Clash of Empires: The 1879 Anglo-Zulu War Exhibition

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Missed the July 2023 Clash of Empires Exhibition or want to relive the experience? Enjoy our newly released film about this groundbreaking artefact-driven exhibition here:

When British and Colonial forces invaded the Zulu Kingdom on 11 January 1879, they ignited one of the most famous conflicts of the Victorian era. In July 2023, the Spear Museum of Philatelic History at the Royal Philatelic Society London hosted a public exhibition displaying more than 500 postal, historical, and cultural objects exploring the context, history, and ongoing legacy of this Clash of Empires. The exhibition’s narrative began in the early years of the 19th century with the emergence of King Shaka kaSenzangakhona and the rise of the Zulu Kingdom and go all the way through to 2019, 140-years after the start of the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War. The depth and scope of this context philately exhibition was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see the intertwined stories of this important history told through hundreds of artefacts.

The Honourable Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi welcomes visitors to the Clash of Empires Exhibition:

Welcome to the Clash of Empires: The 1879 Anglo-Zulu War exhibition website! After eight years of planning and preparations, we are excited to finally bring the largest artefact-driven museum exhibition focused on this important history to the public. Hosted by the Royal Philatelic Society London’s Museum, Clash of Empires opened to the public on 1 July 2023 and remained open, Monday-Saturday, through 31 July 2023. The exhibition had free admission.

Check out this conversation about the exhibition with Co-Curator, Alex Haimann here:

Background of the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War: On 11 January 1879, British and Colonial troops invaded the Zulu Kingdom, the most powerful African kingdom remaining independent in Southern Africa. The invasion was planned and executed by a British official on the spot, without the sanction of the Government in London. The events that followed have become one of the most famous and studied conflicts of the Victorian Era – the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War. Within two weeks, the Zulu army successfully defeated a British and Colonial field force at the Battle of iSandlwana, destroying half a column and forcing the rest to retire, besieged another at Eshowe and halted the advance of a third in the north of their country. The Zulu victory at iSandlwana would prove the greatest single defeat to be inflicted on the British Army during the Victorian era.

Watch exhibition Co-Curator, Ian Knight provide an overview of the Battle of iSandlwana here:

A smaller engagement at a place called Rorke’s Drift, just across the border from iSandlwana, would capture the popular imagination for generations to come as a single company of British infantry, supported by medical, Commissariat and Colonial troops, held off a vastly superior force of Zulus for over twelve hours. No less than eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded for the action, including seven to members of the 24th Regiment – a record number to a single regiment for a single action, to date – and that includes all the battles of World War I and World War II.

Watch the famous scene from the 1964 ZULU of the arrival of the Zulu regiments here:

The fighting at Rorke’s Drift and iSandlwana would be immortalized for modern audiences through two epic films – Zulu (1964) and Zulu Dawn (1979). Zulu features Stanley Baker portraying Lt. John Chard and Michael Caine in his first starring role as Lt. Gonville Bromhead, the two senior officers in-charge at Rorke’s Drift. Another famous family’s story would be forever intertwined with the Anglo-Zulu War when the son of Emperor Napoleon III, Prince Imperial Louis Napoleon was killed by the Zulus while accompanying the main British force of the re-invasion as an observer in the early summer of 1879. Though their main army was defeated in July 1879 and their King captured in August, the Zulu people and royal family continued their struggle against colonial authorities in the decades that followed. All of this and more was interpreted through hundreds of artefacts on display in Clash of Empires: The 1879 Anglo-Zulu War.

The Royal Philatelic Society London’s headquarters building where Clash of Empires: The 1879 Anglo-Zulu War will be held was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 26 November 2019. Watch an overview of the visit and opening event here: