In 1872, chemists, physicists and biologists boarded the HMS Challenger and embarked upon a 70,000 nautical mile journey of global exploration
The team systematically surveyed the geology, topography, biology and chemistry of the deep sea.
They returned four years later with a mass of data and thousands of specimens, many of which were sent to leading scientists across the globe.
The crew and scientists took detailed scientific readings about the sea and the weather with barometers, hydrometers, thermometers and other instruments, as well as dredging or trawling the seabed for specimens.
Although the Challenger was a small war ship, most of her guns were removed to make way for all the scientists, their equipment and a pair of laboratories.
More than 4,000 new species were described and the reports written filled 50 volumes and nearly 30,000 pages.
The impact of this epic journey has been wide: it laid the foundation for the science of oceanography, a space shuttle, a lunar module, and a deep sea research vessel were all named after the expedition and it has even been the inspiration for dolls’ house accessories.
140 years after samples from one of the world’s greatest journeys of scientific discovery were dispersed to experts across the globe, Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum is collecting records of the voyage into a single digital database. The information is still an important source of baseline data and will soon be readily available for further research.
Many of the specimens and data sets are held by national museums and "reasonably accessible", according to researchers. Some of the findings were shared among smaller museums and research institutions: 300 echinoderms are included in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum’s Sladen collection.
From starfish to butterflies and bryozoans to whale jaws, the records have examples from a wide range of taxonomic groups.
While most records come from the animal kingdom, there are plenty of botanical and geological samples and even a few examples of ethnographic material.
In April 2014, curators were granted £91,000 by the John Ellerman Regional Museum and Galleries Fund to build an online database of material collected on one of the voyage. The database is due to go live later this year.
More than 15,600 records and 4,000 images of material from the voyage have been collected from museums so far, including Bristol, Glasgow, Harvard and the California Academy of Science in the US.
The Natural History Museum is packed with specimens dredged and trawled by HMS Challenger. The museum took in all the types collected from the expedition before passing off some duplicates to many museums around the world, including collections in Sydney, Lisbon, Toronto and Berlin.
The National Museums of both Wales and Ireland have been visited by the team, who plan to follow other global links.
The majority of material stored at the National Museum of Wales were 6mm or smaller. The larger ones included octopus and squid.
You can find out more of the story by visiting the HMS Challenger project.
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Three museums to discover natural history in
Natural History Museum, London
The home of 70 million plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, fossils, rocks and minerals - more than can be seen in one visit, but worth a try.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Home to the university’s internationally-significant collections of geological and zoological specimens, as well as substantial archival material in a stunning neo-Gothic building.
Colchester Natural History Museum
Did you know there was an earthquake in Colchester in 1884, or that Mammoths and Hippos used to roam around here? Find out more with hands-on-displays, live animals and a chuchyard nature reserve.