Christmas Day on the HMS Challenger

Christmas  on HMS Challenger

Hello again! Since it is that time of year when the Christmas tree is decorated and soon you will be tucking in to a massive Christmas dinner, I thought you would be interested to know what Christmas was like on board the Challenger. Four Christmas’s were spent out at sea or anchored up and according to the HMS Challenger narrative and diaries this is what went on:

Christmas 1872 on board the HMS Challenger

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Challenger set sail on 21st December 1872, just in time for Christmas.  142 years ago from the day this post was published! Unfortunately, Christmas this year was a bit of a miserable one weather-wise. It was very windy, with the crew having to hold tight to their food dishes – many were lost and some food jars, in particular jam and pickles, got smashed on the floor. However, with ham for breakfast and meat pie and plum pudding for dinner the food went down quite well. Every member on the ship was given a third of a pint of sherry too. The officers weren’t so lucky with their food though. The turkey was stolen and they never found out who it was.

Christmas  1873 on board the HMS Challenger

The HMS Challenger spent the second Christmas off Prince Edward Island – belonging to South Africa. Again, the sea was very rough. At about 10am,  the crew caught sight of land but they weren’t due to anchor until Boxing Day. Dinner this year was salt pork and pea soup, plum pudding and a third pint of madeira for each man so quite enjoyable, with music and dancing for entertainment. The men were thinking about where they were going to be the following years at Christmas – around Hong Kong in 74 and near Valparaiso in 75.

When the men anchored on Boxing Day and explored the island they saw many birds – cormorants, albatross,  skua, gulls,  a giant petrel, prion and a sheathbill. This was on top  on three different penguins. One of these was the Gentoo penguin. This penguin is nearly as big as the King Penguin, which was also found on the island. The third of the penguins was the rockhopper penguin, who had very dirty looking nests. Have a look at their photograph of the albatross nests below.

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Christmas 1874 on board the HMS Challenger

Indeed, the ship was in China over Christmas in 1874. They arrived in Hong Kong on 16th November 1874 and stayed there until the beginning of January. Christmas here was lovely and warm – nothing like the cold and wet weather of the previous years. A fine dinner with turkeys, geese, ham and of course the plum pudding was devoured by all. Members of the crew save money each month for when they are at land to treat themselves. In Hong Kong they often ate curried cats and dogs..a delicacy there at the time apparently!

Christmas 1875 on board the HMS Challenger

The final Christmas on board! The men were once again correct in 1873 – they had just left Valparaiso on the 10th December. Unfortunately six men were lost there from leaving without consent. Christmas Eve brought music and dancing with a band and many stage acts which was great fun for the men. It was a cold Christmas day at sea this year. Dinner this year was a fat bullock to keep them going. Of course we can’t forget about the plum puddings! Christmas was very enjoyable until the evening. Many of the seamen managed to smuggle in multiple bottles of alcohol, leaving many drunk and fighting terribly. One man even came away with a broken jaw in three places! So it didn’t turn out terribly well in the end but it was all self inflicted!

So those are the main details we have about Christmas on HMS Challenger – food, drink, music, dancing, a mix of weather and the occasional fights (what’s changed?!). Seriously though, life wasn’t easy – I’m sure those men were relieved to have their next Christmas on land with family where they belong.

Have a happy Christmas and New Year everyone!

The Sladen collection from HMS Challenger

The Percy Sladen Collection

Here at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum we are lucky enough to have the Percy Sladen collection, part of which was collected on the HMS Challenger throughout the exhibition. Percy Sladen was a scientist born on 30th June 1849 who grew a good reputation as a biologist.

Percy Sladen portrait

He was presented the starfish material to identify after the exhibition was over. He was the only person Thomson and Carpenter (who led the expedition) could find that would be capable of managing to analyse the starfish. The ship had covered about 70,000 nautical miles and over the 354 stations sampled the crew had collected a lot of starfish! Sladen travelled all around Europe to speak to and gain connections with specialists that could help him a long the way. It is said that his hard work and dedication to the project could have been linked to his early death. He died in 1903 and his wife gave the whole collection to RAMM to make sure it was kept together.

Parts of the Percy Sladen Collection from the HMS Challenger

Take a look at a few of the pieces he studied…

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The picture on the left shows a small starfish whose latin name is ‘Lophaster stellans’. This little star doesn’t seem to have a common name. As you can see, the starfish was found south of Wellington island (off of Chile). We also know that is was found on ‘blue mud’. As far as we know, blue mud is so called because of the blue colour caused by organic material and iron sulphide. It is made up of silt and clay. Another thing to notice on the label is that it is from station 308 so we know that it was found in January 1876.

The picture on the right shows a couple of starfish – a different species ‘Chaetaster longpipes’. These were found off Bermuda at station 36 on some coral- so a few years earlier in April 1873.

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Another starfish from Sladen’s collection

All the collection is catalogued – he had a lot of specimens that aren’t Challenger specimens too. We are in the process of putting the Challenger data in to a suitable format for our new database. I just realised I haven’t updated you on that yet! We are speaking to museums around the country and also abroad at the moment to talk to them about the project. We are slowly getting our data and data from the Natural History Museum together. We are using this to create fields for the database and to start designing the website. Once we have a secure design and the initial data is uploaded and tested, we will be moving on to further museums to add their collections.

For anyone that has clicked on this post and is not aware of what the project is about, click here!

Speak to you all soon!