commissioned Officers below the rank of Lieutenant Commander and the award's name was changed to the Distinguished Service Cross. A bar for subsequent acts of service before the enemy was instituted from 7th September 1916.
Between 1901 and 1913, there were 8 awards of the CSC. Of these, 6 were for the Boer War.