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Auction: 18002 - Orders, Decorations and Medals
Lot: 203




Historically, the policing of Imperial frontiers frequently involved the raising and deployment of 'local levies' - as they were often called in the 19th century British Empire. Such units were generally recruited from settlers who inhabited the terrain to be policed and trusted aborigines who derived benefit and status from their specialist knowledge of the terrain and culture of the relevant border area. This practice was used throughout the Roman empire and, in modern history, by the Austrians in the Balkans, the French in North Africa and the Russians on the borders of their growing 19th century empire. While the British had first recruited such units in 18th century Highland Scotland, the growth of Empire necessitated their raising wherever Britain needed to defend its inexorably extending Imperial frontiers.

This remarkable and important collection of medals relating to colonial conflicts in southern Africa in the mid- to late 19th century demonstrates not only how such local units were needed to supplement British regular forces but also how their method of waging war was wholly suited to the campaigns in which they were deployed.

Although it was not until the South African War of 1899-1902 that the term 'Mounted Infantry' gained widespread currency, aided by Kipling's poem 'M.I.' (1901), British units of mounted infantry - drawn from regular infantry battalions - had been periodically deployed in Cape Colony since the early 19th century. Inspired by 17th century dragoons - infantrymen trained and equipped to move and to fight both mounted and on foot - and by Boer commandos, 'Mounted Infantry' was the arm of choice when local forces were raised for the wars in the eastern Cape from the 1850s.

As well as the Zulu War of 1879 and other contemporary frontier-based rebellions, there were nine other wars, once called 'the Kaffir Wars' but now known as the Cape Frontier or Xhosa Wars. These were waged between 1779 and 1879 against the Xhosa people, who fought to defend their lands and cattle against encroachment and appropriation by Boers and British settlers. In the first three, the Xhosa were opposed by Boer commandos; in the remaining six, the Xhosa's enemies were British regular and locally raised forces. The South Africa Medal 1834-53 was instituted in the latter year for award to those involved in what was, to the British, the 'Third Kaffir War' but which was, in reality, the Eighth Frontier War, 1850-53. The medal's terms of award were subsequently ante-dated to cover the First (Sixth) and Second (Seventh) 'Kaffir Wars' of 1834-35 and 1846-47 respectively. The Fourth and Fifth Frontier Wars of 1811-12 and 1818-19 did not merit a campaign medal.

The most well-known of the local regiments and, significantly, the most well-represented in this fine collection, was the Cape Mounted Riflemen (or Rifles). Initially raised from the native infantry component of the Cape Corps in 1827, the regiment gradually became more European in composition - as the medals in this collection indicate. It was actively engaged in the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Wars and was, as its name suggests, mounted infantry; disbanded in 1870, it was re-raised from the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police in 1878.

By 1877, British settlement in Cape Colony was well-established. As a result, the character of the colony's armed forces had almost completely changed from being that of 'local levies' to that of citizen volunteers. This change had been perceptible by the early 1850s but became marked in the 1860s, with the Cape's volunteer regiments coming closely to replicate the contemporary Rifle Volunteers of Great Britain in their composition, armament and uniforms. By 1861, there were 37 volunteer corps in Cape Town and its vicinity, with several in the eastern Cape. Many of these units, as the South Africa Medals 1877-79 in this collection amply demonstrate, volunteered to fight in the Ninth and last Frontier War of 1877-78; several were raised specifically for it. Many also served in the Zulu War of 1879, in the Northern Border War of 1878-79 and in Basotholand during 1880-81. The very varied nature of their raising, their composition and their fighting experience and qualities are extensively explored in the notes that accompany the individual medals and to which little more could be added. It is, however, a mark of the quality of some of the units that they remained in existence long after the conflicts for which they were raised, gaining fame and glory playing their part in the armed forces of South Africa in two world wars.

Collections such as that to which this is an Introduction will be familiar to the modern experienced medal collector: tightly focussed on particular campaigns and their medals, meticulously selected and extensively researched - one might almost say 'curated'. This collection is a monument to its creator and a model for all collectors.


The Royal Navy and Royal Marines

South Africa 1834-53 (W. Reid. Private. R.M.), lightly engraved pawn broker's mark by suspension claw, edge nicks, very fine

William Read is recorded as serving aboard H.M.S. Castor during the campaign of 1850-53. During that period Her Majesty's Ships Castor, Dee, Hermes, Rhadamanthus and Styx were all heavily employed in conveying troops, ammunition and stores from one side of the Cape to the other, and the crews were exposed to great danger in landing soldiers, horses and equipment through the heavy surf.

It is likely that Marines from H.M.S. Castor were put ashore at the base on the Buffalo to keep open communications between the Army and the Squadron; now named East London, it was fortified and used for commissariat stores; please note the difference in the spelling of the recipient's surname versus the medal roll entry.

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