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South Africa Medal 1877-79

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Guest Darrell

South Africa Medal 1877-79

The South Africa Medal (also known as the Zulu War Medal) was instituted in 1880 and was awarded by the British Government to members of the British Army and Royal Naval Brigade involved in a series of South African tribal wars between 1877 to 1879.

In 1854 Queen Victoria had given approval for the award of a South Africa Medal to members of the British Army who had served in any one of the three South African campaigns of 1835–36, 1846–47, or 1850–53, on the Eastern Frontier of the Cape Province. Designed by William Wyon and L.C. Wyon, the medal's obverse displays a 'Young Head' portrait of Queen Victoria wearing a coronet. The reverse shows a lion, half-crouching watchfully, behind a protea bush, with the date '1853' in the exergue. The medal's ribbon is golden yellow with dark blue stripes.

In 1880 it was decided that this 1853 medal should be awarded to all personnel—Colonial volunteers and native levies as well as British regular forces—who had served in any of the campaigns in South Africa between September 1877 and December 1879, namely the Gaika–Galeka War, the Northern Border War, the lst and 2nd Sekukuni Wars, the Moirosi's Mountain campaign in Basutoland, and the Anglo-Zulu War. A medal bar or clasp was to be attached to the suspender of the medal hearing the date or dates of the year or years in which the recipient had actually served in any of those campaigns. Any members of the military who had been mobilized in Natal but who had not crossed the Tugela River into Zululand, were to receive the medal without a bar.This included Naval shore parties.

Army Order No 103 of August 1880, which instituted the new South Africa Medal, made no mention of any change in design of the 1853 medal. However, the date '1853' was replaced in the medal's reverse exergue by a military trophy consisting of a Zulu ox-hide shield and four crossed assegais.

Participants in the Anglo-Zulu War received this medal without a bar if they remained on the Natal side of the Tugela River, or with the bar '1879' if they actually saw service in Zululand. Particularly sought after are medals awarded to members of the 24th Regiment of Foot involved in action at Rorke's Drift or Isandlhwana in January 1879.

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Guest Darrell

The 90TH Foot was under the command of Colonel Evelyn Wood who led the 4th Column (or the North Column) into Zululand in January 1879. The 90th was involved in several of the noted battles throughout the first 6 months of 1879 including Khambula and Hlobane.

The following Medal was awarded to 1311 PTE. J.H. DAWSON 90TH FOOT.

I'm still doing some research to see if Dawson was involved with the battles mentioned above.

The rim is engraved with the usual hand graved style known to other 90th Foot recipients of this medal.

John Henry Dawson was 24 7/12 Years of Age when he enlisted in the 90th FOOT on the 7th day of October 1865. He hailed from Lecester and was a Painter by trade. He had previously served 107 days with the 90th Foot earlier.

His Service included:

HOME -- 09 OCT 1865 thru 09 JUL 1866

INDIA -- 10 JUL 1866 thru 11 JUN 1869

HOME -- 12 JUN 1869 thru 10 JAN 1878

SOUTH AFRICA -- 11 JAN 1878 thru 18 OCT 1879

INDIA -- 19 OCT 1879 thru 27 JAN 1887

HOME -- 28 JAN 1887 thru 15 FEB 1887

He was entitled to the South Africa Medal w/ 1879 Clasp. Surprisingly he did nor receive any medals for service in India. Or at least they are not mentioned in these papers.


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that pretty impressive to get all the other docs that go with this guy just from one medal that so old!!! thanks for posting it!!(iv kind got a bit of bug now for british medals as the research potential on them is simply amazing when compared to german stuff!!) :beer:

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Guest Darrell

Thanks Paddywhack. Yes, Victorian is the way to go ....

A story, a name, a background behind the medal. Much more pleasing to know that someone actually earned the medal vs. not knowing whether it just sat on a shelf never finding an owner.

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  • 3 months later...

Hi - Darrell. I must have missed your original post. The 90th. were sent to the Cape in 1878 and were on the Frontier during the Kaffrarian War - the Ninth - in that year. Under the command of Sir Evelyn Wood VC, they were sent overland from King William's Town into Natal - where he commanded the third column that was in the North of the Province. This was the only succesful one , as One column was destroyed at Isandlawana and the second was kept under siege for four months at Eshowe.

Sir Evelyn set-up his base camp at Kambula - on top of a fairly steep hill. However, he set out with part of his Force to punish the tribesmen at Hlobane. This was about 25 miles away and is a hill over 4 miles long - it is almost pure iron and it is estimated that it could supply the World for over 20 years. Whilst on the slopes they looked East and could see an Impi of 20,000 Zulu warriors advancing at a jog trot. They advanced very quickly and many of our men were cut-off. They escaped - with difficuly at the western end and descended a number of 6 foot drops - known as Erzugayen. Many awards were won in this retreat.

The following day the Impi attacked the fortified position on top of Kambula - and were soundly beaten as we fought from defensive breastworks. It was our first major success in the Zulu War.

The 90th later joined the 5000 men for the final Battle at Ulundi - the King's stronghold. We formed a square and although they had problems our superior firepower won.

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Mervyn, I had hoped to find out through Muster rolls if he was present at any of these engagements but came up blank. The Researcher suggested that unless he was KIA'd finding out this info would be difficult as was usually the case for soldiers of this period.

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