Small Bell Island (not to be mistaken with big Graham Bell Island in the East) is situated at the southern edge of Franz-Josef-Land due to this, it is among the islands, which can be approached earliest in the season with usually little ice problems. Horseshoe shaped, it encloses a big but very shallow lagoon opening to the Southwest, whereby the major, low part of the island does not rise more than 21 m above sea level, covered by stony beach walls, which illustrate the post-iceage land rise.
As a striking contrast, 300 m high Mount Bell rises abruptly from the southern part of the island, resembling with its small top plateau, and its steep rock faces ending in scree slopes, the shape of a big church bell. Due to its exposed position at the southernmost edge of the archipelago, it is a discernable landmark already from long distance. Like in most parts of the archipelago, horizontal more erosion-resistant magmatic intrusions are responsible for the hard rock face edges and the resulting mountain shapes.
English Benjamin Leigh Smith visited the island in 1880 on one of the first Franz-Joseph-Land expeditions. During his second expedition, he erected a spacious and sturdy wooden house, called Camp EIRA, intended as his wintering base for the following winter. However, it was hardly ever used since its construction, because Leigh Smith´s EIRA was crushed by the ice off Cape Flora, before his expedition could move into the planned wintering base on Bell. Until today, the house of Camp EIRA still stands firmly as the oldest building of the whole archipelago, which proves the good craftsmanship of its builders on this weather-exposed place.
Jackson used Bell for a stop-over during exploration of the west of the archipelago (1894-97).
In spring 1914, the last survivors of the Brussilov Expedition (ST. ANNA) reached Bell Island, when coming paddling from Cape Grant (George Land). Participant Nilsen died here and was buried in the south close to the shore - his grave still to be found again.
Later, Bell and Camp EIRA served some other expeditions as a temporary refuge, for instance the HOBBY in 1928, when it was repaired here in the lagoon.
Some remains from the Soviet period indicate scientific work on Bell Island also then.
Names: Like on Cape Flora (Northbrook Island), Leigh Smith seems to have had a double reason for calling the island Bell: its bell-shaped mountain, and his younger sister Bella. Also for neighbouring Mabel Island to the other direction, he chose the name of a close female relative.
Some secondary literature and websites claim that Bell island is named after Alexander Graham Bell, like Graham Bell Island in the east of the archipelago, discovered almost 20 years later. However, there is no apparent connection between Leigh Smith and the 20 years younger, scottish-american inventor.
See also: travel possibilities
Camp EIRA in the North of Bell ranks among the typical land excursion destinations in Franz-Josef-Land, especially in the earlier season or in years where difficult ice conditions restrict activities further north in the archipelago. While ice off the coast is rarely a problem here, sometimes rough sea may hinder a landing with small boats, as the low island with its location at the edge of the archipelago can offer only limited protection against wind and swell especially from western directions.
The house of Camp EIRA impresses both by its still good state and especially by the striking contrast between the surrounding extensive stone and snow desert with this tiny sign of civilisation in between. Apart from the house itself, there are hardly any other traces from the pioneer days - some metal objects laying around are probably of later Soviet origin.
Images of EIRA Lodge (Camp Eira)
The pictures were taken mostly in late July. As visible, large parts of the terrain were still hidden under snow from winter.
Click on picture for enlarged version.