Smith, Benjamin Leigh, 1828-1913

Alternative names
Birth 1828-03-12
Death 1913-01-04

Biographical notes:

Benjamin Leigh Smith was born on 12 March 1828 at Whatlington, Sussex. He was educated at the Nonconformist Bruce Castle School and, in 1848, was elected a pensioner of Jesus College, Cambridge, becoming the first dissenter to receive a BA degree. He was called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1856, but never practised.

Smith embarked on his first voyage to the Arctic in 1871 when he sailed in the ketch Samson to Svalbard on the British Exploring Expedition, reaching latitude 81° 24 minutes North and making accurate surveys of several small islands for the first time. He returned to Svalbard in Samson the following year, first visiting Jan Mayen where the expedition made a brief survey before proceeding to the northwest coast of Spitsbergen to hunt whales. In 1873, Smith took the steamer Diana on the British Exploring Expedition to explore in waters north of Svalbard. After delivering supplies to Nils Otto Gustaf Nordenskild's expedition at Mosselbukta, Diana was beset for a short time off Kapp Platen, thus preventing further progress. The expedition returned to Dundee in September with a variety of natural history collections and observations.

Smith made his next voyage to the Arctic in 1880 when he took the screw barquentine Eira to Svalbard and Russian Arctic waters, exploring 176 km of new coast in Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa. He returned to extend the exploration of Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa on the British Exploring Expedition, 1881-1882. After Eira was nipped in the ice and sank off Mys Flora in August 1881, the crew lived in a makeshift hut for ten months, setting out in the ship's four boats in June 1882 and reaching Novaya Zemlya, where they met Hope commanded by Allen Young. The expedition sailed back to Aberdeen in August 1882. Smith was awarded the Patron's medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his discoveries and was elected an honorary fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge in 1882. He made no further Arctic expeditions but continued his interest in polar exploration and the whaling trade. He died on 4 January 1913 at Hampstead.

From the guide to the Benjamin Leigh Smith collection, 1855-1882, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


not available for this record


not available for this record


  • Arctic regions Discovery and exploration (as recorded)