Private of the 90th Foot Circa 1879

The private wears the traditional scarlet tunic, worn for over 300 years by the British Army, the campaign against the Zulus in 1879 would be one of the last major actions in which British troops would wear scarlet.  He also wears the new Home Service, plinth style helmet introduced a year earlier in 1878.   Despite his sand brown trousers, riding boots and spares the private is not a cavalryman but rather a mounted infantryman (or what would have earlier been termed a dragoon).

He is armed with a Martini-Henry carbine, first introduced in 1871, with his ammunition held in a brown leather ammunition bandolier worn across the chest.  The Mounted Infantry were especially suited to warfare in southern Africa, their ability to scout ahead and cover large distances without being tied to the slower moving columns of supply and infantry were invaluable.  

The 90th had initially been formed in Scotland in 1794 upon the outbreak of the French Revolutionary War during one of the British army’s periods of massive wartime expansion.  They saw action during the Napoleonic War and had fought against numerous African tribes including the Xhosa during the 1840s and again in the 1860s.  They became a light infantry regiment and took part in quelling the Indian Mutiny and were part of the British contingent sent to the Crimea in 1854.    The regiment was eventually amalgamated into the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) in 1881.

During the Anglo-Zulu of 1879 war the private shown above, and his regiment, took part in the final battle at Ulundi which saw the British crush a Zulu army and depose the Zulu king Cetshwayo.