Grade 7 students at Ladysmith Intermediate School recently learned more about our town’s history when they entered a Festival of Lights essay contest. They wrote about the history of Ladysmith and of Lady Smith — or Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon Smith — for whom two towns in South Africa are named and for whom Ladysmith is indirectly named.
The students uncovered many interesting facts about Lady Smith, and there were many well-written essays. Unfortunately, there could only be three winners.
Here is the winning entry by Ruth Anderson.
Second place went to Haven Bouma, while Deiniol won third place.
An honourable mention goes to Tyler McLeod.
— Lindsay Chung
A History Lady Smith
By Ruth Anderson
Grade 7 — Mrs. Cavers’ Class
Ladysmith Intermediate School
This is an essay about Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon Smith, namesake of KwaZulu, South Africa, and Ladysmith, Western Cape, and said to be the descendant of Juan Ponce de Leon, possibly his great-granddaughter.
She was born into a Spanish noble family on March 27th 1798, in the town of Badajoz. Her name means “of the Pain of a Lion.”
In 1812, when Juana was 14 years old, she was orphaned with her little sister when drunken soldiers attacked where they were staying. They were both brought back to the soldiers’ camp, where Juana met her future husband, Henry George Wakelyn Smith, aka Harry Smith, a Brigade-Major in the Elite 95th Rifles scout regiment during the Peninsular War and the son of a surgeon. They fell in love and got married just a few days later. He was 23 years old.
When she married Harry, Juana was disowned by her family for marrying someone outside the family faith. She refused to be sent back to England to stay with the other Smiths, and instead decided to accompany her husband in the war, including two times to South Africa.
In 1843, Harry was knight, and in 1848, on the 5th of December, Juana Maria was given a pension of 500 pounds for her husband’s services to the country. They were married for forty years, and though the marriage was childless, they were deeply in love.
Juana and Harry are main characters in the semi-fictional book “the Spanish Bride” by Georgette Heyer. From 1847-1852, Sir Harry (knighted in 1943) was High Comissioner of Western Cape, and Juana was knighted in 1913.
Harry died in 1860, on the 12th of October, and Juanita followed in 1872. Some philosophers and friends thought that the fact that they died exactly 12 years apart, including the day, was very romantic. Later, a town called Oyster Bay was named after Ladysmith in South Africa, therefore being indirectly named after Juana herself.