The HMS Challenger expedition

The ambitious Challenger voyage (1872-1876) was the first seafaring expedition undertaken solely for scientific purposes.

Little was known about the deep ocean in the 19th century, so a dedicated oceanographic mission was a popular idea. With government funding of £200,000, the Challenger was converted for scientific research; guns were replaced with laboratories and civilian quarters, and the ship was equipped for dredging.

Leading a team of scientific staff aboard the ship was Charles Wyville Thomson (1830-1882), Regius Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh. Their observations established that life existed in the deep sea.

Labidiaster annulatus L. radiosus

Labidiaster annulatus & L. radiosus. Starfish illustrations from the report of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger.

The voyage’s ground-breaking scientific findings took 19 years to complete, and were published in 50 volumes edited by Sir John Murray (1841-1914). 

The Challenger collection

Murray’s personal collection of zoological and oceanographic books and journals was bequeathed to the Natural History Museum, as well as diaries, photographs, scientific notebooks, logbooks and letters from the Challenger Office.

Also among the original Challenger material are sketches and outline drawings of invertebrate animals dated 1840-1 by Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1871-1911). 

These specimens, manuscripts, letters, photographs and published works form one of the Museum’s most important collections in the study of climate change.

View Challenger images

Find out more about the voyage

Lodran meteorite microscope image
Picture Library

Search over 50,000 images online.