Civil orders, decorations and medals
June 2009 / August 2012

Pre-Union colonies and republics

THREE of the colonies and republics that existed in South Africa prior to unification in 1910 occasionally awarded civil medals : the Cape of Good Hope under both Dutch and British rule; the South African Republic; and Natal.

Cape of Good Hope

The Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) established the first permanent European settlement at the Cape of Good Hope in April 1652, and ruled it for nearly a century and a half. British military forces occupied the colony from 1795 to 1803, and again from 1806. In 1814, the Netherlands transferred the Cape to the British as a permanent possession. It was incorporated into the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Neither the Netherlands nor the VOC had an honours system as such in the 17th and 18th centuries, but from time to time the VOC awarded medals to honour individuals or to commemorate significant events. An early 19th-century British governor also awarded special medals on at least one occasion.

"'t Casteel d' Goede Hoop" Medal (1677) — Presented to governor Ysbrand Goske, who supervised the construction of the Castle of Good Hope. 275 years later, South Africa's highest military decoration would be named after the Castle.

Insignia: An oval silver-gilt medal, suspended from a chain, displaying an East Indiaman ship (obverse) and the Castle with a lengthy inscription (reverse).

De Hartog Medal (1689) — Awarded posthumously to East Indies governor and naval commander Jean de Hartog, for capturing two enemy ships in Table Bay. He died shortly afterwards.

Insignia: A gold medal depicting an East Indiaman ship (obverse) and an inscription describing the event (reverse).

"Gouden Buys" Medal (1695) — Presented to Capt Lourens Thys of the VOC ship Gouden Buys, to commemorate a disastrous voyage in which 188 out of 190 crew members - including Thys's son - died of disease.

Insignia: A circular silver medal, suspended from a chain, depicting figures in a landscape (obverse) and a ship at anchor in a bay (reverse), with lengthy inscriptions.

VOC Centenary Medal (1702) — Issued to commemorate the VOC's centenary in 1702. It is thought that some high-ranking Cape officials may have been among the recipients.

Insignia: A circular silver medal depicting a Greek galley (obverse) and a classical female figure (reverse).

Van Imhoff Inauguration Medal (1743) — Presented by Baron Gustav van Imhoff, to mark his inauguration, in Cape Town, as governor-general of the Dutch East Indies.

Insignia: A silver medal depicting Van Imhoff (obverse) and a classical female figure (reverse).

Swellengrebel Medal (1751) — Presented to governor Hendrik Swellengrebel, at the end of his term of office. He was the only governor born in the colony.

Insignia: A medal depicting an East Indiaman ship (obverse) and a portrait of Swellengrebel (reverse).

De Suffren Medal (1784) — Awarded to French Admiral Pierre de Suffren and others, for defeating a British naval squadron which had been sent to capture the colony from the Dutch in 1781.

Insignia: A circular medal depicting a female head (obverse) and a Latin inscription (reverse). Awarded in gold to Suffren, and in silver and bronze to six VOC officials.

Andries Waterboer Medal (1825) — Presented by governor Lord Charles Somerset to the Griqua leader Andries Waterboer and his councillors, as "a token of friendship".

Insignia: An oval silver medal depicting a White man and a Griqua shaking hands.

South African Republic

The Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (the Boer state in the Transvaal from 1858 to 1902), had no official honours system, but in 1874, at the request of the predominantly British-born mining community of Pilgrim's Rest, a presidential decoration was established to reward two women who had nursed the community through a fever epidemic.

Burgers Cross (1874) — Presented by Transvaal president Thomas Burgers to three women: two for nursing services during an epidemic and one for composing the ZAR's national anthem.

Insignia: A plain gold cross pattee, suspended from a green ribbon with 'Burgers Cross' on a brooch bar at the top.


Natal jubilee medal ribbon
Although the British colony of Natal came within the ambit of the British honours system, its government is known to have issued at least one civil medal on its own authority.

Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Medal (1897) — Awarded to selected African traditional leaders in Natal, to commemorate Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee on 21 June 1897.

Insignia: A circular silver medal displaying Queen Victoria's head (obverse) and 'To Commemorate the Sixtieth Year of the Reign of HM Queen Victoria 1897' (reverse).

References :
  • Alexander, E.G.M., Barron, G.K.B. & Bateman, A.J.; South African Orders, Decorations and Medals (1985).
  • Pamm, A.N.; 'A Natal Colony Chief's Medal' in Military Medal Society of SA Journal No 41 (Aug 2002).
  • Welz, S.; Cape Silver and Silversmiths (1976).
© Arthur Radburn
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