This research guide provides an overview of items in the collection of Royal Museums Greenwich relating to the history of the Challenger Expedition, which circumnavigated the world between 1872 and 1876.

The Challenger Expedition was the first to explore the deep sea on a global scale. It took its name from the Royal Navy vessel that was specially converted for this scientific work.

The expedition was integral to the advance of oceanography as a modern scientific discipline and is still influencing our understanding of the ocean as a complex ecosystem upon which all life depends today.

You can read our Challenger webpages for more information about the circumnavigation and its oceanographic work. Researchers interested in understanding the Challenger Expedition within the broader history of the Royal Navy in the nineteenth century are also encouraged to consult our Royal Navy research guides.

Explore the guide online below, or download the PDF version.


How is this guide organised?

This research guide covers published primary source materials, unpublished archival documents including manuscripts, charts and maps, visual and photographic sources, and objects related to the Challenger Expedition held within Royal Museums Greenwich's collections. The final section summarises secondary historical research on the expedition that can be found in the Caird Library.

Within each section, materials are organised alphabetically according to the author or creator of the work. An appendix at the end of the guide points researchers to Challenger-related materials beyond Royal Museums Greenwich.

Researchers can find Library and Archive catalogues as well as information on visiting and ordering materials to the Caird Library on the Caird Library and Archive website.

The predominant source for the historical and biographical information contained within this research guide is Erika Jones’s book The Challenger Expedition: Exploring the Ocean’s Depths.

Who is represented in this research guide and why?

The Challenger Expedition was shaped by Britain’s existing empire and its colonial ambitions. As such, the archival record of the expedition held by Royal Museums Greenwich is largely written from the viewpoint of its European crewmembers and naturalists.

The crew made contact with Indigenous peoples in places including Fiji, Hawai’i, and Tonga, to name just a few examples in the Pacific Ocean. Researchers should be aware that when materials relating to these peoples feature in the archive, written descriptions and photographic representations can be outdated and offensive.  

Published sources (A-Z by author)

Author Title Item ID (click to order and learn more

Campbell, Lord George

Log-letters from the Challenger (London: Macmillan, 1877) PBB3924 or PBF6409

The youngest son of the 8th Duke of Argyll, Lord George Campbell served on the Challenger Expedition as Sub-lieutenant. He left the expedition in Chile, having been promoted. His letters “were written home during our cruise with no intention of publication […] Such as they are I hope they will give the reader a general idea of the Challenger’s cruise – a cruise which will rank as famous in the Annals of science”.

A map of the world, with shading indicating where ocean sediment samples were taken during the voyage of HMS Challenger
Chart showing distribution of ocean sediments, from Campbell's Log Letters (PBB3924)

Moseley, Henry Nottidge

Notes by a Naturalist: An Account of Observations Made During the Voyage of HMS Challenger Round the World in the Years 1872-1876, Under the Command of Capt Sir G S Nares, and Capt F T Thomson (J Murray, 1892) PBB3958

Henry Nottidge Moseley served on the Challenger Expedition as a naturalist. He had previously studied medicine. Moseley researched botanical and animal specimens, but was also involved in acquiring Ancestral remains of Indigenous people for ethnographic study. Moseley contributed the Report on Certain Hydroid, Alcyonarian, and Madreporarian Corals to the final Challenger Report.

Murray, John and Alphonse-Françoise Renard

The voyage of HMS Challenger: Deep Sea Deposits: Report of the Voyage … During the Years 1873-76 Under the Command of Captain George S Nares … and the late Captain Frank Tourle Thompson … (HMSO: 1891) PBP7849

John Murray served on the Challenger Expedition as a naturalist. Born in Canada in 1841 to Scottish parents, as a young man hemoved to Britain to live with his grandfather and studied at the University of Edinburgh. He gained experience analysing marine specimens and ocean currents as a ship’s surgeon on the whaling ship Jan Mayen and was later selected to work as a naturalist on board Challenger.

