Challenger left Gibraltar, the familiarity
of Europe, yet a stone's throw from the north coast of Africa, on January
23, 1873, and headed west. The transect of the Atlantic described in
their charter now began in earnest, since temperature readings and water
sampling were required every 120 miles from the Canary Islands all the
way across the Atlantic Ocean to the Virgin Islands at the edge of the
Caribbean Sea. They would stop at many islands; the first of these was
Madeira, a Portuguese possession. Here there was some scientific testing,
some celebrating, and an encounter with some unexpcted people. Matkin
wrote to his mother:
Sunday afternoon, at this time, we were leaving Gibraltar, &
this Sunday afternoon we are just about to drop anchor at Madeira,
distant from there 700 miles, so that we have averaged 100 miles
a day & have been dredging fishing & sounding every day
for 7 or 8 hours. The deepest bottom yet obtained was at 6 o'clock
this morning just as we sighted the Desert Islands, 2,700 fathoms
was the depth, or rather more than 3 miles. We could not get in
to Tangier it was blowing too hard.
The Desert Islands belong, with Porto Santo, to
Madeira, & the whole group belong to Portugal. They are situated
to the North East of Africa & are distant from Lisbon 540 miles.
They have an area of 330 squar emiles & the population is 120,000.
The greater portion of the islands is immense mountains 6,200 ft.
high or nearly 5 times as high as Gibraltar. The productions of
the Islands are grown at the foot of these mountains, & consist
of Sugar, Coffee, arrowroot, oranges, grapes, pomegranates, plantains
&c, the fine is the chief product & the principal export is the
Wine the Island gives name to, Madeira. Funchal is the principal
city & here all the British Merchants reside & there are also a
great many invalids here from England for the winter season.
Matkin expounds upon the food, not for the first time:
As soon as we dropped anchor there
were scores of Boats round, some to take passengers, & others
loaded with Oranges, Nuts, Bananas, Sweet Potatoes, Appes, Figs,
& a lot more fruit, some boats had Fish & Turtle, all alive,
for sale & in one boat there were several naked boys who commenced
diving for money, they would dive right to the bottom, 30 ft, after
Fun in Funchal: Matkin is not given to joining in the sometimes
boorish behavior of belowdecks crewmen, we begin to see that his somewhat
elevated status and possibly more refined nature cause him some isolation
and loneliness on the voyage, of which more later.
Funchal is built at the slope of
the mountains & is a beautiful place to look at, something like
Gibraltar, but more like Lisbon...A great many of our men went on
shore yesterday afternoon & came off staggering, the Madeira didn't
agree with them they said. They say it is a beautiful country on
shore, the sugar canes look very nice, some of them took Horses
& Donkeys & had long rides into the country & up the mountains,
one fellow did nothing all the time, but hired 2 men to carry him
about in one of their mountain carriages, a sort of Hammock on 2
poles, & you can lay back in it & smoke as this man did. He says
he tired 4 men out carrying him about & it cost him 4/7. They all
came off at 8 oclock & had to fall in for inspection, some of them
did look comical & slept on deck all night. One man kept trying
to say "Dismiss" , without any s's. I did not get on shore myself,
but shall try & go this afternoon
The Mayor & Mayoress of Edinburgh
are on boasd now with Professor Thompson--they are staying here
for the winter. I hope to have a nice walk when I get on shore for
I don't get any exercise in the ship. I have not got such a fine
Issuing Room & Office as I had in the "Audacious"
for this place in this ship is below the water & all my writing
has to be done by candlelight, & I have to stand up all day as there
is no room for a seat. The Stew'd does his writing up in the Paymaster's
I hope this will find Father a good deal better,
I wish he could winter here like the Mayor of Edinburgh.