At Sea With the Scientifics: The Challenger Letters of Joseph Matkin

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University of Hawaii Press, 1992 - Nature - 415 pages
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When HMS Challenger sailed from Portsmouth in 1872, a young assistant ship's steward, Joseph Matkin, was among the crew. Throughout the three-and-a-half-year voyage, Matkin maintained a journal from which he composed the many letters he sent home to his family in England. In his letters he commented on oceanographic operations, reported on shipboard events of special concern to the crew, and discussed at length the history, geography, and peoples of the many exotic and remote ports at which the ship called on its famous circumnavigation of the globe.

The Challenger expedition established the foundations of oceanography and is second only to Darwin's voyage aboard the Beagle for its contributions to nineteenth-century science. The massive quantity of specimens and information acquired was written up in the fity-volume series of Challenger Reports, and personal accounts were published by officers and scientists. No ocean voyage had ever been so well documented.

Yet no account of the seaman's life below decks was known to exist until the early 1980s, when two substantial collections of Matkin's letters surfaced. The letters are unique in their perspective and fascinating for their depth and literacy. Matkin, the son of a printer, was well aware of the significance of the voyage and strove to present a learned account in a proper style. His letters convey a wealth of detail about shipboard logistics, the crew's attitudes toward scientific operations, and officer-scientist-crew relations. Unwittingly, Matkin also illuminates himself and the middle-class society of which he was a part.

Matkin's letters, published here for the first time, bring freshness and immediacy to this great Victorian scientific enterprise. Philip F. Rehbock has edited and annotated the letters, providing a particularly readable work of travel literature for anyone interested in oceanography, voyaging, maritime social history, and naval affairs.

 

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Contents

Under Way in the Atlantic November 1872March 1873
21
North Atlantic Transits April 1873October 1873
63
Farthest South October 1873March 1874
111
Australia and the South Pacific March 1874November 1874
150
Two Tastes of Asia November 1874June 1875
202
Polynesian Islandfalls July 1875November 1875
269
South American Denouement December 1875June 1876
296
Conclusion
336
Calendar of Matkins Challenger Letters
347
Article from the Hampshire Telegraph December 1872
351
Article from the Sheerness Guardian 3 June 1876
354
List of Books for HMS Challenger
359
Abstract of Voyage of HMS Challenger
371
Notes
373
Bibliography
401
Index
405

Chronology of the Life of Joseph Matkin
345

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Page xiv - ... (as the phrase is,) and who associates only with his fellowofficers, and hardly speaks to a sailor except through a boatswain's mate, must take a very different view of the whole matter from that which would be. taken by a common sailor. Besides the interest which...

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