Following the death of Charles Wyville Thomson in 1882, Murray was appointed the Director of the Challenger Office and was responsible for the publication of most of the volumes of the Challenger Report. He co-authored the Report on Deep-Sea Depositswith Belgian geologist Alphonse-Françoise Renard.

The Report on Deep-Sea Deposits is the penultimate volume of the multi-authored Challenger Report, whose 50 volumes were published between 1880 and 1895. Murray and Renard’s work on deep-sea deposits contains some of the most significant and enduring findings from the expedition, including a colour-coded chart that visualises the global distribution of deep-sea sediments, which combined the data collected during the Challenger Expedition with those gathered on later voyages. Murray continued his work as a leading international researcher in the fields of oceanography and marine biology until his death in 1914.

A page showing colourised deep sea deposits as seen beneath a microscope
Page from the Report on Deep Sea Deposits by John Murray (PBP7849)

Spry, William James Joseph

The Cruise of the Challenger: Voyages Over Many Seas, Scenes in Many Lands (Samson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1878) PBB3932

William James Joseph Spry served on the Challenger Expedition as the Chief Engineer.

Map showing the track of HMS Challenger
Map showing the track of HMS Challenger from Spry's The Cruise of the Challenger (PBB3932)

Swire, Herbert

The Voyage of the Challenger: A Personal Narrative of the Historic Circumnavigation of the Globe in the Years 1872 – 1876, by Herbert Swire, Illustrated with Reproductions from Paintings and Drawings in his Journals (Golden Cockerel Press, 1938) PBB3906/1 or PBB3906/2

Herbert Swire served on the Challenger Expedition as Navigating Sub-Lieutenant until it reached South America in 1876. Born in Staffordshire in 1850, he entered the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1864. Challenger’s deepest sounding, at just over 8,200m (around 27,000 feet), was originally named the Swire Deep and it was the greatest known ocean depth at the time. Swire was the last remaining survivor of the crew when he died in 1934.  

Thomson, Charles Wyville

The Voyage of the Challenger: The Atlantic: a Preliminary Account of the General Results of the Exploring Voyage During the Year 1873 and the Early Part of the Year 1876 (London: Macmillan and Co., 1877) PBB3923/1 or PBB3923/2
  The Challenger Expedition (Taylor & Francis, 1876) PBG1230

Charles Wyville Thomson led the scientific crew onboard HMS Challenger. Although he graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in medicine, he also took classes in botany, and later worked as Professor of Botany at both the University of Aberdeen and the Royal College of Science, Dublin. Following the successes of his deep-sea dredging expeditions on HMS Lightning (1868) and HMS Porcupine (1869), which showed that marine life existed as deep as 650 fathoms (1188m), he was appointed the Director of the Scientific Civilian Staff on HMS Challenger.

Wild, John James

Thalassa: An Essay on the Depth, Temperature and Currents of the Ocean (London: Marcus Ward & Co., 1877) PBN1563

At Anchor: A Narrative of Experiences Afloat and Ashore During Voyages of HMS Challenger from 1872 to 1876 (London: Marcus Ward & Co., 1878)


John James Wild served on the Challenger Expedition as official artist and personal secretary to Charles Wyville Thomson. He was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1824 and was a naturalist, linguist, and scientific illustrator. His illustrations include places and people that the expedition encountered, as well as records of the oceanographic equipment used on board and visual charts created from bathymetric data collected during the voyage.

Archival documents and manuscripts

Creator Title Item reference (click to order and learn more

Admiralty Compass Observatory

Report on the Magnetic Results of the Voyage of HMS Challenger Staff Cdr. Creak, 1873 – 76 ACO/4/3/2

Admiralty Compass Observatory

Addendum to the Magnetic Instructions to HMS Challenger ACO/4/3/3

Hynes, John

Journal of HMS Challenger, by Assistant Paymaster John Hynes (Manuscript), 1873 – 74 JOD/15/1

John Hynes served on the Challenger Expedition as Assistant Paymaster. Royal Museums Greenwich holds a journal and three photograph albums made by Hynes that document the circumnavigation.

