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South Africa General Service Medal: CM.1435-2009

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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.
Although an independent commission had adjudged in 1878 that most of the Zulu claims to border territories were justified, the repeated infractions and raids either perpetrated or provoked by the dependants of King Cetshwayo kaMpande of the Zulus determined the British commissioner in the area, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, to finally reduce the independence of the Zulu kingdom. Accordingly he demanded a complete disarmament on the part of the Zulus and the imposition of a British residency, and when Cetshwayo predictably ignored this demand, invaded Zululand in January 1879.
The Zulu forces outnumbered the British and African troops ranged against them two to one, and on occasions were able to achieve far more effective concentrations that resulted, for example, in a massacre of Europeans at the Battle of Isandlwana. Normally, however, the balance of battle was with the far-better-equipped Imperial troops, and only an acute shortage of troops (worsened by African desertions) as against Cetshwayo's forces prevented a rapid British victory. By March 1879 reinforcement was altering this impasse, and the Battle of Ulundi, in which the Zulus lost 1500 men, more than a tenth of their force, against 100 British losses from a force of more than 5000, determined most of the Zulu chiefs to seek peace. Cetshwayo became a fugitive, and was eventually captured and imprisoned in Cape Town. The British now faced the problem of effectively controlling this huge and resentful territory with the limited forces available to the peacetime administration.
This medal was awarded to Private M. McGrath of the 88th Foot for his service during the 1879 campaigns. Lester Watson acquired it at some point before 1928.


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

Legal notes

Given by Lester Watson through Cambridge in America, 2009

Measurements and weight

Diameter: 36.2 mm
Weight: 40.27 g

Place(s) associated

  • London

Acquisition and important dates

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


1880 CE - 1881 CE

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

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: CM.1435-2009
Primary reference Number: 141529
Watson Catalogue: 347
Ordering: M-0318
Previous object number: LW.0318
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Monday 15 January 2024 Last processed: Monday 15 January 2024

Associated departments & institutions

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

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "South Africa General Service Medal" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-07-21 08:22:53

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