Catalogue description The Papers of Lt.Colonel Robert Beresford Seymour Sewell

This record is held by Natural History Museum Library and Archives

Details of Z MSS SEW
Reference: Z MSS SEW
Title: The Papers of Lt.Colonel Robert Beresford Seymour Sewell

The records of the John Murray Expedition constitute the bulk of the collection. It contains records of the work carried out at scientific stations along the route of the expedition, in the form of station records and station lists. The daily journal, written by Colonel Sewell, is particularly useful as a detailed narrative of the expedition. Sewell hoped to have the journal published but his efforts were not rewarded by the willingness of publishers. Eventually, the narrative did appear, in the publication edited by A.L.Rice (reference below).


A Records of the John Murray Expedition of 1933-1934


Papers of the John Murray Expedition Committee


Log books of HEMS Mabahiss


Trawling and dredging registers of HEMS Mabahiss


Station records


Station lists


Scientific data


Scientific data collected by vessels and organisations supporting the expedition




Scientific Reports : notes and drafts






Newspaper and journal cuttings




B Records relating to scientific research in the Indian Ocean


C Records relating to Sewell's zoological and administrative work in India


D Committees, Associations and other scientific work

Date: 1880-1964

The collection was not received in its original order and the papers have been arranged into appropriate classes of related records. In some cases, files containing a mixture of unrelated papers have been preserved in the order in which they were received, where it appears to be the order adopted by Sewell.

Related material:

Related papers on the John Murray Expedition are held in the Keeper of Zoology's archive (DF215).

Held by: Natural History Museum Library and Archives, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Sewell, Robert Beresford Seymour, 1880-1964, Lieutenant Colonel, Zoologist

Physical description: 9 boxes and two folders
Immediate source of acquisition:

The collection was received in November 1961 as a donation from Colonel Sewell, with the exception of A61 and A62 which were received by the Museum in 1964 from the Trustee Department of Westminster Bank limited, St Albans, Hertfordshire.

  • Zoology
Administrative / biographical background:

Robert Beresford Seymour Sewell was born in 1880 at Leamington, Warwickshire, the son of Reverend Arthur Sewell and Mary Lee Waring. The family moved to Weymouth during his childhood and Sewell attended Weymouth College before studying zoology at University College London for six months. In 1903, he received a 'Double First' from Christ's College, Cambridge, and in 1905 he entered St Bartholomew's Hospital to become qualified MRCS and LRCP in October 1907.


In 1908, Sewell entered the Indian Medical Service. In 1910, he became Surgeon-Naturalist to the Marine Survey of India and Honorary Assistant Superintendent in the Zoological Section of the Indian Museum in Calcutta. From 1911 to 1913 he was seconded to the Calcutta Medical College as Professor of Biology.


Sewell married in 1914 and served as a Port Health Officer in Aden during the First World War. After the war, Sewell returned to his post as Superintendent of the Zoological Survey in India. In 1925, he was appointed Director of the Zoological Survey and Head of the Indian Museum. In 1933, he retired from the Indian Medical Service after 25 years.


In 1933 and 1934, Sewell was Scientific Leader of the John Murray Expedition. The expedition began on the 3 September 1933 in Alexandria as a joint Anglo-Egyptian project. It was financed largely from a bequest of £20,000 from the celebrated oceanographer, John Murray (1841-1914). The John Murray Committee was set up in 1932 to agree upon plans for the expedition. The expedition was undertaken on the Egyptian ship, HEMS Mabahiss. It was a voyage that took the ship through the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the northwestern Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman. The expedition ended nine months later at Alexandria.


The aim of the voyage was to collect data on the ocean environment and to record species of marine life. Data was collected from 209 scientific stations and samples were brought back to England. The data formed the basis of a series of Scientific Reports published between 1935 and 1967 by the British Museum (Natural History). These are now held in the Natural History Museum Zoology Library (ref. 0.72.A.a.qB). After the expedition, Sewell returned to work in the Department of Zoology at Cambridge. From the late 1930's, Sewell dedicated his work to the publication of the Expedition Reports, to his taxonomic research, and to editorship of the Fauna of India until his death in 1964 at the age of 83. In 1946, Sewell had returned to India as an adviser on the reconstruction of the Zoological Survey and the creation of the Anthropological Survey and of the Central Fisheries Research Institute.

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