Maclear, John Fiot Lee Pearse

Magnetic journal kept in HMS Challenger (Manuscript), 1872 – 76 MAC/1

John Fiot Lee Pearse Maclear served on the Challenger Expedition as commander under Captain Sir George Nares. He was born in Cape Town in 1838 and entered the Navy. Maclear was promoted to captain after the completion of the expedition in 1876.

Smith, Abraham

Memoirs of Abraham Smith, RN, 1859 – 80 BGR/41

Abraham Smith had an active life in the Royal Navy, seeing service both in war (on board the Ratter in the Anglo-Satsuma War (1863), in which he was shipwrecked) and peace time. A large part of his memoir is devoted to his service on the Challenger Expedition.

The Tizard collection

Thomas Henry Tizard served on the Challenger Expedition as Navigating Officer and Assistant Surveyor from 1872, and was promoted to Staff Commander in 1874. He was a surveyor and navigator in the hydrographic service of the Navy. Tizard remained on board HMS Challenger after Nares left from Hong Kong to take command of the Arctic Expedition in 1875. When the Challenger Expedition ended, Tizard, alongside John Murray, was responsible for writing the narrative of the voyage with its hydrographic and oceanographic results.

The Tizard collection consists of logbooks, diaries, official and private letters, and charts.

Title Date Item ID (click to order and learn more

Letters from T.H. Tizard, Acting Master in Command in charge of China Sea Survey and Senior Officer present, Rifleman & Saracen, Singapore, and one from HMS Challenger (TIZ/8; MS86/072)

7 Feb 1864 – 5 Dec 1874 TIZ/8; MS86/072
Official letters to Tizard … and notes on surveys re Challenger 1861 – c.1876 TIZ/11; MS86/072
Reports to Hydrographer by T.H. Tizard, HMS Challenger 1 Mar 1871 – 31 Dec 1874 TIZ/15; MS86/072

‘Remark Book’, giving details of the departure of HMS Challenger from Sheerness on 7 Dec 1872, anchoring at Spithead on 11 Dec 1872; and recordings made at Holyhead, Isle of Man and Stornaway

20 Apr – 17 Sep 1880 TIZ/16; MS86/072
Statistics of the Voyage of HMS Challenger 7 Dec 1872 – 26 May 1876 TIZ/17; MS86/072
List of books taken on HMS Challenger 20 Dec 1872 TIZ/35/3; MS86/072

Incl Tizard's Commissions for Britannia, Indus & Rifleman; appointment as Staff Commander (4 Aug 1874); and letter re service on the Challenger Expedition

21 Apr 1879 TIZ/38/3; MS86/072

Thirteen letters to Tizard from (Sir) George Nares, Captain of HMS Challenger on her world oceanographic voyage

1872-80, plus some undated TIZ/39/1; MS86/072

Two letters from (Sir) Frederick John Owen Evans, Chief Naval Assistant to the Hydrographer, addressed to Nares and Tizard

Dated 6 March 1875 and 1 October 1875 TIZ/39/3; MS86/072

Binder of letters to Captain Tizard from various, including the Royal Society re Challenger reports and the Hydrographic Dept, Admiralty

16 Nov 1873 – 6 May 1920 TIZ/40; MS86/072

Remarks on the navigation of Torres Strait, the Arafura, Celebes and Sula by Staff Commander Tizard, HMS Challenger

1874 – 1907 TIZ/41/11; MS86/072

Letters to Tizard from various people including J.Y. Buchanan, Professor P.G. Trait, John Murray and Sir Wyville Thomson

1876 – 1883 TIZ/42; MS86/072

To Tizard from Sir C. Wyville Thomson re the publication of the results of the Challenger Expedition, the study of the Faroe Channel and the eventual delineation of the Wyville Thomson Ridge

30 Jan 1878 – 1 Dec 1881, including undated TIZ/43/1; MS86/072

Letters from Murray re publishing the narrative of the Challenger voyage

12 Feb – 1 Dec 1880 TIZ/46/1; MS86/072

List of instruments transmitted from the Meteorological Office to HMS Challenger (18 Nov 1872), and account of stores, provisions etc received on board when fitted for service at Sheerness

