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.
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.
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.