The Collection consists of samples from some 40,000 worldwide localities and is the most comprehensive British collection of seabed samples and cores. All the oceans are represented, in the approximate proportions Atlantic 40%, Pacific 35% and Indian 25%. The most important component is the Sir John Murray Collection, which includes the HMS Challenger 1872-76 sea-bed samples. These were given to the Museum by the Murray family in 1921 following his death in 1914. The zoological material was separated from the geological in 1935 and kept in the Zoology Department, the latter being transferred to the Mineralogy Department at the same time.
Other important collections include the cores and sediments from the 1933-34 John Murray expedition to the Indian Ocean, the Dennis Curry Collection of sediments and cores from the English Channel, the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences Collection of British continental shelf deposits and the Imperial College Collection of cores and sediments from the eastern Mediterranean.
The Collection is kept in wooden, glass and plastic containers housed in wooden cabinets at the Wandsworth storage facility. Recently acquired material is stored on open racking until curation is completed. It is arranged in order of acquisition, each being given an accession number by year. The following information is recorded (where available): geographical co-ordinates, date, depth, ship name, station number, method of collection, nature of material and references to published work.
The collection information is in three versions: a slip index, microfiche (1979, 1984) and as an electronic database. A printed copy has been produced for library use. The register (in three volumes) contains lists of specimens in increasing registered number. The slip index, which is housed with the collections, is divided into the five main oceans: Indian, Pacific, North and South Atlantic and Arctic for purposes of specimen location and retrieval. Each ocean is divided on the basis of ten degree squares (Marsden Squares) and further subdivided into one degree squares within each ten degree unit.
The Collection is seen to have important potential in contemporary studies of the ocean and ocean floor, including the study of global change, climatic warming and marine pollution. To view the Collection, arrangements and appointments can be made through the Curatorial Team, Department of Mineralogy, The Natural History Museum.