Once the decision to invade Zululand had been taken there was an urgent need for cavalry, yet no regular cavalry was in southern Africa at the time. By the time hostilities began however a number of irregular cavalry units and mounted police had been mustered to provide that vital function, and one of the largest of these was the Frontier Light Horse. This volunteer unit had been raised in 1877 in Eastern Cape Colony to serve in the Ninth Frontier War, and over 200 entered Zululand in 1879 as part of Wood’s column. During the disastrous action at Hlobane on the 28th of March they lost 29 of the 156 men present, but further recruitment restored their numbers and they continued to play their part during the rest of the war, including escorting Louis Napoleon, the French Prince Imperial, and taking part in a skirmish on the day before the Battle of Ulundi, when two of its members earned the Victoria Cross.
When first raised the men had been given jackets with braid over the chest, and an otherwise quite civilian-looking uniform which was more practical than for display. By 1879 however many of the original men had been discharged, and it seems several different sorts of jackets were issued, depending on what was available. As a result the 'uniform' was much like many other irregular cavalry troops, with a slouch hat sporting a red pagri, and tough, practical jacket, trousers and riding boots. This is what we find in this set, with one man apparently having some sort of braid-like design on the jacket front but the rest being plain. One illustration seems to show boots reaching well over the knees, although these could easily be leather gaiters, but HaT have steered clear of such controversy and provided all the men with ordinary riding boots, which is just as well in our view. As a result all these figures are very appropriate for this unit in 1879, and indeed would serve just as well for many other volunteer horsemen of the campaign.
Like any cavalry in the age of the rifle, any action was far more likely to be undertaken while dismounted, but on occasions these men did have to fight from the saddle as they were pursued by large numbers of Zulus. Four of the five poses in this set are mounted, with one man using his carbine and another using a revolver. The remaining two are less obviously in combat, but all the poses are perfectly reasonable. The sole dismounted man is in about the best choice of pose, firing whilst taking cover, so we thought all the poses were very well chosen.
The horse poses are not the best ever made, but they are better than many and it is a relief to not find horses at full gallop. The saddle and all the kit looks completely authentic, as is the carbine holster at the right rear. Where the rider is already holding a carbine the butt showing at the saddle will need to be trimmed off of course, which is an easy task.
The sculpting is not bad, although sometimes the basic human form has suffered, particularly for the dismounted man. There is a small amount of flash in various places, which gives the figures something of a rough appearance, but the folds in the clothing are nicely done and there is precious little detail to trouble any sculptor on a subject such as this. The mounted man firing has his hat pulled down sharply over the left hand side of his head, covering his left eye entirely. This looks silly and seems to be a way of avoiding an undercut on the mould. The men fit the horses fairly well, although to keep them truly upright gluing will be necessary.
The irregular cavalry were a major part of the Zulu War of 1879, and this set depicts these men accurately and with useful poses. It is tempting to see other uses for these figures too, ranging from the American West to the Boer Wars, so even if your interest does not lie with the Zulu War this set could provide some very useful figures for various 19th century campaigns.