7 Dec 1872 TIZ/46/2; MS86/072

Report re the Chronometers supplied to and the Meridian Distances obtained by HMS Challenger, 1 Dec 1872 – 12 Jun 1876, by Staff-Commander T.H. Tizard - including draft

No date TIZ/62; MS86/072

Sketches by Tizard of various characters, some from Challenger

No date TIZ/65; MS86/072

List of instruments supplied to Captain G.S. Nares for Scientific Expedition, HMS Challenger, by the Hydrographical Office, Admiralty

Nov 1872 TIZ/63/1; MS86/072

Meteorological Tables from HMS Challenger

Dec 1872 – May 1876 TIZ/63/2; MS86/072

List of books supplied by the Admiralty on board HMS Challenger

1873 TIZ/63/3; MS86/072
Tables of Mean Ocean Temperatures deduced from observations obtained in HMS Challenger, N. Pacific, N. Atlantic and miscellaneous Oceans No date TIZ/63/4; MS86/0720

Tables of Meridian distances round the World from St Vincent and back via Cape of Good Hope and Magellaris Straits on HMS Challenger

No date TIZ/63/5; MS86/072

Re The Challenger Expedition members' commemoration of the completion by Sir John Murray of the account of the work executed

No date TIZ/63/6; MS86/072

Journal of voyage on the Challenger, covering 21 Dec 1872 – 6 June 1876 (divided into chapters for publication)

21 Dec 1872 – 6 June 187 TIZ/67/1-21; MS86/072

Report of the Circumnavigation Committee answering an Admiralty letter to the Royal Society re the Challenger Expedition, dated 22 Aug 1872

No date TIZ/73/4; MS86/072

Log of Captain Tizard while onboard the Challenger, covering 21 Dec 1872 – 6 April 1874

21 Dec 1872 – 6 April 1874 TIZ/83; MS1989/042

Log of Captain Tizard while onboard the Challenger, covering 8 Jun 1874 – 17 Oct 1875

8 Jun 1874 – 17 Oct 1875 TIZ/84; MS1989/042

Charts and Maps

Creator Title Item ID (click to order and learn more

HM Admiralty; Davies & Company United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO); Nares, George Strong*

Gibraltar. New Mole. Surveyed by Captain G. S. Nares RN, HMS Challenger. 1873 G225:6/14

HM Admiralty; Fournier, Joseph Marie; Martial Davies & Company; Nares, George Strong

Islands in the southern Indian Ocean [Section 1] Prince Edward Islands by Captain G.S. Nares RN, HMS Challenger [circa 1:300,000 lat]; [Section 2] Crozet Islands by Lieutt. Fournier Royal French Navy, 1838, with soundings by Capt. G.S. Nares, HMS Challenger, 1874. [circa 1:750,000 lat]; [Section 3] Heard & McDonald Is by Captain G.S. Nares RN, HMS Challenger, 1874


Nares, George Strong

Reports and charts kept by Captain G S Nares HMS Challenger, 1873 JOD/15

Nares, George Strong; United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO)

Cape Verde Islands St. Vincent Id. Porto Grande. Surveyed by Captain George Strong Nares, RN HMS Challenger 1873


Nares, George Strong; HM Admiralty, Malby & Son

Kerguelen Island Royal Sound by Captain George Strong Nares RN and the Officers of HMS Challenger 1874


Royal Geographical Society

Royal Geographical Society history of exploration 1830 – 1980 G:201:1/55

Stanford, Edward; Nares, George Strong

A chart shewing the track of H.M.S. Challenger, Captains G.S. Nares and F.T. Thomson. 1872 – 3 – 4 – 5 & 6


United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO); Nares, George Strong; HM Admiralty

Canary Islands Tenerife Santa Cruz. Surveyed by Captn. G.S. Nares, RN and the Officers of HMs Challenger, 1873 (2 parts)

G214:9/9(1); G214:9/9(2)

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO); Nares, George Strong; Tizard, Thomas Henry; Bethell, Lieutenant G.G.; Havergal, Navigating Sub. Lieutenant A.

