HMS Challenger
Painting of Challenger by William Frederick Mitchell
RN EnsignUnited Kingdom
BuilderWoolwich Dockyard
Launched13 February 1858
DecommissionedChatham Dockyard, 1878
FateBroken for scrap, 1921
General characteristics
Class and typePearl-class corvette
Displacement2,137 long tons (2,171 t)[1]
Tons burthen1465 bm[1]
  • 225 ft 3 in (68.66 m) oa
  • 200 ft (61 m) (gundeck)
Beam40 ft 4 in (12.29 m)
  • 17 ft 4 in (5.28 m) (forward)
  • 18 ft 10 in (5.74 m) (aft)
Depth of hold23 ft 11 in (7.29 m)
Installed power
Sail planFull-rigged ship
Speed10.7 knots (19.8 km/h) (under steam)
  • 20 × 8-inch (42 cwt) muzzle-loading smoothbore cannons on broadside trucks
  • 1 × 10-inch/68 pdr (95 cwt) muzzle-loading smoothbore cannons pivot-mounted at bow
HMS Scout, a sister ship of Challenger

HMS Challenger was a Pearl-class corvette of the Royal Navy launched on 13 February 1858 at the Woolwich Dockyard. She served the flagship of the Australia Station between 1866 and 1870.[2]

As part of the North America and West Indies Station, she took part in naval operations during the Second French intervention in Mexico, including the occupation of Veracruz, in 1862. She was assigned as the flagship of Australia Station in 1866, undertaking a punitive expedition in Fiji before leaving the station four years later.[2][3]

She was picked to undertake the first global marine research expedition: the Challenger expedition. She carried a complement of 243 officers, scientists and sailors when she embarked on her 68,890-nautical-mile (127,580 km) journey.

The United States Space Shuttle Challenger was named after the ship.[4] Her figurehead is on display in the foyer of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

1873–1876: Grand tour

Main article: Challenger expedition

The Challenger expedition, which embarked from Portsmouth, England on 21 December 1872, was a grand tour of the world covering 68,000 nautical miles (125,936 km) organized by the Royal Society in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh.[5] British scientist Charles Thomson led a large scientific team which accompanied the crew.[6]

To enable her to probe the depths, all but two of Challenger's guns had been removed and her spars reduced to make more space available for scientific instruments.[8] Laboratories, extra cabins and a special dredging platform were installed as well.[9]

She was loaded with specimen jars, ethanol for preserving samples acquired, microscopes and other chemical apparatus, trawls, dredges, thermometers, water sampling bottles, sounding leads and devices to collect sediment from the sea bed and great lengths of rope with which to suspend the equipment into the ocean depths.[9][10] In all she was supplied with 181 miles (291 km) of Italian hemp for sounding, trawling and dredging.[11][9] Challenger's crew was the first to sound the deepest part of the ocean, which was thereafter named the Challenger Deep.[9]

Later service and decomissioning

She was commissioned as a His Majesty's Coastguard and Royal Naval Reserve training ship at the Harwich Dockyard in July 1876.[2] In 1878, Challenger went through an overhaul by the Chief Constructor at Chatham Dockyard with a view to converting the vessel into a training ship for boys of the Royal Navy. She was found suitable and it was planned to take the place of HMS Eurydice which sank off the Isle of Wight on 24 March 1878.[12]

The Admiralty did not go ahead with the conversion and she remained in reserve until 1883, when she was converted into a receiving hulk in the River Medway, where she stayed until she was sold to J B Garnham on 6 January 1921 and broken up for her copper bottom that same year.[2] Only her figurehead now remains, kept at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Winfield, R.; Lyon, D. (2004). The Sail and Steam Navy List: All the Ships of the Royal Navy 1815–1889. London: Chatham Publishing. p. 209. ISBN 978-1-86176-032-6. OCLC 52620555.
  2. ^ a b c d Bastock, J. (1988). Ships on the Australia Station. Frenchs Forest: Child & Associates Publishing. pp. 47–48. ISBN 978-0-86777-348-4.
  3. ^ "Fiji". The Sydney Mail. Vol. IX, no. 429. 19 September 1868. p. 11. Retrieved 9 April 2018 – via NLA Trove.
  4. ^ Grinter, K., ed. (3 October 2000). "Orbiter Vehicles: Challenger (STA-099, OV-99)". Kennedy Space Center. Merritt Island: National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Archived from the original on 3 February 2009. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
  5. ^ Rice, A. L. (1999). "The Challenger Expedition". Understanding the Oceans: Marine Science in the Wake of HMS Challenger. London: UCL Press. pp. 27–48. ISBN 978-1-85728-705-9.
  6. ^ Tizard, T. H.; Moseley, H. N.; Buchanan, J. Y; Murray, J. (1965) [1885]. "Narrative of the Cruise of H.M.S. Challenger – Chapter 1" (PDF). In Thomson, C. W.; Murray, J. (eds.). Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger During the Years 1873–1876. Vol. I, first part (facsimile ed.). New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation. pp. 19–20.
  7. ^ "Admiralty service record: Thomson, Frank Tourle". Kew: The National Archives. ADM 196/13/348.
  8. ^ Bishop, T.; Tuddenham, P.; Tuddenham, P.; Payne, D.; Babb, I. "Then and Now: The HMS Challenger Expedition and the "Mountains in the Sea" Expedition". Ocean Explorer. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d Aitken, F.; Foulc, J.-N. (2019). The First Explorations of the Deep Sea by H.M.S. Challenger (1872–1876). From Deep Sea to Laboratory. Vol. 1. London: ISTE. Chapter 4. doi:10.1002/9781119610953. ISBN 978-1-78630-374-5. S2CID 146750038.
  10. ^ "Scientific Equipment on HMS Challenger". HMS Challenger Project. 2 June 2015. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  11. ^ Rice, A. L. (September–October 1972). "H.M.S. Challenger: Midwife to Oceanography". Sea Frontiers. Vol. 18, no. 5. Miami, Florida: International Oceanographic Foundation. pp. 295–296. ISSN 0897-2249.
  12. ^ "Naval". The Cornishman. No. 27. 16 January 1879. p. 6.
  13. ^ "Figurehead of the HMS Challenger". London: Royal Museums Greenwich. Archived from the original on 15 December 2019. Retrieved 19 December 2018.

Further reading

Media related to HMS Challenger (1858) at Wikimedia Commons