Historic collections

Our rock collection spans more than 250 years. Its sub-collections are housed in thousands of drawers and relate to many famous geologists and historic events.

The collection was built during a period of important advances in the understanding of Earth's formation and evolution.

At the turn of the nineteenth century the quest for knowledge fuelled a series of large-scale expeditions, many of which are remembered as feats of heroism and human endurance. The Museum's rock collection contains samples from many of these expeditions.

Access the rock collection

  • Sir Edward Belcher (1799-1877), Arctic explorer.
    Arctic expeditions

    Discover geological samples collected during the search for a safe passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

  • Hornblende-biotite granite.
    Antarctic exploration

    Learn about the historic Antarctic expeditions represented in our rock collection, including the journeys of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott.

  • Anhydrite, calcium sulphate, from the Simplon Tunnel.
    Tunnelling through the Alps

    What can excavations in the Alps reveal about the geological history of the region? 

  • Mount Everest
    Mount Everest expedition (1924)

    We have a small number of rocks collected during George Mallory and Sandy Irvine's fateful attempt of Mount Everest's summit. Find out more about the expedition and the significance of these geological specimens.

  • Outlying rocks in Bermuda.
    HMS Challenger expedition

    During Challenger’s four-year cruise, scientists collected basalts, trachytes and andesites from volcanic islands.

Contact information

David Smith 
Collections manager 
The Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road

Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5163

Scientists represented in the rock collections

The rock collection contains sub-collections from these well-known scientists:

  • Arthur Holmes
  • John Milne
  • Adam Sedgwick
  • Leonard Horner
  • Roderick Impey Murchison
  • Henry Thomas De la Beche
  • Charles Lyell
  • George Bellas Greenough
  • William Babington
  • Sir William Hamilton