Cape Verde Islands St. Vincent Island Porto Granda (now known as Luiz the First Harbour) surveyed by Captain G.S. Nares RN, assisted by Navigation Lieutenant G.G. Bethell and Navigating Sub Lieutenant A. Havergal, HMS Challenger, 1873



Tracing made on board HMS Challenger of a sketch map of Heard Island, South Indian Ocean


*Sir George Strong Nares served on the Challenger Expedition as its Captain until 1875, when he was summoned to take charge of the British Arctic Expedition. 

Visual and photographic sources

The sketches and photographs in the collections of Royal Museums Greenwich capture harbours, vistas, geological features, flora and fauna that the expedition’s crew encountered and desired to record.

Sepia-tone photograph taken on board HMS Challenger showing the naturalists and two of their assistants, part of an album of photographs from the Challenger expedition of 1875
Photograph on board HMS Challenger showing the naturalists and two of their assistants, part of an album of photographs from the Challenger expedition of 1875 (ALB0175)

The voyage is considered one of the first global scientific expeditions to embrace photography in an official capacity. In the context of British imperialism, sketching and photography recorded buildings, terrestrial features, fortifications, harbours and roads of interest to the government, its military and commerce.

The photograph albums also include images of coastal communities and Indigenous peoples, including Fiji, O’ahu (Hawai’i), and Tongatapu (Tonga) to name some examples from the Pacific. Some of these photographs were composed as part of ethnographic studies, and used to support now debunked theories of white supremacy. The photographic collection offers little information about the individuals it depicts, but it provides an insight – from the perspective of the white European scientists – into the communities with which the Challenger Expedition came into contact.

The photograph albums also contain images of Challenger’s Sub-Lieutenants, the lowest-ranked commissioned officers on the ship, and groups of sailors, providing glimpses of the contribution of a group of men whose experiences have not been preserved elsewhere.

John Hynes’s photographic albums follow a long tradition of naval album-making and storytelling. After the expedition, Hynes assembled 371 photographs into these three albums, which present the circumnavigation in roughly chronological order and are incorporated into a longer narrative of Hynes’s life.

Creator Title Item ID (click to order and learn more

Hynes, John

Scientific discovery expedition of HMS Challenger (1858) 1872 – 76, album of Assistant Paymaster John Hynes (1873)



Scientific discovery expedition of HMS Challenger (1858) 1872 – 76, album of Assistant Paymaster John Hynes (1873-5)



Scientific discovery expedition of HMS Challenger (1858) 1872 – 76, album of Assistant Paymaster John Hynes (1875-6) ALB0176

Tizard, Thomas Henry

Voyage of HMS Challenger 1873 – 6


Unknown artist

HMS Challenger (1880)


Challenger ship plans

Royal Museums Greenwich holds a number of Challenger ship plans, which shed light on how the refit of the naval vessel worked to make space for science at sea.

A detailed ship plan showing the main deck of HMS Challenger. Clean architectural lines mark out the arrangements of the various elements on deck
Main deck plan of HMS Challenger (NPA8446)

The ship plans collection, held at the Museum’s Brass Foundry site in Woolwich, includes plans for the sails as fitted for the ‘special service’ (NPA8449 and NPD3895), the hold (NPA8448), the main, upper and lower decks, and the profile showing inboard details (NPC7357).

Creator Title Item ID (click to learn more

HM Admiralty

Sketch of sails as fitted for special service (1872)


Penney, W.H

Upper deck (1873)


Rule, J.G.G.

Hold (1873) NPA8448

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO)

Sail profile (1872)


Rule, J.G.G.

Lower deck (1873)


Taylor, T.W.

Profile (1873) NPA7357


Main deck NPA8446


Creator Title Item ID (click to learn more

Black, William S.

Medal commemorating the voyage of HMS Challenger 1872 – 76 (1895)


Medal commemorating the voyage of HMS 'Challenger'


Dry card compass



Dry card compass (c. 1839) ACO0114


Sea-bed samples (1872-76) NAV0843NAV0844NAV0979

Secondary sources in the Caird Library

Author Title Call Number Item ID (click to order and learn more)

Brunton, Eileen V.

