Juana Smith, at the age of 17, painted by an unknown artist 1815 in Paris
Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith, Lady Smith (27 March 1798 – 12 October 1872) was the wife of General
Sir Harry Smith, Governor of the
Born into an old
Spanish noble family, she was a descendant of
Juan Ponce de León.
In 1812, at the age of fourteen, she found herself orphaned and only with a sister, when her home town
besieged for the fourth time during the
Peninsular War. After the siege ended in a successful but very bloody storming by the
Portuguese forces, the sisters sought protection from the plundering and pillaging soldiers by some British officers they found camping outside the city walls. One of them was Brigade-Major
Harry Smith, of the elite
95th Rifles scout regiment, whom she married a few days later.
Instead of letting herself be sent home to her husband's family, she chose to accompany him with the army. She remained with him throughout the rest of the war, accompanying the baggage train, sleeping in the open on the field of battle, riding freely among the troops, and sharing all the privations of campaigning. Her beauty, courage, sound judgment and amiable character endeared her to the officers, including the
Duke of Wellington, who spoke of her familiarly as Juanita; and she was idolized by the soldiers.
With the exception of his stint in the
British-American War of 1812 she accompanied her husband in all his deployments, most notably in two postings in
South Africa, where Sir Harry (he had been knighted in the meantime) served as Governor of
Cape Colony and High Commissioner.
Juana Smith was given a pension of £500 by
Parliament on 5 December 1848 in recognition of her husband's services to the country.
Known as Lady Smith in her later years, Juana Smith is commemorated directly in the name of
South Africa and
Western Cape, South-Africa, as well as indirectly in the name of
Lady Smith is sometimes said to have introduced the
muskmelon (Cucumis melo cantalupensis) to South Africa, where it is known as spanspek (or spanspec or sponspe(c)k), which in
Afrikaans literally means 'Spanish bacon' (Spaanse spek). However, the
Oxford English Dictionary shows that the term 'Spanish bacon' had been in use since at least the eighteenth century.