King's Own Royal Regiment Museum


Museum & Collections
Contact Us

17th Century
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century
First World War
Second World War
Actions & Movements
Battle Honours

Further Reading



South Africa Medal (25 Sept 1877 to 2 Dec 1879)

The  diademed head of Queen Victoria with the legend “VICTORIA REGINA”.

A Lion crouching to drink at a pool in front of a protea bush.  Above the bush are the words “SOUTH AFRICA”.  At the bottom of the medal are a Zulu Shield and four crossed assegais.

Approx. 36 mm in diameter.  Medal and bars in silver.

Approx. 32 mm wide.  Orange watered, with two broad dark blue stripes each approx. 4 mm wide and approx. 17 mm apart and two narrow dark blue stripes each approx. ˝ mm wide and approx. 11mm apart.

A scroll pattern ornamental swivelling suspender.

Recipient’s Number, Rank, Initials, Surname and Regiment engraved on the edge in capital letters.

Six were awarded: “1877-8”, “1877-8-9”, “1877-9”, “1878”, “1878-9” and “1879”.  Only one bar is awarded with each medal, namely that bearing the date or dates during which the recipient served in the relevant parts of South Africa.  Those mobilised but who remained in Natal between 11 January and 1 September 1879 received the medal but no bar.

For operations against:

1.  The Galekas and Gaikas from 26 September 1877 to 28 June 1878

2.  Chief Pokwane from 21 to 28 January 1878

3.  The Griquas from 24 April to 13 November 1878

4.  The Zulu’s under Cetewayo and his lieutenants from 11 Jan to 1 Sept 1879.

5.  Chief Sekukuni from 11 November to 2 December 1879.

6.  Chief Moirosi in the Drakensberg from 25 March to 20 November 1879.

Most of these wars were small affairs fought mainly by the many Colonial units raised for specific purposes, such as that of capturing the Basuto Chief. Chief Moirosi refused to pay taxes and occupied a strongly defended position in the Drakensberg mountains where he was ultimately killed.

This medal is best known, as the “Zulu War Medal”, with the clasps bearing the year 1879, awarded to those in the campaign against Cetewayo, who had been crowned King of the Zulu nation in 1873.  Troubles developed in South Africa during the 19th Century as the expansionist policies of the Boers and the British, deprived the native tribes of their most fertile lands.  Some, including Sir Bartle Frere, High Commissioner for Native Affairs in South Africa, saw the Zulus with their powerful army, as a threat to be dealt with, despite Cetewayo having kept his people quiet during the Ninth Kaffir War of 1878.  Eventually, following some minor troubles, Frere presented Cetewayo with an unacceptable ultimatum. This threatened the Zulus' independence and was rejected.  As a result a British military force of five columns under Lord Chelmsford entered Zululand on 11 January 1879.  On the 22nd January a mixed force of about 1700 men in an ill-prepared camp near Isandhlwana Hill, was surprised by a Zulu army of perhaps 20,000 men and was almost wiped out in about 2 hours.  Later the same day the small garrison of 139 men at Rorke’s Drift was attacked by about 3000 Zulus and held out for about ten hours before being relieved the following morning.  Three Victoria Crosses were awarded for the former action and eleven for the latter.

Eventually the war took a more favourable turn for the British and Cetewayo was defeated on 4 July at the battle of Ulundi.  The war finally ending in September.

The King’s Own
The 2nd Battalion 4th (The King’s Own Royal) Regiment left England in mid-December 1878 and marched up through Natal to Zululand by Detachments.  The leading two companies were approaching Fort Bengough when they met a galloper bringing news of the disaster at Isandhlwana.  They hurried on through the night towards Rorke’s Drift, but the Drift had already been relieved by the time they arrived.  The Battalion saw little of the fighting, being engaged in the unrewarding, but necessary, task of guarding lines of communication and key border locations.  It did, however, provide a detachment of Mounted Infantry which saw action at the Battle of Inhlobana Hill and Kambula, during the reconnaissance before Ulundi and at the Battle of Ulundi.  After the main campaign had ended, on 8 September, three companies of the Battalion were engaged in the attack on the caves on the Intombe River occupied by Manyanyoba. The two men killed and one wounded were the last British casualties of the war.  All who served with the 2nd Battalion in the campaign received the medal, and the vast majority also received the bar ‘1879’.

South Africa Medals in the museum's collection

The South Africa 1879 Medal 'Zulu War'

© 2006 Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum