Papers of Benjamin Leigh Smith

Scope and Content

The papers in the collection consist of a journal, in typescript, of Smith's voyage to the Arctic in the schooner 'Samson', May-October 1871, and an account in typescript of his explorations in the seas around Svalbard (Spitzbergen), 1871-1873, by a member of the expedition.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Arctic explorer Benjamin Leigh Smith was born in Whatlington, Sussex, on 12 March 1828. He was educated at Bruce Castle School, Tottenham (in Haringey) and studied at Jesus College, Cambridge. He was admitted to the BA degree in 1857, and earlier, in 1856, he was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple.

As a man of means, Smith travelled widely, even commanding his own ships under a Board of Trade ticket. He also invented an instrument for computing time at sea.

Between 1871 and 1882 Smith sailed in the Arctic, taking the schooner 'Sampson' to Svalbard (Spitzbergen) in 1871 and sailing there again in 1872. During these two voyages he carried out oceanographic work on the Gulf Stream, though he did not get full credit for this. In 1880, in the 'Eira', a new screw brigantine, he sailed from Peterhead towards Jan Mayen and east Greenland, and then to Franz Josef Land which had only been discovered in 1873-1874. In 1881, he sailed again from Peterhead, in Scotland, to Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land. In August 1881, the 'Eira' was trapped in the ice and sank, but Smith and his men managed to live for a time in a make-shift hut and then used the ship's boats to make for Novaya Zemlya. There they met Sir Allen W. Young (1830-1915) and his ship 'Hope'. Smith and his company arrived in Aberdeen at the end of August 1882.

In 1881, he had been awarded a medal by the Royal Geographical Society for his discoveries and a paper on the 1880 exploration was read. In 1882, he was made an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College. Although he made no further explorations to the Arctic, he continued his interest in the region and in the whaling trade. Benjamin Leigh Smith died in Hampstead on 4 January 1913.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence and journals, 1871-1893, Cambridge University, Scott Polar Research Institute, Ref. MSS 300-01.