Leigh Smith Benjamin 

Rich Scottish yachtsman, amateur researcher. His guiding principles in arctic voyages were perseverance, patience, and immediate use of the opportunity. 
Born in Watlington, East Sussex. His father, Benjamin
Leigh-Smith, was a member of the city parliament. Leigh-Smith was educated at the Bruce School, a Christian college in Cambridge, and in 1856 entered the famous law office of Inner Temple. He took an active part in the volunteer service, was in the Royal Hundred, was a good shooter. The financial situation of his family allowed Leigh-Smith at the age of 21 to obtain financial independence, which was successfully combined with his natural freedom of thought. 
Leigh-Smith has always been interested in Arctic research, from a young age he was a great friend of Allen Jung. In 1871, he chartered the Samson schooner with a displacement of 80 tons and made two successful voyages to Svalbard, beating it from the north and inspecting its northeastern part. Although Leigh-Smith was a good shooter and athlete, scientific observations always dominated his expeditions. Already his first expedition for the first time showed that the Gulf Stream runs north of Svalbard. This was later confirmed by N.A.-E.Nordenskiöld. 
In 1873 
Leigh-Smith, having chartered a steam vessel "Diana", again set sail for Svalbard, but he failed to achieve success of the previous voyage: for many weeks the vessel, trapped in ice, stood in Vayd Bay. 
In the city of the Scottish whalers Peterhead,
Leigh-Smith built his own steam yacht "Eira" with a displacement of 240 tons, on which in 1880 he conducted an expedition to Franz Josef Land. This was the third proven visit to Franz Josef Land after the Austro-Hungarian expedition of J. Payer - K. Weyprecht in 1873–1874 and the Dutch expedition A. De Bruyne in 1879 on the ship Willem Barents. 

Leigh-Smith aboard "Eira"


First, Leigh-Smith visited the island of Jan Mayen, then went to the shores of Greenland, but, unable to reach them, he rounded Spitsbergen from the south and approached Franz Josef Land, having stayed in the archipelago for 14 days. Favorable ice conditions allowed him to explore all the then unknown western shores of the archipelago and discover the large islands of Northbrook, Bruce, George Land, Alexandra Land, Maybel and several smaller ones. Expedition members, among whom were V.G.A. Grant, who had already completed three Arctic voyages earlier, Captain W. Lofley, surgeon W.G. Niel, landed in many places on the shore and conducted interesting botanical, geological, and zoological studies. Leigh-Smith named the Cape in the south of the island of George Land, the cape in the south-west of the island of Alexandra Land and the cape in the west of the island of George Land, respectively.


Georg Land. Striped Rocks

(photo by N. M. Stolbov)

Georg Land. Cape Stevens

(photo by N. M. Stolbov)

Alexandra Land. Cape Ludlov

(photo by N. M. Stolbov)

Mabel Island

(photo by S. Tikhonov)

Strait of Cambridge. Shore  Alexandra Land island

(photo by EA Gusev)

At the commemoration of Leigh-Smith in the London Geographical Society, the following words were said: “The discoveries made by Leigh-Smith in 1880 will serve as the starting point for future Arctic exploration; they will constitute a new brilliant and in its significance a very important chapter in the glorious history of polar exploration.Along the western coast of Franz-Josef Land, he first paved the way for further movement to the north”.  
In 1881  Leigh-Smith again visited the archipelago, but this time the expedition almost ended in tragedy.


"Eira" off the coast of Franz Josef Land

At the beginning of June, they left Peterhead, after 8 days they met the first scattered ice floes, and about 90 miles east of Nordkap they approached the pack ice and, moving along its edge, on July 1 they saw Novaya Zemlya. Finding passages in the ice, we went north to our destination. Going to the Franz Josef Land, we were forced to stand for some time in the Gulf of Gray. The path to the north was closed, and Leigh-Smith decided to land on  Bell Island. Here, from pre-prepared material, a house was assembled, naming it “Eira-House”, and food was left in it for subsequent visits.


2004 Eira-House. Far away Meibel island

(photo by N.M. Stolbov)

On August 15 "Eira" left Bell Island and went to Cape Flora on Northbrook Island. They anchored three miles from the coast and engaged in active scientific research. No one expected what happened. The pack ice unexpectedly set in motion, slid onto the ship and inflicted damage to it, from which the ship sank very quickly.


The death of "Eira"


Almost all scientific results died, all samples from the seabed. Finding themselves in a difficult situation, polar explorers did not lose their head. They dragged from the ice to the shore what they were able to save; they built a hut with a length of 11.5 meters, a width of 3.5 meters and a height of 1.5 meters from boards, stones and moss. For the roof used sail. Having organized a hunt, the Scots provided themselves with food and fuel (walrus fat) in sufficient quantities for a successful winter, during which they did not even have signs of scurvy. During the winter, managed to prepare for swimming in the Novaya Zemlya.


Leigh-Smith at the Novaya Zemlya


In June 1882  the Leigh-Smith expedition set off to Novaya Zemlya and, after a difficult 42-day journey, reached it. At the western entrance to Matochkin Shar, they were greeted by three ships under the general command of an old friend of Leigh-Smith, Allen Jung, sent in search of the missing expedition. According to Jung's memories, travelers were so dirty that they could be mistaken for Negroes. 
Leigh-Smith's expeditions were highly appreciated by the Royal Geographical Society, which awarded him a gold medal. 
Leigh-Smith was a very restrained modest man and did not like to talk about himself, but even in recent years, having already become an invalid, he did not lose interest in the Arctic. 
He died in Randolph, Indiana, USA from rapidly developing foot gangrene. He was buried in the Carlos Methodist Cemetery Chapel, Randolph County, Indiana, USA.


Carlos Methodist Cemetery

Leigh-Smith’s hut at Cape Flora was found in poor condition in 1929 by Soviet researchers on aicebreker steamer “G. Sedov”, who nailed a board on the wall with the inscription :“Expedition of the USSR on icebreker steamer “G. Sedov" 1929". But in the post-war years nothing was left of her, the Arctic erased all traces. 
An island in the south of the archipelago Franz-Josef Land. Opened in 1899 by the expedition of the American journalist V. Wellman on the ship "Capella" and named Jackson island. Subsequently, the expedition was renamed Fiala, since the name of Jackson has already been called another island. 
Cape on the east coast of the island of Northeastern Territory of the Svalbard archipelago.

Glacier in the northeast of the island Northeastern Territory of the Svalbard archipelago. 
The strait separating the island of Arthur from the island of George Land in the archipelago of Franz Josef Land. Opened and named in 1897 by the expedition of F. Jackson.


Return to the main page