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

An unusual contribution to our reader’s list from below decks. Matkin was a seaman, though a fairly well-educated one, on the Challenger, and uncharacteristically for lower deck men kept a journal, the basis of these personal letters about the trip.

p. 17, Introduction: Books and newspapers were no doubt available in the ship’s library, which during a portion of the voyage was in charge of Matkin’s immediate superior, 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 bulletins 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.

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

See also Appendix E: “List of Books for H.M.S. Challenger” (p. 359-70).

According to the published Narrative (vol. I, pt. I, p. 45):

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 a list of these books.

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

p. 377, footnote 43 of Introduction: Seagoing ships were supplied with libraries by the Admiralty beginning in 1828; most books were of a moral, religious, or educational nature. The scope broadened as donations were received from private sources.

1878-79 Fictional Passenger Voyage, Britain to Australia (P & O?)