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Joseph Matkin joined Challenger at Sheerness, on the river Thames, in November 1872, during preparations for the scientific voyage. She would be stocked and provisioned there, and would leave for Portsmouth on December 7th. Before even reaching their departure point, the superstitious crew had cause for murmurings of evil portent.

Dear Tom,
We came into this ship on Monday morning, 175 all told, including 19 privates & one Sergeant of Marines, and the same evening one of the Marines was drowned, walked right over the Ship's Gangway into the Dock Basin which is 27 feet deep, and was drowned in sight of several of his shipmates. It was about seven o' clock at night and pitch dark, and there was no light to direct any one walking...

After completing outfitting at Sheerness, HMS Challenger left for Portsmouth in bad weather, and was four days on the English Channel.

We left Sheerness last Saturday week, and had awful weather round, having to put back three times, once into Deal on the Monday, into Folkestone on Tuesday, and into Dungeness on the Wednesday, arriving here on Thursday; the distance is 105 miles and we were 109 hours steaming fullspeed all the way. The wind was dead against us, and it commenced to increase as soon as we had passed Dover on the Saturday night, in the morning it had increased to a gale, and we found ourselves close into the coast of France. At 10 o'clock on Sunday the Captain gave orders to put back for theDowns, but the wind arose to a hurricane and we could make no head way against it. At Midnight the ship passed through a Cyclone, which caused the sea to come right over her and go down into the Engine room, through the hatchways, nearly putting out the fires; the Life boat cutter was smashed to atoms, and the Jib boom carried away with all the Head Sails, so that the ship drifted along under a single storm stay sail. She rolled fearfully all night, I was pitched out of my Hammock two or three times, and think it was the most fearful night I ever passed in my life. Several ships were wrecked close to us, and it was considered the roughest night on the Southern coast for the last eight years.

We reached Deal on the Monday and waited until the storm abated, there were hundreds of vessels of all nations at anchor in the Downs. Directly we dropped ours the Scientific blokes made a rush for the railway station, and came on to Portsmouth by train, arriving two days before us. They lay about sea sick during the gale and the sailors did make game of them.