South Africa Medal (1853)

South Africa Medal (1853)
Awarded by the Monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Type Military Campaign medal
Eligibility British forces
Awarded for Campaign service
Campaign 1834–36 First Kaffir War
1846–47 Second Kaffir War
1850–53 Third Kaffir War
Status Discontinued in 1880
Clasps None
Established 1854
Order of wear
Next (higher) Waterloo Medal
Next (lower) Ghuznee Medal
Related South Africa Medal (1880)

Ribbon bar

The South Africa Medal (1853) is a campaign medal which was instituted in 1854, for award to officers and men of the Royal Navy and British Army who served in the Cape of Good Hope during the Xhosa Wars between 1834 and 1853.[1][2]


In 1854, Queen Victoria instituted the South Africa Medal for award to members of the Royal Navy and British Army who had served in any one of three of the South African Xhosa Wars on the Eastern Frontier of the Cape of Good Hope.[3]

Award criteria

The South Africa Medal (1853) was awarded to participants in three campaigns in the eastern Cape of Good Hope:

No clasps were awarded, therefore it is not possible to determine which of the wars any particular medal was awarded for, without reference to the appropriate medal rolls.[4]


The 1834–36 campaign began with a response to a Xhosa cattle raid when, on 11 December 1834, a Cape Government Commando party killed a chief of high rank. This incensed the Xhosa and an army of 10,000 men swept across the frontier into the Cape of Good Hope, pillaged and burned homesteads and killed all who resisted. In response, Boer commandos under Piet Retief, Burgher and Khoikhoi commandos and British Imperial troops which arrived via Algoa Bay launched a retaliatory campaign.[4]

The 1846–47 and 1851–53 campaigns were both fought against the Gaika tribe of Chief Mgolombane Sandile, who resented British land encroachments and had recently begun to receive fire-arms.[4]

In 1851, the situation was bad enough to necessitate reinforcements, which became famous because of the troopship HMS Birkenhead which, on 26 February 1852, struck a rock off what is now Gansbaai in the Western Cape while transporting troops to Algoa Bay. The ship sank within 20 minutes and, since there were not enough serviceable lifeboats for all the passengers, the soldiers aboard stood fast rather than escape, so as to allow the women and children to reach the lifeboats in safety. This event gave rise to the "women and children first" protocol, also known as the Birkenhead Drill, and the concept of "the captain goes down with the ship".[4]

Order of wear

Campaign Medals and Stars are not listed by name in the order of wear prescribed by the British Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, but are all grouped together as taking precedence after the Queen's Medal for Chiefs and before the Polar Medals, in order of the date of the campaign for which awarded.[5]

In the order of wear of British Campaign Medals, the South Africa Medal (1853) takes precedence after the Waterloo Medal and before the Ghuznee Medal.[5]

South Africa

With effect from 6 April 1952, when a new South African set of decorations and medals was instituted to replace the British awards used to date, the older awards continued to be worn in the same order of precedence but, with the exception of the Victoria Cross, took precedence after all South African orders, decorations and medals awarded to South Africans on or after that date. The South Africa Medal (1853) is the oldest official British campaign medal applicable to South Africa.[5][6][7]


The medal was struck in silver and is a disk, 36 millimetres in diameter, with a swivelling suspender. Designed by William Wyon and L.C. Wyon, the dies for the medal were engraved by Leonard Charles Wyon.


The medal's obverse displays the diademed head of Queen Victoria, facing left. The medal is inscribed "VICTORIA" at left and "REGINA" at right around the perimeter. The name of engraver L.C. Wyon is inscribed on the truncation of the Queen's neck.[3]


The reverse shows a crouching lion on a plinth in front of a protea bush with a single flower. The medal is inscribed "SOUTH AFRICA" around the top perimeter and has the year "1853" in the exergue. The name of engraver L.C. Wyon is inscribed at the bottom, below the year.[3]


The ribbon is 32 millimetres wide, with a 2½ millimetres wide golden yellow band, a 4 millimetres wide dark blue band, a 3 millimetres wide golden yellow band and a ½ millimetre wide dark blue band, repeated in reverse order and separated by a 12 millimetres wide golden yellow band.


Army Order No. 103 of August 1880 instituted a new South Africa Medal. While it made no mention of any change in the design of the South Africa Medal (1853), the year "1853" was replaced in the new medal's reverse exergue by a military trophy, consisting of a Zulu ox-hide shield and four crossed assegais. The obverse of the new medal is identical to that of the South Africa Medal (1853).[3]


  1. Mackay, J and Mussel, J (eds) – Medals Yearbook – 2006, (2005), Token Publishing.
  2. Joslin, Litherland, and Simpkin (eds), British Battles and Medals, (1988), Spink.
  3. 1 2 3 4 The Zulu War Medals on The South African Military History Society website
  4. 1 2 3 4 The Fitzwilliam Museum Collection – South Africa (1853) Medal, awarded to Pvt. Thomas F. Fleming, 1854 Retrieved 2015-03-09
  5. 1 2 3 The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 56878. p. 3352. 17 March 2003.
  6. Government Notice no. 1982 of 1 October 1954 – Order of Precedence of Orders, Decorations and Medals, published in the Government Gazette of 1 October 1954.
  7. Republic of South Africa Government Gazette Vol. 477, no. 27376, Pretoria, 11 March 2005, OCLC 72827981
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