Records of the Scottish Marine Station for Scientific Research, Granton, Edinburgh

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The records of the Scottish Marine Station consist largely of notebooks containing details about the chemical work done at Granton, 1888-1901. The notebooks show calculations, water and other analyses, notes on chemical deposits, photographs, sketches, and tables both written and printed. There is also a large amount of invoices addressed to the Station and receipts for payment, 1883-1887. A few other papers relate to accounts, 1884-1901.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Scottish Marine Station for Scientific Research was established in 1884 and was located on a floating barge in a drowned but tidal quarry near Granton, which was then a small but growing harbour community west of Newhaven harbour and the port of Leith on the Firth of Forth (each of these now part of greater-Edinburgh). Behind the scheme for setting up the Station had been the Meteorological Society of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Dr. John Murray (1841-1914), later Sir John Murray K.C.B., F.R.S., LL.D., of the 'Challenger' Commission, and also a prominent member of both Societies, had also been a leading spirit behind the project. Opened for scientific work by Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), Professor of Zoology and Natural Philosophy in Jena, in April 1884, the biological station would become popularly known as the Edinburgh Marine Station, and, perhaps because of the input of funds from the Crown in autumn 1884, it also styled itself the Royal Scottish Marine Station.

In addition to the extensive and varied biological investigations which were to be carried out on the Station, a complete series of observations on the temperatures of the surface water and of the bottom and intermediate waters at fixed points of the Firth were to be carried out at regular intervals throughout the year. The nature of the bottom and of deposits there, and a record of the marine life, was also to be attempted. It was intended that the Station be provided with a steam launch fitted for dredging purposes and for making hydrographic observations. Indeed, the Station, known as the 'Ark' - a floating laboratory with accommodation for seven biologists - was provided with two small Norwegian skiffs, the 'Asymptote' and the 'Appendicularia' as well as the steam yacht 'Medusa', the collecting vessel. The floating Station also possessed a complete library of works on marine biology and physics. Mr. Alexander Turbyne was fisherman on the 'Medusa', Mr. J. T. Cunningham was the naturalist-in-charge, and H. R. Mill was the physicist and meteorologist.

In preparation for medical studies at University College, London, William Speirs Bruce (1867-1921) was sent by his father to a vacation course in biology at the Station in Granton in either 1884 or 1887. The biology course was said to have been under the direction of Patrick Geddes (1854-1932). Another student who worked at the Station for a short time in 1886 was the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) who later on would achieve eminence as an Arctic explorer.

Earlier, in 1882, Murray had succeeded Sir Charles Wyville Thomson (1830-1882) as the Director of the Challenger Office and editor of the  Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Challenger. The Office of the 'Challenger' Expedition were latterly at Challenger Lodge, slightly to the east of Granton. The 'Challenger' Expedition of 1872-1876 had been charged with determining deep sea physical conditions including depth, temperature, and ocean currents. Charting, surveying, and biological investigations were also carried out. Each of these activities were reflected in the activities and interests of the Scottish Marine Station for Scientific Research.

After some years of work at Granton, the floating biological Station was towed to Millport on Cumbrae in the Clyde. There it was beached and became an annex of the Millport biological station which went on to become the headquarters of the Scottish Marine Biological Association (SMBA).

Challenger Lodge has become St. Columba's Hospice, at 15 Boswall Road, Edinburgh.

Conditions Governing Access

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The administrative history of the Station was compiled using information derived from other collection descriptions, communication with Geoff Swinney (Curator of Fishes, Amphibians & Reptiles, Geology and Zoology Department, National Museums of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh), and from: (1)  The Times. 17 September 1883, p.6. London: The Times, 1883. (2) Anon. Edinburgh Marine Station.  Nature. A weekly illustrated journal of science. Vol. 29. Nov. 1883-April 1884. p.483. London: Macmillan and Co., 1884. (3) Herdman, Sir William A.  Founders of oceanography and their work. An introduction to the science of the sea. London: Edward Arnold, 1923. (3) Laverack, M. S. Zoology. A natural history of natural historians.  Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Section B. Biological sciences. Vol. 84. Two hundred years of the biological sciences in Scotland. 1983. pp.353-374. Edinburgh: Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1983.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Geographical Names