Benjamin Leigh Smith: The forgotten explorer of the frozen north

Somewhere in the Arctic Ocean, about halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, there’s an archipelago where Benjamin Leigh Smith’s name marks its easternmost point.

Article from the BBC Newsmagazine, 29 September 2013.

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The place names of Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa: Leigh Smith’s Eira expeditions, 1880 and 1881–1882, by Capelotti and Forsberg, now online

The place names of Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa: Leigh Smith’s Eira expeditions, 1880 and 1881–1882
P.J. Capelotti and Magnus Forsberg
Polar Record
In the summer of 1880, the British explorer Benjamin Leigh Smith made the first reconnaissance of the western reaches of Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa [Franz Josef Land] in the specially built polar research vessel Eira. This was the first expedition to go ashore in the archipelago after its acknowledged discovery by Weyprecht and Payer in 1873. Combined with his brief reconnaissance in 1881 before Eira sank near Cape Flora, Leigh Smith added a total of 41 place names, 37 of which are still in use, to its geographic nomenclature during his two expeditions, 1880 (39 place names) and 1881–1882 (2). The 1880 names were a post-expedition collaboration, between Leigh Smith and Clements Markham, Secretary of the Royal Geographic Society (RGS). Leigh Smith provided the names of colleagues and scientists who had either been with him in 1880 or on one of his earlier expeditions to Svalbard, or those of favoured relatives, while Markham, along with Sir George Nares as an RGS peer reviewer, added the names of particularly influential individuals in geographical circles as well as a variety of museum curators who identified natural history collections returned by the expedition. Additionally, two place names are connected to the Dutch Willem Barents expedition of 1879.

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Location of the resting place of Isaac Israel Hayes, M.D.

Since 2006, three different seminar courses in American studies and Anthropology at Penn State University Abington College have sought to locate the birth and burial spots of four Arctic explorers all born in Pennsylvania.  Some of these, such as the birthplace of Robert E. Peary outside Altoona, PA, are relatively well-known, as of course is his burial place at Arlington National Cemetery.

The gravestone of Isaac Israel Hayes, M.D., in West Goshen, PA.

The gravestone of Isaac Israel Hayes, M.D., in West Goshen, PA.

The other three Arctic explorers, Edwin de Haven, Elisha Kent Kane, and Isaac Israel Hayes, proved more difficult to trace.  Kane’s crypt was located in 2006 at the famous Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, and in the summer of 2012, the grave of de Haven was located at Christ Church, Philadelphia, little more than 50 feet from the grave of Benjamin Franklin.

The final resting place of Arctic explorer Isaac Israel Hayes, however, proved a much more difficult task. Penn State Abington student Kevin Drew in 2006 uncovered a lead to a Friends cemetery in West Chester, PA. Abington students Steven Mangier and Janet Stock followed up on this in the spring semester, 2013, but made little headway until a field trip to the Friends cemetery in West Chester on 3 April 2013 failed to locate Hayes. However, on this same trip, Stock alertly took down the phone number of a locale Friends school and that led to a lead that Hayes was in fact buried in another Friends cemetery, one located in the nearby village of West Goshen, PA.  A second field trip, this to West Goshen, finally discovered the grave of Isaac Israel Hayes, M.D., in the Oakland Friends Burial Ground.

Penn State Abington students Janet Stock and Steven Mangier examine Hayes' grave marker, 17 April 2013.

Penn State Abington students Janet Stock and Steven Mangier examine Hayes’ grave marker, 17 April 2013.

The modest white marker over Dr. Hayes is difficult to read. It has a patina of lichen growth over much of it. Hayes is surrounded by other Hayeses from his immediate family, including his father Benjamin, who outlived his famous son. Isaac Israel Hayes was born on 5 March 1832 and died in New York on 17 December 1881. After his internment, the only mention of him in the New York Times is a brief note from May of 1882 that described a delegation from New York coming to place flowers on his grave on Decoration Day (now Memorial Day).  The students of Penn State Abington who found Hayes on 17 April 2013 were likely some of the first visitors to the Arctic explorer’s grave site in a century or more.

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Coming in 2013 from University of Calgary Press

The Expeditions of Benjamin Leigh Smith

Shipwreck at Cape Flora: The Expeditions of Benjamin Leigh Smith, England’s Forgotten Arctic Explorer, coming next fall from University of Calgary Press

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Shipwreck at Cape Flora: The Expeditions of Benjamin Leigh Smith, England’s Forgotten Arctic Explorer

The first biography of Benjamin Leigh Smith (1828-1913), the English explorer who defined the eastern limits of Svalbard and the western limits of Franz Josef Land, will be published next fall by the Northern Lights series at the University of Calgary Press.  The title: Shipwreck at Cape Flora: The Expeditions of Benjamin Leigh Smith, England’s Forgotten Arctic Explorer.

Leigh Smith’s research vessel Eira at Cape Crowther, Franz Josef Land, 1880, by W.W. May

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A note from Captain Alfred S. McLaren, USN (Ret.), Ph.D.

“Pete Capelotti in his exciting new novel Nautilus, set primarily in Arctic Svalbard, skillfully weaves a fascinating tale of undersea archeological intrigue, treachery, and possibility. Written on the premise that Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas and The Mysterious Island were actually journals, the book claims there was an aftermath to the events reported- i.e. that both the ageless Captain Nemo and the submarine Nautilus survived, with significant implications for mankind that have extended well into the 21st century.

I found the book almost impossible to put down and it certainly left me wondering, “Could it be possible…?”

Captain Alfred S. McLaren, USN (Ret.), Ph.D.
President, The American Polar Society, former President, The Explorers Club, Senior Pilot of the revolutionary deep-diving “Super Aviator” submersible, and former Commanding Officer, USS Queenfish (SSN-651) during its expedition to the North Pole in 1970.

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A Researcher For All Seasons: Focus on Dr. Pete Capelotti

Originally posted on Research, Creative & Scholarly Activities:

Dr. P.J. Capelotti’s research on the archaeology and history of exploration has taken him from the equator to the North Pole, and from Indonesia to Russia. He did his doctoral fieldwork in archaeology 600 miles from the North Pole on the island of Danskøya in Northwest Svalbard, Norway.

His primary research centers on the history and archaeology of polar exploration and he is currently completing the first biography of the British polar explorer Benjamin Leigh Smith and beginning work on the first complete history of the American exploration of the Arctic archipelago of Franz Josef Land.  In the course of his polar research, he has been to the North Pole twice, visited several islands in the Franz Josef Land archipelago, and made six trips to Svalbard.

In 2009, he designed, wrote and opened at the Spitsbergen Airship Museum in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, a centennial exhibit on the polar flights of the…

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