by Lauren Gilbert
One of my favourite true romances is the love story of Harry Smith and Juana Maria de Los Dolores de Leon. Their meeting after the fall of Badajob in 1812, when Harry was 24 and already a seasoned military veteran and when Juana was 14 and only recently out of a convent school resulted in a wedding 2 weeks later, with Wellington giving the bride away.
Juana followed the drum, staying with Harry as he fought his way through the Peninsular Wars until Bonaparte’s abdication in 1814. They were separated almost immediately when Harry was sent to America during the War of 1812 (he was there from April of 1814 until March of 1815, while she waited for him in England). He returned to England just in time to be sent to the continent following Napoleon’s escape from Elba, and Juana went with him. The climax of the story would seem to have been Waterloo, with the lovers reuniting after the battle.
If you have not already read their story thus far, you can read it in detail in THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LT. GENERAL SIR HARRY SMITH BARONET OF ALIWAL ON THE SUTLEJ G.C.B., edited by G. C. Moore Smith, MA. which was first published in 1901 (it is available online, in print and as an e-book). Their love story is also referenced in John Kincaid’s memoirs, and is the subject of Georgette Heyer’s novel, THE SPANISH BRIDE. Although their romantic marriage and early married life is a wonderful story, what happened to them after Waterloo? For many soldiers, the end of the Napoleonic Wars marked the end of their careers. As with so many great stories, my question was, “What happens next?”
Harry was an ambitious man, with a fierce desire to succeed and advance in his chosen career, the Army. Juana had literally grown up in the Army, with Harry as much her commanding officer as her husband. This is hardly a combination that would result in a return to a quiet life in England for them as a couple. Juana seemed to have lost contact with any surviving family members in Spain, and despite having established an affectionate relationship with Harry’s family, had no reason to want to be in England without him. Their nearest and dearest friends, including 2 of Harry’s brothers, were in the military. So their peripatetic life continued...
Then a major, Harry was appointed by General Lambert to be the Town Major in Cambrai, France after Waterloo, in 1816, with an improved pay rate. He and Juana established a busy life, maintaining their friendship with Wellington, who maintained an interest in Harry’s career. They hunted, went to balls, and were favourites at official functions, apparently enjoying an active (and expensive) social life. The occupation ended, and they returned to England in October of 1818.
Before their return, in an effort to recoup some money, Harry decided to raffle his horse Lochinvar. Tickets were sold (including one purchased by Juana) and, much to everyone’s surprise, Juana’s ticket won.
Once returned to England, Harry was assigned to Glasgow in 1819 because of mob activity in the north, and Juana accompanied him. They were in Scotland until 1825, when Harry was posted to Ireland. However, that stay was fairly brief as in September of that year, Harry was ordered to Halifax Nova Scotia, commanding 2 ½ companies of his regiment. By all accounts, Harry and Juana had fun in Nova Scotia enjoying their usual active life among the military, even though money was short.
In November of 1825, they relocated again, to Jamaica, where Harry was to assume the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and serve as Deputy Quarter Master General. Right after they landed at Kingston, Jamaica, Harry was confronted by poor management and a yellow fever epidemic. During her time with the army in the Peninsula, Juana had learned to deal with issues of illness and injury, and accompanied Harry in his efforts to combat the disease, establishing convalescent camps. After a year, the epidemic was over, and Harry and Juana were happily settled in a home in the mountains.
However, because of his success in Jamaica, Harry was ordered to be Deputy Quarter Master General at the Cape of Good Hope, in South Africa in 1829. (They did take an opportunity in route to visit Harry’s famiy before continuing on.)
Once they arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, they again settled into a comfortable home and an active life with hunting, visiting and social events with friends in a fairly peaceful fashion until 1834. However, Harry was occupied with civil as well as military responsibilities.
On January 1, 1835, because of an uprising of the Kaffir tribes, Harry had to leave for Grahamstown, 600 miles away. A serious and dangerous situation, Harry still made time to write to Juana every day of what turned into a long separation. While Harry was away, Juana was kept busy with friends, attending balls and other social affairs, teaching in a school for African girls, and other civic activities. She also joined the Church of England.
During the time of their separation, Harry suggested she write down their story and would not hear of her joining him. Largely because of Harry’s efforts and successes, peace was finally restored, and Harry was put in charge of the newly- created Adelaide province and Juana was able to rejoin him in June of 1835. Although at peace, the area was still unsettled, and Juana was able to assist Harry by trying to influence Kaffir women.
Despite his apparent successes, Harry was removed from his post in Adelaide Province in 1837, which could have been a career disaster, but the Duke of Wellington’s influence resulted in Harry’s appointment as Adjutant General in India. After a stormy voyage, in June of 1840, the Smiths arrived in Madras, and went on to Calcutta, to be greeted by old friends and acquaintances. Although Harry was not immediately comfortable with Sir Jasper Nicholls, the commander in chief, Juana made friends with Sir Jasper’s daughters. A significant advantage to India was the ability to live a comfortable life on less money; another was the possibility of advancement.
At this time, India was embroiled in conflict with Afghanistan. This as a volatile and dangerous time; hostages were taken and unrest made many things difficult. In December of 1843, the British decided to attack at Maharajpore. The army was accompanied by Juana and several other officer’s wives riding on elephants. The ladies came under fire, but apparently escaped unscathed, and Juana received a special medal for bravery from Queen Victoria. The battle won, the Governor General ordered medals made from the captured canons, one of which was awarded to Juana. Harry also had a special gold star brooch made for her.
