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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:

Last 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 a penny.

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 Office.

I hope this will find Father a good deal better, I wish he could winter here like the Mayor of Edinburgh.