At Sea with the Scientifics: The Challenger Letters of Joseph Matkin.

p. 17, Introduction: Books and newspapers were no doubt available in the ship’s library, which during a portion of the voyage was in the charge of Matkin’s immediate supervisor, the ship’s steward. In addition, a special collection of scientific and travel books was taken aboard explicitly for the expedition (see Appendix E), although these were probably reserved for the use of the scientific staff and may not have been readily available to Matkin. It is also possible that bulletin’s describing the ship’s ports of call were posted for the crew’s edification. Finally, Matkin himself on more than one occasion mentions visiting a library ashore.

p. 17: One cannot avoid being struck by the apparent scholarly urge of this young sailor…. The Victorian spirit of “self-help” and “improvement” through education and perseverance, as articulated in the widely read works of Samuel Smiles, my well be behind these efforts [to make a good impression]. Testimony for this ethos is especially clear in Matkin’s letter to his mother on the occasion of his brother Will’s enlistment in the army: “His education ought to prove of great service to him in getting promotion & he will have ample time & means of improving himself, for they have splendid reading rooms attached to those regiments.”

p. 27: We had a short service in the morning, the Captain officiates for we are not allowed a Chaplain, only Ships carrying 295 carrying 295 men & upwards are allowed a chaplain & we have only 242 on board

p. 31: We have a first rate library on board & a good many of the magazines are sent out gratis; we have also a harmonium but the ship has been too unsteady to cast it adrift yet—I hope to have a time now and then.

p. 103-04, Matkin while at Bahia in September 1873 “complained to his mother again that too little information was passed down to the crew.” “You will read better accounts of these islands—and of the 2 men whom we are bringing away [recent rescues]—in the newspapers, for the scientifics have nothing else to do but go on shore & gather their information for the papers.”

p. 132, Jan. 1874. Here Matkin gives a lengthy paragraph on the history of the Kerguelen Islands, something he must have based on the ship’s books.

p. 172-23, Tongtabu, Friendly Islands, July 23rd, 1874, about the principal church on the island: It would hold about 800, I would think; there is a nice organ & the singing is first rate. There are other places of worship 7 several schools &c, where the native teachers instruct, under the missionary. Nearly all of the younger natives can and many can write.

p. 194-95, Arras Islands, March 1874: There is a book on board written by an American—Professor Beckford—describing his visit to these islands, & his perilous ascent of; the burning mountain. … there is also a picture of him hanging on to [by] his eyebrows to the side of the mountain with all the blocks of lava cinders rolling from under his feet.

p. 288, on Tahiti, July 1875, after the Bligh mutiny, when only two mutineers were left: A great change then took place in the moral character of these two men: they discovered an old Bible & Prayer book, & this led them to alter their way of life. They observed the Sabbath, taught their wives & children, & began to live honest Christian lives.

p. 335, Matkin’s last letter, June 11, 1876, at Chatham Dockyard, when the men were paid off and discharged: …several of those who were entitled took their discharges from the Navy—myself among the number—finding Sea-life naught but vanity, and vexation of Spirit, especially the latter—my opinion of it coinciding with that of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s AD 1776—with which quotation I will conclude my long series of letters from H.M.S. “Challenger”:

A ship is worse than a Jail. There is, in a Jail, better air, better company, better conveniency of every kind: & a ship has the additional disadvantage of being in danger. When men come to like the se-life, they are not fit to live on land.

Men go to sea, before they know the unhappiness of that way of life; & when they have come to know it, they cannot escape from it, because it is then too late to choose another profession; as indeed is generally the case with men when they have engaged in any particular way of life. [16 March 1759 in a letter to James Boswell]

p. 359, Appendix E: “List of Books for H.M.S. ‘Challenger’ ”

According to the published Narrative (vol. I, pt. I, p. 4);

The Library consisted of several hundred volumes, including Voyages, Travels, standard works on Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Transactions and Proceedings of Societies, &c. These were either supplied by the Admiralty, or were the property of the Scientific Staff. It does not appear that any useful purpose would be served by giving list of these books.

A List of Books for H.M.S. “Challenger” dated 20 Decr. 1872 follows, p. 359-70.