The story goes that the wife of Sir Harry Smith, popular governor of the Cape Colony in the 19th century, preferred cantaloupe for breakfast to the bacon and eggs her husband favoured.
As Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith was Spanish-born, cantaloupe was henceforth referred to as Spanish bacon or Spaanse spek, which is Afrikaans for Spanish bacon. Over the years Spaanse spek became spanspek.
Well that’s one story.
Some say that Lady Smith had nothing to do with the name as the use of the word Spaansch-spek predates the Smiths’ time in South Africa.
Apparently the word Spaansch-spek can be traced back to 18th century Dutch Suriname where J van Donselaar wrote in 1770, “Spaansch-spek is the name for the form that grows in Suriname which, because of its thick skin and little flesh, is less consumed”. Whatever that means.
Suriname was a Dutch colony and it is suggested that the name spanspek originated from there via the Dutch who colonized the Cape.
The KwaZulu-Natal and Free State towns Ladysmith and Harrismith were named after the Smiths.
When the Smiths returned to England, Lady Juana wept. In later years she often said that their time in South Africa had been the happiest of their lives.
Source: Capricorn Review