South Africa General Service Medal, with bar for 1878, awarded to Pvt. J. Harvey, 1880

South Africa Medal, 1880

Obverse, a bust of Queen Victoria

South Africa Medal, 1880

Reverse, a lion stooping to drink before a mimosa bush; in the exergue a Zulu shield on four crossed assegais

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South Africa General Service Medal, 1880

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.