Review of “Shipwreck at Cape Flora”

From Canada’s History:

The voyages of Benjamin Leigh Smith in the late 1800s were anything but halcyon. In Shipwreck at Cape Flora, American archaeologist P.J. Capelotti delivers a comprehensive biography of Leigh Smith, one of the most significant but unsung Arctic explorers.

This is an incredible feat, since Leigh Smith never published his research and, unlike other explorers, shied away from any opportunity for fame and glory from his five Arctic expeditions. Drawing from unpublished diaries and journals and his own explorations of the places Leigh Smith visited, Capelotti describes Leigh Smith’s life as very unusual and awkward right from childhood. This perhaps provides a plausible motive for the explorer’s passion to find a part of the world with which he could better connect.

The entire book is a well-written adventure, but the best story is Capelotti’s tale of the events leading up to Leigh Smith’s fifth and final expedition, when his beloved ship Eira foundered off Cape Flora, Franz Josef Land, north of Russia. Remarkably, it is a story of survival, as not one member of the crew was lost during nearly a year trapped on the ice. The account of how they survived is also fascinating.

–Deborah Morrison


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