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South Africa General Service Medal: CM.1434-2009

An image of South Africa General Service Medal

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Object information

Current Location: In storage


Mint: London
Artist: Wyon, Leonard Charles
Artist: Wyon, William
Ruler: Victoria (1837-1901)
Ruler: Victoria regina (With the title of)




The history of the British presence in South Africa is inextricably bound up with that of the Basuto and Zulu tribes whom it displaced. A series of shaky and short-lived accommodations with the various polities that made up the African kingdoms meant that the borders between the zones were never entirely free from conflict. Between 1877 and 1879 a number of particularly difficult punitive expeditions were mounted by the British authorities, and in 1880 a medal was sanctioned for these that was a new issue of that for the campaigns of 1834-1853 with a slightly modified reverse design.
The bar carried by this medal relates to the endeavours of King Cetshwayo kaMpande, who became King of the Zulus in 1873 but had been their effective ruler since 1856. Although contemporary British accounts paint him as a obstinate and stupid ruler who persisted in boiling and eating missionaries, he was keenly aware of the threat that the British posed to his rule and embarked upon a programme to equip his army with muskets. He incited revolts among other tribes all along the British and Boer borders with the Zulus. This led to reinforcements being sent from Britain to quell him and his risings over the course of 1878. A commission was appointed to settle the border with the Zulus, but as it mainly found in favour of their claims these operations merely set the stage for the Zulu War of 1879.
This medal was awarded to Private J. Harvey of the 80th Foot, part of which unit served in the province of Natal during the unrest of 1878. Lester Watson purchased it at some point before 1928.


History note: Gift of L. Hoyt Watson; ex Lester Watson Collection, bt before 1928

Legal notes

Given by Lester Watson through Cambridge in America, 2009

Measurements and weight

Diameter: 36.2 mm
Weight: 39.63 g

Place(s) associated

  • London

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Given (2009) by Watson, Lester


1880 - 1881

Materials used in production


Techniques used in production


Inscription or legends present

Inscription present: Bust of Victoria facing left

  • Location: Obverse
  • Type: Design

Inscription present: Lion couchant before protea bush; Zulu shield on four crossed assegais in exergue

  • Location: Reverse
  • Type: Design

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: CM.1434-2009
Primary reference Number: 141528
Watson Catalogue: 346
Ordering: M-0317
Previous object number: LW.0317
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Saturday 22 January 2022 Last processed: Tuesday 13 June 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Coins and Medals

Citation for print

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2023) "South Africa General Service Medal" Web page available at: Accessed: 2023-12-01 03:53:30

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{{cite web|url= |title=South Africa General Service Medal |author=The Fitzwilliam Museum|accessdate=2023-12-01 03:53:30|publisher=The University of Cambridge}}

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