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William Smith
Born1790 (1790)
Died1847 (aged 56–57)
OccupationShip captain

Williams Point on Livingston Island, the land discovered by William Smith on 19 February 1819.
Smith's and other early voyages in the Southern Ocean

William Smith (c. 1790–1847) [1] was an English captain born in Blyth, Northumberland, who discovered the South Shetland Islands, an archipelago off the Graham Land in Antarctica. His discovery was the first ever made south of 60° south latitude, in the present Antarctic Treaty area.

Early life and Apprenticeship

Earsdon Parish Records held at Woodhorn Museum show that William, eldest son of William and Mary Smith, was baptised at St. Cuthbert's Church on 10 October 1790. Smith had a younger brother, Thomas, and sister, Mary, and his father was a Joiner of Seaton Sluice.

In the eighteenth century, boys would start their seven-year apprenticeship at sea at the age of fourteen. [2] According to John Miers' account of the discovery, William Smith had undertaken his apprenticeship ‘in the Greenland whale-fishery’. [3] (At that time, there was a substantial British whaling industry, including to Greenland.) During his life he worked with Richard Siddins, described by historian Ida Lee as "...perhaps the greatest traveler of them all, who gave so much information concerning early Fiji, and delighted to hold mission services on board his ship in Sydney Harbour."[ citation needed]

By 1811 Smith became part owner of the ship William, which was then under construction in Blyth, Northumberland. [4] [2]

Discovery of Antarctica

In 1819, while sailing cargo on William from Buenos Aires to Valparaíso, he sailed further south round Cape Horn in an attempt to catch the right winds. [5] On 19 February 1819 he spotted the new land at 62° south latitude and 60° west longitude, but did not land on it (based on those coordinates, it was most likely Livingston Island.) The naval authorities did not believe his discovery, but on a subsequent trip on 16 October he landed on the largest of the islands. He named the island King George Island and the archipelago South Shetland Islands in honour of the Shetland Islands which are to the north of Scotland. At the beginning of the following year, 1820, the Royal Navy chartered William and dispatched with her with Lieutenant Edward Bransfield on board to survey the newly discovered islands, discovering also the Antarctic Peninsula in the process.


Smith Island and Cape Smith in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica are named after William Smith. [1]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Smith Island". SCAR Composite Antarctic Gazetteer. Standing Committee on Antarctic Research. 8 September 1953. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  2. ^ a b Jones (1982). Antarctica Observed: Who discovered the Antarctic continent?. Whitby: Caedmon. pp. 59, 62.
  3. ^ Miers, John (1820). "Account of the Discovery of New South Shetland, with observations on its importance in a Geographical, Commercial, and Political point of view". Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. 3: 370.
  4. ^ Lloyd's Register (1813), "W" supple. pages, Seq.No.W41.
  5. ^ Lee, Ida (1913). The Voyages of Captain William Smith and Others to the South Shetlands. London: Royal Geographical Society (published October 1913).