By 1870, all the pieces were in place. A fascination with science made the average Victorian an enthusiastic fan of a journey of seemingly tedious discovery in the area of natural history.
A theory had been put forth that appealed to the Victorians' obsession with death: that below a certain point the ocean was a lifeless dead zone of darkness in which no life could exist. A challenger had come forth determined to prove otherwise.
The popularity and influence of science and scientific institutions made possible a unique collaboration between the British Admiralty and the Royal society, perhaps the first although certainly not the last cooperative venture between military interests and the scientific community.
The Victorian emphasis on self-improvement and education had given a merchant's son from the smallest county in England, who would just decades earlier have been almost certainly illiterate, the means by which to record the voyage from the perspective of a well-educated, interested layman and crewmember. While the Scientifc Reports and several chronicles of the journey provide a great deal of information about the scientific activities of the voyage, the letters of Joseph Matkin, printer's son allow us to explore that journey from a crewman's point of view. Ship's Steward's Assistant Matkin's many letters home provide a unique and detailed look at seafaring life during the time in question, and form the basis for our look at the scientific voyage of HMS Challenger.