South Africa General Service Medal, with bar for 1878-9, awarded to Pvt. F. Bird, 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 (Ninth Cape Frontier War, Zulu War)

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.
Particularly demanding were the attacks of the Galeka and Gaika tribes on a protected people, the Fingos. The campaigns against the insurgent peoples lasted some eight months from 1877 into 1878 and involved, as well as extensive local forces, contingents of both the British Army and the Royal Navy serving ashore. The conflict, which became known as the Ninth Cape Frontier War, ended in the annexation of the Transkei, home of the Galeka peoples, to the Cape Colony.
With this settled the attention of those forces not embroiled in the developing conflict with the Zulus was turned to a Basuto tribe in the Transvaal the Bapedi of Chief Sekukuni, whose raids from a supposedly impregnable fortress had now begun to affect tribes under British protection. An initial sally against him in late 1878 having proved ineffective, a larger force was sent in November 1879 and quickly overran the fortress. The defenders were killed almost to a man, largely by African soldiery.
This medal was awarded to Private F. Bird of the 80th Foot, which unit joined the campaign against Sekukuni once the Galekas and Gaikis were temporarily pacified. Lester Watson purchased his medal from the London dealers Spink at some point before 1928.