Kew Botany and Economic Botany Collections


The total number of specimens from the voyage in Kew’s herbarium has not been counted, but it is likely the 239 specimens digitised so far are a small proportion of the total. Digitised specimens can be viewed online (search for Moseley as collector).
Determination lists for the pressed plants collected on the expedition are held by Archives. The lists are organised by area and can be found in Volume 33 folios232-241 and Volume 14, folios 106-114 and 161-165, indexed under the Challenger Expedition. 

Economic Botany Collection

This is the successor to the former Museum of Economic Botany, established at Kew in 1847. It contains 91 items from the Challenger: mainly fruits and seeds, but also a small number of woods and ethnographic artefacts. These can be viewed online (search for Challenger).

New Guinea

One of the largest groups of artefacts in the New Guinea collection originates from when the expedition stopped in Humboldt Bay on the north coast in today’s Irian Jaya.
The largest group of artefacts from the Challenger were a set of drift seeds collected off the north coast of New Guinea by H.N. Moseley. These were identified at Kew, and are described in the botanical publications from the voyage. There had long been an interest among botanists in the distribution of plants by oceanic currents and tides, and Moseley had paid attention to drift seeds whenever he encountered them during the Challenger’s voyage.


Ethnographic items were acquired by trading with the inhabitants of Humboldt Bay, where the ship stopped overnight. Moseley describes the trade in his book Notes by a Naturalist on the Challenger.
“As soon as the ship anchored again, the natives crowded round the ship, and barter recommenced most briskly, the natives passing up their weapons and ornaments stuck between the points of their four-pronged spears and receiving the price in the same manner. The constant cry of the natives was ‘sigor sigor’ found to mean iron. Iron tub-hoop, broken into six or eight-inch lengths, was the commonest article of barter, but most prized were small trade hatchets, for which the natives parted with anything they had.” H.N. Moseley
Attempts were made to land in Humboldt Bay, but the inhabitants responded threateningly. Neither could the crew persuade any of them to board the Challenger, in order to establish more friendly relations. From this, they concluded that the inhabitants might have been mistreated since the Dutch ship ‘Etna’ had spent a long visit there in 1858, as reports from this time were very different. The fact that natives were quick to point out the place where drinking water could be collected showed that they were relatively used to ships stopping there. The Challenger set sail in the evening of 24 February, after only one night’s stay in New Guinea.

  • 54651 – Chunam box used to hold lime used in betel chewing. Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. Lagenaria siceraria
  • 65860 – Native Barkcloth. Admiralty Islands, Papua New Guinea. Thespesia populnea (L.) Sol. ex Correa
  • 65859 – Native rope, part of canoe sheet. Admiralty Islands, Papua New Guinea. Thespesia populnea (L.) Sol. ex Correa
  • 65858 – Bag made of fibre. Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. Thespesia populnea (L.) Sol. ex Correa