Britain's Forgotten Arctic Explorer

Britain's Forgotten Arctic Explorer

This event has finished Took place on: Wednesday, 22nd Jan 2020


Benjamin Leigh Smith is Britain's "forgotten" Arctic explorer. Born in Sussex in 1828, the illegitimate son of an M.P. and a milliner, Leigh Smith studied mathematics at Jesus College, Cambridge, but was unable to take his degree because he was raised as a Unitarian. He came from a radical and philanthropic family; his grandfather William Smith M.P. had been a key supporter of Wilberforce's anti-slave trade campaign, Florence Nightingale was a first cousin, and his sister Barbara Bodichon was a pioneering feminist and educationalist.

Leigh Smith trained as a lawyer until a legacy from a rich patron gave him financial independence, whereupon he abandoned the law in favour of exploration. During the 1870s and 1880s he led five expeditions to Svarlbard and Franz Josef Land, collecting specimens, studying water temperatures and mapping and naming new territories. On the fifth expedition his custom-built ship Eira sank off Cape Flora, Northbrook Island. Leigh Smith and his men salvaged what they could from the wreck and built a hut in which they overwintered, living off seabirds and Polar bear meat. Ten months later they made their escape in their longboats, using large damask tablecloths as sails. After travelling through perilous seas for over four hundred miles, they were picked up by a British rescue mission, part-funded by Leigh Smith's anxious friends and relations. It is testament to Leigh Smith's powers of leadership that all the men returned home alive.
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In August 2017, 138 years later, the Russian research vessel Alter Ego identified the wreck of Eira remotely by means of the ship's navigation systems. The following year an archaeological survey was carried out; more such expeditions are planned. The discovery is of major scientific and historical interest.

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This event has finished Took place on: Wednesday, 22nd Jan 2020


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2020-01-22 2020-01-22 Europe/London Britain's Forgotten Arctic Explorer A talk about Benjamin Leigh Smith, Britain's "forgotten" Arctic explorer. Pushkin House,5a Bloomsbury Square,London,


Pushkin House,

5a Bloomsbury Square,


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