HMS Challenger Papers, 1872-1876

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The Challenger Papers contain sheets of plates illustrating various marine life forms, and original drawings of marine life forms; engravings, lithographs, photographs, etc. of marine life forms; drawing and engravings of Challenger equipment; and, statistical material, graphs, charts and maps. There are drawings, engravings and photographs of Challenger personnel at various tasks, and of Challenger and its interiors; and, pictures of people and places (not Challenger personnel), and large and small original drawings, engravings, and photographs. There is also miscellaneous textual material, and engraved proof illustrations.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Challenger Expedition of 1872-76 was the first great voyage of oceanographical exploration. In forty-one months from December 1872 to May 1876 the wooden steam corvette HMS Challenger visited all the oceans of the world, with the exception of the Arctic. The vessel and crew were provided by the Admiralty, and the naval command was given to Captain (later Sir) George Strong Nares. The scientific staff were supervised by Charles Wyville Thomson (knighted in 1876), a Scottish naturalist and student of marine invertebrates. The expedition was charged to determine deep sea physical conditions including depth, temperature and ocean currents. Charting, surveying, and biological investigations were also carried out. In this programme of oceanographical research , the expedition covered 127,600 kilometres (68,890 nautical miles), gathering observations from 362 stations and making 492 deep soundings and 133 dredgings. Thomson had been appointed Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University in 1870, and much of the preparation for this voyage of oceanographic exploration took place in Edinburgh. At the end of the expedition the Challenger Office was set up there. The Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger was issued in fifty volumes between 1850 and 1895. When Thomson died in 1882, John Murray succeeded him as Director of the Challenger Office and editor of the Report. Much of the information gathered by the Challenger Expedition is still used today.

Conditions Governing Access

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Other Finding Aids

Handlist, H46