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Vintage Botanical Prints

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ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT SKETCHBOOK OF THE H.M.S. CHALLENGER EXPEDITION

 

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     The remarkable original watercolor sketchbook of Benjamin Shephard from the historic scientific voyage of the H.M.S. Challenger.   From December 1872 to May 1876, Challenger sailed almost 115,000 km (69,000 miles) entering all oceans but the Arctic.  In 1968, J. Welles Henderson, collector, historian, and founder of the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, discovered the sketchbook in an antique shop in Boston. He purchased the volume and soon showed it to Harris B. Stewart, an oceanographer and member of the Maritime Museum’s Underwater Advisory Board, who agreed that the drawings added “a delightful artistic postscript to the volumes already written about what is still considered the greatest of all oceanographic expeditions.”

Benjamin Shephard was a cooper who served during the entire voyage of the H.M.S. Challenger, from November 1872 to May 1876. Shephard was born at Brixton in Surrey in 1841, entered the navy in 1862, and died in Australia from tuberculosis in 1887 at the age of forty-five. “Evidently,” Henderson and Stewart write, “he found work not particularly to his liking, as he was promoted and demoted several times during his 25-year career.” He paid significant attention to his Challenger sketchbook, however, creating this series of splendid watercolors that show the work of a skilled and observant amateur. The sketches are all approximately 6 by 9 3/4 inches, each featuring a view of the ship and framed with a caption-bearing garter.  Shephard, with few exceptions, concentrated on painting not the scientific work at sea but rather the Challenger at her various ports of call.  This is a beautiful and important visual record of what has been  called “the most detailed and extensive examination of the world’s oceans in the history of exploration.”

The cruise of HMS Challenger was the first expedition organized and funded for a specific scientific purpose: to examine the deep-sea floor and answer comprehensive questions about the ocean environment. Wyville-Thomson would compile the resulting data in to the 50-volume Challenger Reports, opening the era of descriptive oceanography. He hoped to disprove the recently-proposed azoic theory which postulated a “dead zone” below 1800 feet in all the worlds’ oceans, and to prove the findings of Darwin.

The re-outfitted navy ship sported state -of-the-art on-board laboratories and workrooms, and the latest scientific apparatus, plus telegraph capabilities with which they sent results home.

Click here to view these hard to find restored images

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