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Benjamin Leigh Smith: a forgotten pioneer

  • Arthur G. Credland

Benjamin Leigh Smith was born on 12 March 1828 at Whatlington, East Sussex, a son of Benjamin Smith (1783–1860). The family into which he was born carried a strong independent line of thought and adherence to often unpopular views from one generation to the next. William Smith, our subject's grandfather, was a staunch supporter of William Wilberforce and his advocacy of the abolition of slavery. William also supported the views of the American rebels and refused to seek compensation for the loss of family estates in Savannah after the Declaration of Independence. William's son Benjamin, a friend of Thackeray and Member of Parliament for Norwich, 1834–37, was a radical politician and advocate of the repeal of the corn laws. Benjamin senior, a convinced Unitarian, had strong views on the education of his children, and when very young they were taught in what, even now, might be regarded as a progressive manner. A committee, headed by Smith and Lord Brougham, gave funds for the Westminster Infant School which provided elementary education for about 100 poor children in the neighbourhood. Whenever young Benjamin and his brothers and sisters were in London they attended this school which was run by James Buchanan: he had begun life as a weaver in Lanarkshire, and ran the school with the aid of his wife on Swedenborgian principles. There was no corporal punishment; outbreaks of indiscipline were overcome by Buchanan calling all the children to dance together to the sound of his flute. The lack of conventional discipline scandalized the committee and they all withdrew their support leaving Smith to foot the bill. He generously gave £1000 for building baths and a small theatre at the school. Progress was made nonetheless, and Benjamin Senior was sufficiently impressed to invite this unconventional pedagogue to the family estates and continue his children's education during the holidays.

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[References to the manuscripts collection of the Scott Polar Research Institute are abbreviated to ‘SPRI MS’ followed by the manuscript reference number].

Baxter, W. 1880. Letter to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 18 October 1880. (SPRI MS 301/3/1.)
Bruce, D. 1877. Letter to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 6 July 1877. (SPRI MS 301/7/1.)
Burton, H. 1949. Barbara Bodichon, 1827–91. London, John Murray.
Chermside, H. C. 1873. Journal kept on board Diana during Benjamin Leigh Smith's third Arctic voyage, 1873. Vol 1, 10 May–7 June. (SPRI MS 300/4/2.)
Chermside, H. C. [n.d.] Recent explorations in Spitzbergen seas by B. Leigh Smith. (Unpublished typescript, SPRI MS 300/2.)
Daily News. 1873. Daily Nevis, 5 September 1873.
Grant, W. J. A. 1880. Letter to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 6 November 1880. (SPRI MS 301/12/1.)
Grant, W. J. A. 1881a. Letter to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 24 February 1881. (SPRI MS 301/12/2.)
Grant, W. J. A. 1881b. Letter to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 3 April 1881. (SPRI MS 301/12/3.)
Hull News. 1872a. Hull News, 20 April 1872, p 4.
Hull News. 1872b. Hull News, 28 September 1872.
Hull News. 1873a. Hull News, 1 February 1873, p 3.
Hull News. 1873b. Hull News, 17 May, 1873.
Hull News. 1882. Hull News, 26 August 1882, p 6.
Jansen, M. H. 1882. The Dutch Arctic voyages (1878, 1879, 1880, 1881) and the probable position of Mr Leigh Smith. Royal Geographical Society. Proceedings, Vol 4, No 1, p 3541.
Jones, A. G. E. 1975. Benjamin Leigh Smith: Arctic yachtsman. The Musk-Ox, No 16, p 2431.
Lamont, J. 1861. Seasons with the seahorses; or sporting adventures in northern seas. London, Hurst and Blackett.
Lamont, J. 1876. Yachting in the Arctic seas; or notes of five voyages of sport and discovery in the neighbourhood of Spitzbergen and Novaya Zemlya. London, Chatto and Windus.
Leigh Smith, B. 18551856. Letters to Benjamin Leigh Smith, Sr, November 1855 to February/March 1856. (SPRI MS 640/1/1–10.)
Leigh Smith, B. 1892a. Letter to H. R. Mill, 6 August 1892. (SPRI MS 100/60/1.)
Leigh Smith, B. 1892b. Letter to H. R. Mill, 6 November 1892. (SPRI MS 100/60/3.)
Leigh Smith, B. 1893. Letter to H. R. Mill, 9 March 1893. (SPRI MS 100/60/4.)
Leigh Smith, B. [n.d.] Deep sea temperatures taken from Samson and Diana, 1871, 1872, and 1873. (Copy held by Royal Geographical Society.)
[Leigh Smith, B.?] [n.d.] Notes and incomplete draft of the voyage of the Eira. 18811882. (SPRI MS 301/32.)
Lofley, W. 18801881. Letters to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 25 October 1880 to 10 May 1881. (SPRI MS 301/16/1–16.)
Lubbock, B. 1937. The Arctic whalers, Glasgow, Brown, Son and Fergusson.
Markham, C. R. 1881. The voyage of the Eira and Mr Leigh Smith's discoveries in 1880. Royal Geographical Society. Proceedings, Vol 3, No 3, p 129–50.
Markham, C. R. 1883. Second voyage of the Eira to Franz-Joseph Land. Royal Geographical Society. Proceedings, Vol 5, No 4, p 204–28.
Royal Geographical Society. 1881. The anniversary meeting. Royal Geographical Society. Proceedings, Vol 3, No 7, p 433–34.
Royal Geographical Society. 1882a. Geographical notes: Mr Leigh Smith. Royal Geographical Society. Proceedings, Vol 4, No 1, p 4243.
Royal Geographical Society. 1882b. Geographical notes: the Eira search and relief expedition. Royal Geographical Society. Proceedings, Vol 4, No 7, p 420–22.
Royal Geographical Society. 1882c. Geographical notes: rescue of Mr Leigh Smith and the crew of the Eira. Royal Geographical Society. Proceedings, Vol 4, No 9, p 544–46.
Seaton, A. E. 1877. Letter to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 14 March 1877. (SPRI MS 301/28.)
Sloman, R. M. 1865. Letter to Msrs Newton Bros, Princes Dock Walls, Hull, 18 November 1875. (Copy transcribed by William Wells into a notebook in private ownership.)
The Times. 1913a. Obituary. The Times, 6 January 1913.
The Times. 1913b. The Times, 8 January 1913.
Venn, J. A. 1947. Alumni Cantabrigiensis, Vol 5, Part 2.
Wells, W. 1876a. Letter to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 15 July 1876. (SPRI MS 301/30/1.)
Wells, W. 1876b. Letter to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 21 July 1876. (SPRI MS 301/30/2.)
Wells, W. 1876c. Letter to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 2 October 1876. (SPRI MS 301/30/3.)
Wells, W. 1877a. Letter to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 26 February 1877. (SPRI MS 301/30/6.)
Wells, W. 1877b. Letter to Benjamin Leigh Smith, 2 March 1877. (SPRI MS 301/30/7.)
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Polar Record
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