The Challenger Expedition, 1872 – 1876: A Visual Index (London: Natural History Museum, 2004) 910.4(100) “1872/1876” PBF5511

Brunton, Eileen V.

The Challenger Expedition, 1872 – 1876: A Visual Index (London: Natural History Museum, 2004) 910.4(100) “1872/1876” PBP2955; PBP3364; PBP9577

Jones, Erika Lynn

‘Making the Oceans Visible: Science and Mobility on the Challenger Expedition, 1872 – 1895’, PhD thesis (University College London, 2019) 910.4(100) “1872/1895” PBK0697

Matkin, Joseph, Philip F. Rehbock (ed.)

At Sea with the Scientifics: the Challenger letters of Joseph Matkin (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992 92MATKIN PBP2408

Joseph Matkin served as a ship’s steward’s assistant on the Challenger Expedition for the full duration of the voyage. He was born in Uppingham, Rutland in 1853. He entered the merchant marine in 1867 and the Royal Navy in 1870. Matkin sent home letters which he composed from his journal. He commented on oceanographic activities, life on board the ship and on the history, geography and people of the ports at which the ship called. The original letters are kept at the Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

Shephard, Benjamin

Challenger sketchbook: B. Shephard’s sketchbook of the H.M.S. Challenger expedition 1872-1874 (Philadelphia Maritime Museum, 1972) 910.4(100)

Challenger Expedition materials beyond Royal Museums Greenwich

Edinburgh University Library, Centre for Research Collections - The University’s archive of Challenger materials includes lithographs, engravings, photographs, and statistical and cartographical materials. The collection also contains pencil, ink and watercolour illustrations of marine life, rock and crystal formations, and several small scenic paintings.

Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library, Cambridge, MA - The Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard University cares for 225 zoological specimens from the HMS Challenger voyage. The Museum’s library and archive holds a number of printed published materials from the expedition, as well as annotated copies by important figures in the history of science such as Theodore Lyman and Elizabeth Hodges Clark, assistant to Alexander Agassiz.

National Library of Scotland, Archives and Manuscripts Collection, Edinburgh - As a legal deposit the National Library of Scotland has collected the majority of the published output from the Challenger Expedition including the extensive scientific reports series, books by individual members of the expedition, newspaper articles and letters, and even lectures. They also hold the archive of publisher John Bartholomew & Son who created the maps for the reports. Proof copies of the maps are available. The draft and notes of Erik Linklater’s popular account of the expedition ‘The Voyage of the Challenger’, is available, as well as its numerous published editions.

National Museum of the Royal Navy, UK - The NMRN has a small but important collection relating to Challenger, including an album of 409 photographs taken during the expedition and a commemorative medallion awarded to Engineer Alfred J. Allen.

National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh – National Museums Scotland cares for over 1,000 specimens from the Challenger voyage. These include birds and bird eggs, foraminifera, diatoms, echinoderms, sponges, and even some butterflies. The majority of the specimens from the voyage were sent to the Natural History Museum but Thomson proposed that a duplicate set of specimens should be located in the Edinburgh museum. NMS also holds duplicate and original images from the voyage.

Natural History Museum, Library and Archives, London – The Natural History Museum cares for 10,000 examples of material from the voyage, including birds, worms, fish, molluscs, insects, mammals and foraminifera. The Museum’s Ocean Bottom Deposit collection includes thousands of samples taken during the Challenger Expedition. They also hold a substantial amount of archival material, including letters and photographs from and referring to the Challenger Expedition.

UK Hydrographic Office Archive, Taunton, Somerset - The UKHO holds numerous observations and repots on ocean soundings and temperatures from across the globe, sailing directions, and correspondence from the Challenger voyage. In addition to this are other supporting records, such as letter books, minute books, files, and service records that contain information about the voyage and the Royal Navy personnel involved with it.

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Main image: Illustration of the analysing room on the main deck of HMS Challenger (ALB0174)