William Smith (mariner)

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Williams Point on Livingston Island, the land discovered by William Smith on 19 February 1819.

William Smith (1790–1847) [1] was the 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[edit]

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 the 10th 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] By 1811 Smith would have qualified as a master mariner, which meant he could captain his own boat—in fact we see from Lloyd’s register that he was part owner of a ship called The Williams in 1813, built ‘at the Blyth yard of Messrs. Alexander and John Davison’.[4][2]

The Williams[edit]

The Williams, Smith's ship, was built in Blyth in 1811, and weighed 215 tons. She was square-rigged, she carried six six-pounder cannonades and was rated as an A1 vessel. This means that she was ‘of the First Class’ and ‘of the First Quality’.[4]

Discovery of Antarctica[edit]

In 1819, while sailing cargo on The Williams from Buenos Aires to Valparaíso, he sailed further south round Cape Horn in an attempt to catch the right winds. On 19 February 1819 he spotted the new land at 62° south latitude and 60° west longitude, but did not land on it. 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 Williams was chartered by the Royal Navy, and dispatched with Smith and 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[edit]


  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. p. 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. ^ a b Lloyd's Register of Shipping. London: Marchant and Galabin. 1813. p. 753.