Henry Gore Booth

Henry Gore Booth, fifth Baronet of Sligo, has two claims to distinction: his children and his enthusiasm for sailing.

His eldest child, Constance is commemorated as a patriot and champion of the underprivileged; his daughter Eva is remembered as a suffragist and poet, and his son Josslyn (the sixth baronet) was a philanthropist and innovator, and created one of the finest horticultural enterprises in Europe at Lissadell in his lifetime.

The social conscience displayed by his children was inherited both from Henry, and from his father, Sir Robert Gore Booth. During the famine years of 1878 – 1880, Henry provided personal assistance to the starving by distributing food to the hungry in the covered Riding Arena at Lissadell, carrying on his father’s tradition of hands-on assistance to the needy.

In the good times, there was much fun and merriment, as shown by this ditty, preserved in the Lissadell Papers in PRONI, about “Big Moll of Lissadell” who was suspected of being a man under her rough coat::

Rough and brown was the man’s coat she wore

And a jug of potheen in her hand she bore

But oh! from her short black pipe the smoke

was worse by far than the brown man’s coat

“Oh Molly, do you not fear to stray

so lone and tattered along this bleak way?

Are Carney’s sons for virture so ripe

As to be tempted by potheen or pipe?”

“Augh Paddy! I feel not the least alarm

No Connaughtman born will offer me harm

For tho’ they love potheen and pipe, do ye’ see

Musha, bad scram to the drop ‘ot they’ll get from me!”

On she went, and her brazen face

has lighted her in safety thro’ the wild place

and blesd for ever be she who relied

on that fist of her own that swung by her side!

for more information on EXHIBITIONS at Lissadell

Sailing summers cruising off Norway with a friend gave Henry a taste for Arctic adventures. He built his own boat, the 46-ton yacht Kara, and in 1882 mounted an expedition to rescue the explorer Leigh Smith, who presented him with photographs of the expedition in gratitude.

Leigh-Smith’s ship (the Eira) had sunk in two hours after being crushed by ice in May 1881 at Cape Flora, Northbrook Island, and he and his crew (having survived the winter, and rowed the surviving boats to Novaya Zemlya, an island with the Kara sea to the east, and the Barents sea to the south west, and a Russian nuclear test site since the 1950s) were anxiously awaiting rescue. The Kara was severely damaged by ice in July 1882, and had to put into a sheltered bay on the east coast of N. Zemlya for repairs. Two other rescue ships, the Hope and the Wm Barents carried on around the Island, and eventually rescued Leigh Smith, who was reunited with Sir Henry Gore Booth, and in gratitude gave Sir Henry the photograph album of Arctic images.

Coincidentally Benjamin Leigh Smith was first cousin to Florence Nighingale, who arrived in Scutari, Constantinople in the same month (November 1854) as Sir Henry’s elder brother Robert Newcomen Gore Booth. Robert had served in the Crimea, where he lost his health. Robert wrote to his mother from Scutari:

Scutari, November 1854.   Dear Mama, I have just received six letters of different dates from you and one from Aunt Augusta which appear to have been to the Crimea and which have been redirected to me … There is no doubt of my being sent home this Winter but I am not to be sent for some time as they send the bad cases first and as rheumatism is absent I need not be in any hurry about getting away but the Doctor told me today that I ought to go home. ……They have us all on a spoon diet….”.

Robert survived the war, but his health was broken, and he died, aged 30, in Madeira (Portugal) where he had been sent as his health rapidly deteriorated. His younger brother, Henry, became the heir. A few months before his death, Robert wrote to his grandmother from Madeira about the visit of the Empress Elizabeth (“Sisi”) of Austria:

I am not going to write to any of the others as His Hon. is going home by Mail Steamer. I am obliged to write a day or two before he arrives as I cannot do much at a time. The Port has been very gay last week, the Royal Yacht & Osborne were here as well as three English Men of War and two Portuguese. The Empress of Austria sailed yesterday for Trieste in the Royal Yacht. I am rather glad that they are gone as I am sick of all the firing of great guns saluting. They shake our windows every shot. Mary sends all sorts of loves etc.  Do not take the trouble of answering this as I know it would put you in a state for days. I hope you are good and eat your breakfast and luncheon properly and drink your beer. Will you tell Ball and Celbin that I send them each a stick by His Hon. The thickest is almond wood. The thinnest coffee. I had to go all over the town to get them with good handles. Yours affectionately.”

Henry made several voyages in Kara (named after the Kara sea) to Norway for salmon fishing, to Spitzbergen Island, to Zembla, and to northern Greenland over a period of 20 years. He was keen to see a whale harpooned, and asked that he be called as soon as one was sighted. The entry for his log on 27th May 1884 records “the report of the gun awoke me. The noise of the line running out fetched me out of my berth, and the watch yelling out ‘A fall! A fall!’ caught me with one leg only in my trousers ..”.

Henry’s library of books from the Kara is on display, together with a stuffed bear he brought home from the Arctic and a 19th century model of a rigged yacht.

Sir Henry’s Diary, 1864

“The first visit to Pasvig in Mr Kavanagh’s Yacht the Era”


“We were making a beeline for the camp ..when there was revealed the fresh track of a bear…

I put in Lassie and she took up the trail briskly. Thomas [Kilgallon] carried the cartridges and telescope.Of a sudden I observed Lassie at the foot of a hillock….when the bear without any warning appeared at the top of the hill.

I delivered a bore from the express rifle …the bear subsided on his tail with a growl. We had tracked the bear three miles and had been obliged to run most of the way.

The bear which we skinned where he lay turned out to be an unusually large one and appeared to be a great age”.

The data on Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zembla gathered by Sir Henry and Leigh Smith were helpful to later shipping, and were minuted by the Royal Geographical Society in London in respect of access to these coastlines. Novaya Zembla has been a Russian nuclear test site since the 1950s.