LADYSMITH, a town of Natal, 189 m. N.W. of Durban by rail, on the left bank of the Klip tributary of the Tugela. Pop. (1904) 5568, of whom 2269 were whites. It lies 3284 ft. above the sea and is encircled by hills, while the Drakensberg are some 30 m. distant to the N.W. Ladysmith is the trading centre of northern Natal, and is the chief railway junction in the province, the main line from the south dividing here. One line crosses Van Reenen's pass into the Orange Free State, the other runs northwards to the Transvaal. There are extensive railway workshops. Among the public buildings are the Anglican church and the town hall. The church contains tablets with the names of 3200 men who perished in the defence and relief of the town in the South African War (see below), while the clock tower of the town hall, partially destroyed by a Boer shell, is kept in its damaged condition.
Ladysmith, founded in 1851, is named after Juana, Lady Smith, wife of Sir Harry Smith, then governor of Cape Colony. It stands near the site of the camp of the Dutch farmers who in 1848 assembled for the purpose of trekking across the Drakensberg. Here they were visited by Sir Harry Smith, who induced the majority of the farmers to remain in Natal. The growth of the town, at first slow, increased with the opening of the railway from Durban in 1886 and the subsequent extension of the line to Johannesburg.
In the first and most critical stage of the South African War of 1899-1902 (see TRANSVAAL) Ladysmith was the centre of the struggle. During the British concentration on the town there were fought the actions of Talana (or Dundee) on the 20th, Elandslaagte on the 21st and Rietfontein on the 24th of October 1899. On the 30th of October the British sustained a serious defeat in the general action of Lombard's Kop or Farquhar's Farm, and Sir George White decided to hold the town, which had been fortified, against investment and siege until he was relieved directly or indirectly by Sir Redvers Buller's advance. The greater portion of Buller's available troops were despatched to Natal in November, with a view to the direct relief of Ladysmith, which meantime the Boers had closely invested. His first attempt was repelled on the 15th of December in the battle of Colenso, his second on the 24th of January 1900 by the successful Boer counterstroke against Spion Kop, and his third was abandoned without serious fighting (Vaalkranz, Feb. 5). But two or three days after Vaalkranz, almost simultaneously with Lord Roberts's advance on Bloemfontein Sir Redvers Buller resumed the offensive in the hills to the east of Colenso, which he gradually cleared of the enemy, and although he was checked after reaching the Tugela below Colenso (Feb. 24) he was finally successful in carrying the Boer positions (Pieter's Hill) on the 27th and relieving Ladysmith, which during these long and anxious months (Nov. i-Feb. 28) had suffered very severely from want of food, and on one occasion (Caesar's Camp, Jan. 6, 1900) had only with heavy losses and great difficulty repelled a powerful Boer assault. The garrison displayed its unbroken resolution on the last day of the investment by setting on foot a mobile column, composed of all men who were not too enfeebled to march out, in order to harass the Boer retreat. This expedition was however countermanded by Buller.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)