• Holly and Heather working on the Natural History Museum's starfish collection
  • Photographing wet collections at National Museum Wales
  • Photographing molluscs at National Museum Wales

This website and database is the result of a two year project to re-unite scientific specimens and other material from the voyage of HMS Challenger (1872-76). The project was led by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM) in Exeter, supported by the Natural History Museum, London and funded by the John Ellerman Foundation. Data from museums across the UK and abroad has been incorporated.  For information on the process and visits to institutions please read the project blog.


The project team

Holly Morgenroth – RAMM’s Collections Officer (Project Lead)

Rick Lawrence – RAMM’s Digital Media Officer

Heather Davies – Museum Trainee


The website and database have been designed by System Simulation Ltd.


Why is HMS Challenger special?

On December 21st 1872 HMS Challenger set sail from Portsmouth on a four-year 70,000 nautical mile voyage of exploration around the globe. The places she visited were not new nor necessarily very exotic, but the discoveries made laid the foundation for the science of oceanography. For the very first time scientists, (chemists, physicists and biologists) were able to systematically survey the geology, topography, biology and chemistry of the deep sea, facilitated by Challenger’s purpose-built equipment and two on board laboratories. The seabed was surveyed very methodically and as a result each specimen is rich in associated data (such as depth, water temperature and salinity).


They returned with a mass of data and thousands of specimens, many of which were sent to leading scientists across the globe. Over 4,000 new species were described and the reports written filled 50 volumes and nearly 30,000 pages.


Why create an online resource?

The scientists who studied the specimens were instructed to return all the material to the Challenger Office once their reports were complete so that it could be sent to the British Museum (now the Natural History Museum) for safe keeping and further study. The Trustees of the British Museum often transferred duplicate material to other UK museums and some of the scientists kept duplicate material in their own collections. As a result, the collection as a whole is scattered across national, regional and university museums in the UK as well as overseas.


Some museums had fully documented their HMS Challenger collections, where as in others the specimens and information were much harder to find. This site allows anyone who is interested in the voyage to search the collections in one place from wherever they are.


Is the data accurate?

Data has been standardised and checked to the best of our abilities, but we cannot guarantee that taxonomic nomenclature is up to date. Please consider searching for synonyms if you are interested in a particular species. Full collection data may have been extrapolated from just a location, station number or date using the Narrative of the Voyage for additional information. Please contact RAMM or the holding institution with any corrections or queries.


What to do with the data?

Anything you’d like so long as it is within the licence agreement for the museum(s) that hold the specimens. You can save the data from search results and My Challenger to Excel. There is an API and OAI-PMH to export content directly to other sites.


We encourage schools, colleges, university students and researchers to use the data for art and science and to please email RAMM and let us know what you’ve done with it.


Do you have HMS Challenger specimens? Did you miss out?

There are other museums with HMS Challenger specimens or artefacts in their collections. It is not too late to be involved! Please contact RAMM for more information. Participating institutions either answered a call on the Natural Sciences Collections Association jiscmail or were found by searching for HMS Challenger material on Google. Please see the Contributing Organisations page for collections that are included in the data sets. There is also a list of other institutions that have material in their collections.


Acknowledgements

This project was made possible thanks to a grant from the John Ellerman Regional Museums and Galleries Fund.


RAMM would like to extend a big ‘thank you’ to all the organisations who have supplied data and images and to all the staff and volunteers who have given their time to allow access to their collections and provide the information needed.


Special thanks are extended to the Natural History Museum, London, for partnering on this ambitious project and supporting the project team with their considerable expertise.


Whilst RAMM has a complete set of HMS Challenger reports, this project was made much easier thanks to the efforts of Dr. David C Bossard of Dartmouth College, Hanover New Hampshire who made digital copies available online.