In 1845, the Sikh wars began and Harry was given command of the 1st Infantry Division. Harry was heavily involved in the action through 1846 until final success. Juana could not be with him on this campaign, and for at least part of the time was ill with a tropical fever. Because of his valor and success, Harry was awarded a baronetcy, made a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath and received great acclaim.
Finally, after 18 years away, they were allowed to return to England. On arrival in Southampton in April of 1847, Harry and Juana were welcomed by crowds and taken to London in a private train. Harry was heaped with honors, and they were able to attend a dinner for veterans of the Light Division, a detailed report of which was written up in the Times. Juana also came in for her share of acclaim. At this time, Harry was 60 and Juana 49 years old. They returned to Harry’s famiy home in Whittlesey for a time.
In Glasgow, Harry was invited to become Member of Parliament (an unpaid position at that time). Despite the title and acclaim, the financial aspect of his success was less than satisfactory. Again, Wellington’s influence helped, and Harry was appointed governor of the Cape of Good Hope and awarded the rank of Lieutenant General. Between his military successes in India, and subsequent vindication of his previous policies in Africa, Harry (who had stayed current with affairs in Africa) seemed the obvious person to replace the current governor. Finances resolved, Juana, now Lady Smith, embarked with Harry on September 24 1847 for Cape Town.
Circumstances in Africa were not what they were during the Smiths’ previous stay, and Harry was no longer an impetuous youth, but a rather arrogant, bad tempered and impetuous older man without a commanding officer to keep him grounded. He managed to offend native chiefs and local people with aggressive policies and over estimated his own influence with the Boer settlers. A military action against the Boers was successful, although Harry was wounded. (Juana was awarded a pension of 500 lbs per year by the queen.)
After Harry returned to Cape Town in Oct. 1848, Juana was relieved of anxiety and ready to take part in social activities. Unfortunately, her Spanish formality and fondness for Spanish fashions and colourful fabrics was not admired. Juana and Harry also caused some concern in the conservative community as Harry was perceived as dangerously tolerant while Juana, in an effort to reach out to the Indian and Malay communities, attended some displays of local dancing that was considered unacceptable.
At the same time, they were faced with the prospect of Cape Colony receiving convicts due to a shortage of prisons. The local settlers were, of course, opposed to this, and Harry and Juana sympathized with them. In spite of everything, a ship was sent to Bermuda to pick up prisoners to take to Cape Town. Although Harry wrote repeatedly to prevent this, the ship arrived and was anchored off shore. Although the ship was ultimately sent on to Tasmania, the entire episode was a severe strain on both Harry and Juana. Subsequent unrest and disastrous policies resulted in both of them suffering ill health and a loss of popularity, as well as severe political unrest and division. Harry was dismissed from his position in March of 1852. Harry was ill when they left Cape Town, and Juana cried as they boarded ship to return to England.
Once back in England, they did not resign themselves to a quiet life, and once again, the Duke of Wellington's influence helped. Harry had subsequent appointments, including one as a delegate to Lisbon to invest Don Pedro V with the Order of the Garter when Don Pedro married Princess Stephanie. He and Juana attended the festivities at Buckingham Palace for the princess on her way to Lisbon. In September 1859, Harry left his last post, which was in Manchester, and the Smiths moved to London. Although he continued to write, offering himself for other posts, none were forthcoming and he died Oct 12, 1860 at age 73.
Juana lived on, cared for by family and friends, until her death Oct. 10, 1872. She was buried in Harry’s tomb at St. Mary’s in Whittlesey, as Harry had wanted. In spite of many ups and downs, financial worries, and political disasters, I think it can be truly said that Harry and Juana Smith truly achieved the happy-ever-after ending in spite of having no children. She experienced his life with him. They were devoted to each other their whole lives. Juana Smith travelled the world with her beloved husband, and was allowed to take part in events that most women of her time could hardly have imagined. The township of Windsor in South Africa was renamed Ladysmith for her in 1850. As a couple, they seemed to live a charmed life, surviving multiple hardships and disasters together.
The History Blog. “Sir Harry and Lady Smith.” By Megan Abigail white, posted March 17, 2010. http://meganabigail.blogspot.com/2010/03/sir-harry-and-lady-smith.html
Look and Learn History Picture Library. “An unlikely love story set against the backdrop of the Peninsular War.” Posted June 5, 2013 (from an article published June 3 1967). http://www.lookandlearn.com/blog/24858/an-unlikely-love-story-set-against-the-backdrop-of-the-peninsular-war
Peterborough Telegraph. “IN FOCUS: Wild about Harry-the hero of Aliwal-and Juana, his teenage Spanish bride.” Posted Aug. 26, 2004. http://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/news/local/in-focus-wild-about-harry-the-hero-of-aliwal-and-juana-his-teenage-spanish-bride-1-150736
Rooney, David & Scott, Michael. IN LOVE & WAR The Lives of General Sir Harry Smith and Lady Smith. 2008: Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, South Yorkshire.
Of course, Harry Smith’s autobiography is also a must-read.
Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida, with her husband. Her first novel was published in 2011, and a second one is in process.