The commanding officer for most of the Challenger expedition was Captain George Nares, (1831-1915). He was born on April 24, 1831, in Scotland, at Straloch in the parish of New Machar, near Aberdeen and was the son of a Naval Officer. He received his education at the Royal Naval School, New Cross, and joined the Royal Navy in 1845. His first assignment was in 1848 to the British Navy's Australian station as midshipman and mate, and on his return in 1851 he went to the Royal Naval College in Portsmouth and tested for lieutenant in 1852.
He particpated on a polar expedition which went in search of Sir John Franklin in 1852 , on the ship HMS Resolute. He returned from the arctic in 1855, and then participated in the Crimean War in HMS Glatton. He worked in the area of young officer recruitment and training, and wrote The Naval Cadet's Guide (retitled Seamanship after the first edition).
He was in command of HMS Salamander beginning in 1865, , stationed in Australia, and then commanded HMS Newport in the Mediterranean. With the Newport, he attended the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal. As the time approached for the ships to ceremoneously enter the new canal for the first time, the contingent of British ships were second to the French in the congested approach. Captain Nares had difficulty accepting this positioning, and so, during the night and without using lights, he maneuvered Newport forward into an inextricable position in front of the French yacht accorded the honor of entering the canal first. The French were understandably upset, and protested to the Admiralty. Captain George Nares received an official reprimand from the Admiralty, but was, apparently, the object of great admiration for his clever actions, and was questioned at length about how the feat was accomplished.
Captain Nares was given command of the Challenger expedition in 1872. He brought his young son along on the four-year voyage. Captain Nares was well liked and was not the tyrant sea captains are so often painted as.
Captain Nares commanded for most of Challenger's historic journey, but because of his previous Arctic, Antarctic, and surveying experience and good service, he was recalled in 1874 to take command of the Alert and the Discovery in the 1875-76 British Arctic Expedition. Joseph Matkin wrote of the Captain's departure. (His description of Nares as a "timid" man makes one wonder, considering his exploits, what one would have to have done to be considered bold!)
Captain Nares was with the British Artic expedition for its entire 18 months. Alert attained the highest Northern latitude reached by any ship up to that time, and one of the land parties reached the highest Northern latitude for a land party. In 1878 he published an account of the expedition, "Voyage to the Polar Sea. "
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1875 and on his return from the Arctic he was knighted and awarded the gold medals of the Royal Geographic Society (1877) and the Société de Géographie de Paris. After some further surveying work, he was eventually appointed Marine Adviser to the Board of Trade.
He was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1887 and retired as a Vice Admiral in 1892. He and his wife Mary had nine children.