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Z.A. Republic: Boer Prisoners of War on the Island of St. Helena

Z.A. Republic: Boer Prisoners of War on the Island of St. HelenaZ.A. Republic: Boer Prisoners of War on the Island of St. Helena
Z.A. Republic: Boer Prisoners of War on the Island of St. HelenaZ.A. Republic: Boer Prisoners of War on the Island of St. Helena
Z.A. Republic: Boer Prisoners of War on the Island of St. HelenaZ.A. Republic: Boer Prisoners of War on the Island of St. Helena
Z.A. Republic: Boer Prisoners of War on the Island of St. HelenaZ.A. Republic: Boer Prisoners of War on the Island of St. Helena
Form: Circular hollow metal shell with three steel discs inside. Also solid cast.
By: J.L. Lefranc, French POW on St Helena
Date: 1900
Ref:  AM: 132; Hern: 298; ME: South African Republic 6; Laidlaw: 0209;
Variations:
SizeMetalMassValue
45.6 - 45.9 mmCopper Alloy Sheet Metal24.6 gm (variable)$850
45.2 mmBronze39.2 gm$650

Edge: Plain. Thickness 3.5 mm.

Obverse: Diamond-shaped shield with rounded corners containing four cameo designs, one at each corner, separated by sprigs of oak leaves. Design at the top, the coat-of-arms of the Z.A. Republic; at the bottom, bust of Paul Kruger, left; on the left an allegorical female figure (representing war) in armour holding spear and shield with a lion; and on the right another female figure (representing peace) holding a scythe and a sheath of corn with a cow. Legend in French divided by the shield: “LIBERTE”, “PROSPERITE”, “VAILLANCE” and “et / PERSEVERANCE (liberty, prosperity, courage and perseverance)".

Reverse: View of part of the island of St. Helena from the sea with a fort on top of a rocky promontory, sea below with radiant sun on right horizon. Legend above: “TER GEDACHTENIS AAN DE BOOREN / KRYGSGEVANGENEN (in memory of the Boer prisoners of war)" and below: “ST HELENA 1900”.

Notes: Two varieties of the medal exist. One the first the coat of arms and the flags are smooth. On the second (presumably altered later) there is hatching on the coat of arms and on the flags.

Shell medals normally have a cardboard interior and are lightweight. Recently one of these medals was opened up and three steel discs were found to be inside. The weight of the outer casing was 17 gm and the 3 discs 11 gm.

St Helena, a small island about 1000 miles off the west coast of Africa, has a long history as a military prison. Napoleon Bonaparte was imprisoned there from 1815 until his death on the island in 1821. The Zulu chief, Dinizulu, son of Cetschwayo, was found guilty of treason for resisting the annexation of Zululand and imprisoned there between 1890 and 1897.

During the Anglo-Boer War the British decided, for logistical and security reasons, to intern Boer prisoners of war in camps overseas. These were located in Ceylon, Bermuda, India and St Helena.

The camps on St. Helena opened with the arrival of the American ship SS Milwaukee on 11 April 1900 with 514 prisoners on board including General Piet Cronje, Mrs Cronje and his military staff. This was the first batch of some 5000 prisoners who were eventually housed in two specially constructed camps named Broadbottom and Deadwood.

It is known that the medal was produced by J.L. Lefranc, because the Transvaal Museum has an example that was presented to President Kruger by M. Raoul Martin, a Frenchman fighting for the Boers who was imprisoned at the Deadwood camp. In an attached note he records that the medal was fashioned by M. J.L. Lefranc, an ex-lieutenant of the French Cavalry, also held in St Helena.

Rumour has it that only twenty of these medals were made on St Helena. While the medal is rare, the frequency with which they are offered for sale suggest a larger number or indicates a subsequent “minting”, possibly as souvenirs for returning POWs.