• NMI.114.1899 Ocypode cursor, tufted ghost crab, St Vincent, July 1873
  • NH:1899.114.254 Sardinella gibbosa, Fiji
National Museum of Ireland – Natural History has 870 specimens from the HMS Challenger (1872-76) voyage. These include shells, fish, sponges, starfish and sea urchins, crabs, worms and others.

HMS Challenger and the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History

Almost all of the specimens were transferred by the Trustees of the British Museum (now Natural History Museum, London) after the voyage.  It was once common for museums to transfer or exchange duplicate material. In 1899 staff from the National Museum of Ireland visited the British Museum to select specimens amongst the Challenger “duplicates”, unaware that some of these happened to be unmarked type specimens. 

As a result, not only does the National Museum of Ireland hold a very large collection of historically important Challenger specimens, but a surprising amount of them are scientifically significant type specimens from the famous expedition.

HMS Challenger on display

96 fish and invertebrates from the Challenger Expedition are on display on the balconies of the Natural History Museum. Unfortunately, this area is currently closed to the public for safety reasons.

About the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History

National Museum of Ireland – Natural History is one of 4 sites that make up the National Museum of Ireland. The institutions purpose is to:
  • Collect, preserve, promote and exhibit all examples of Ireland’s portable material heritage and natural history 
  • Interpret and promote the collections and make them accessible to audiences at home and abroad
  • Be the authoritative voice on the relevant aspects of Irish heritage, culture and natural history
  • Maintain the lead role in education, research and scholarship  pertaining to the collections and their contexts

Wider collections

Other institutions assembled the original core of the National Museum of Ireland’s collections prior to its establishment in 1877. These institutions were the Royal Dublin Society (RDS), the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) and the Museum of Irish Industry (MII). 

The RDS, founded in 1731, collected plaster casts, geological minerals, fine art and ethnographical material, in order to train artists and encourage industry. The RIA, founded in 1785, sought to advance the study of Irish antiquities, science and literature. The MII, established in 1847, sourced its material largely in the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Dublin Exhibition of 1853. 

The Science and Art Museum, established in 1877, brought all three collections together and expanded them through loans, purchases and donations, with the aim of developing the institution into ‘a source of recreation and instruction.’ In 1900 it became the National Museum of Science and Art, placing much emphasis on the development of rural craft and contemporary design. The aim was that the Museum and its collections should be ‘of commercial value to the country as well as of historical and scientific interest.’ 

Resources

Wheeler, A. & O’Riordan, C.E. 1969. Type Material of Fishes from the “Challenger” Expedition in the National Museum of Ireland . Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. 68, section B, no.6. 
 

Using National Museum of Ireland – Natural History’s data

Permission has been given to use specimen information and photos in accordance with the HMS Challenger Project IPR Statement.

Contact

Please email the National Museum of Ireland to enquire about their collection.