HMS Challenger expedition

The voyage of HMS Challenger, from 1872 to 1876, set out to unravel the mysteries of the deep sea.  For the Victorians, it was a journey into the unknown, just as the Apollo mission to the Moon was a new landmark for humans in the 20th century. It also began the new science of oceanography. 

For the first time, scientists could prove that life existed on the deep sea bed. They collected specimens from different depths of water all over the world. Many of these specimens are now in the Museum’s collections and are still studied by scientists from around the world today.

  • HMS Beagle, which carried Charles Darwin around the world
    The history of ocean exploration

    Throughout most of the history of navigation by sea, people believed that the deep ocean was cold and lifeless.  Why did this begin to change?

  • Drawing of the laboratories on HMS Challenger
    Preparing for the voyage

    The HMS Challenger expedition was a huge and very expensive project.  How would its architects find the money and what preparations did they need to make before setting sail?

  • Specimens collected on the Challenger voyage
    Studying the deep ocean

    HMS Challenger collected samples from 362 places.  Learn about the techniques the crew used to find new living species and take measurements.

  • The first photos of icebergs were taken from HMS Challenger
    Life on board

    Find out about life on board HMS Challenger and learn about the incredible collection of photographs brought back from the voyage, including the first ever picture of an Antarctic iceberg.

  • Illustrations of marine specimens produced for the Challenger Report

    Analysing 563 cases of specimens from the voyage was a huge job.  What did scientists learn from these specimens and where are they kept today?

  • An illustration from the HMS Challenger Report, showing a specimen collected on the voyage
    HMS Challenger Report

    Examine drawings of some of the specimens collected by the crew of HMS Challenger as you browse the original report from the expedition.

Cartoon image of a snake disappearing through closing door

Last year nearly 100,000 specimens were loaned to scientific institutions and researchers worldwide.