Polar Record

Research Article

Benjamin Leigh Smith's third Arctic expedition: Svalbard, 1873

P.J. Capelottia1

a1 Division of Social Sciences, Penn State Abington College, Abington, PA 19001, USA (pjc12@psu.edu)

ABSTRACT

In 1873, the British explorer Benjamin Leigh Smith concluded the private oceanographic and geographical explorations in the seas around Svalbard that he had begun in 1871 and continued in 1872. The logistics of the 1873 expedition, however, were far more complicated than those of the first two voyages. Rather than using a single ship as he had done with the sailing vessel Samson the previous summers, Leigh Smith chartered James Lamont's Arctic steamer Diana and employed Samson as a reserve supply tender. With the added supplies Samson afforded, Leigh Smith planned to round the northeast limit of Svalbard, which he had discovered in 1871, and survey Kong Karls Land. Among those invited to join to expedition was a twenty-three-year-old member of the Royal Engineers, Lieutenant Herbert C. Chermside, who would visit the Arctic for the first and last time in a long life of military service. It was to Chermside that Leigh Smith entrusted the keeping of the expedition's logbooks. These three unpublished journals, along with a log kept by Samson's captain, William Walker, provide details of an expedition that, while it failed in its primary objective to round Nordaustlandet, did succeed in relieving Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld's Swedish polar expedition beset near Mosselbukta. It also maintained an array of contacts with whalers and sealers, for example the Peterhead whaler David Gray and the Norwegian skipper Frederick Christian Mack, regarding local conditions around Svalbard. At Augustabukta, Chermside's observations of uplifted skeletons of remotely harvested whales give estimated death ranges of between 1569–1691 and 1764–1807. The expedition would end with a major island in Svalbard being named for Chermside.

(Received August 2009)