Joseph Matkin was born on December 2, 1853, in Uppingham, Rutland (the smallest county in England). His father had been a bookseller and, in 1855, established a printing business in Oakham. Joseph was educated at Oakham School and then Billesdon Parish Free School, some distance from the family home. It is evident that his family stressed education and that Joseph was a product of the Victorian ethos of self-improvement and education. So when he left school at the age of twelve to join the Merchant Marine, he brought an unusual level of literacy to his below-decks, crewman's status, and his letters now bring us a vivid, detailed look at the Challenger's travels from a crewman's point of view.
Upon leaving school, he journeyed twice to Australia with the Merchant Marine, and then he lived and worked there for a year. He returned to England,and joined the Royal Navy in 1870, starting out as Ship's Steward's Boy, and it was in this capacity that he was transferred to the Challenger in November of 1872 at age eighteen.
The Challenger's expedition was well-publicized and was a matter of some fascination for the public, who read regular reports from the scientific team in the popular periodicals of the day. So Matkin's role in this historic endeavor was probably a source of great pride to his family and probably gave him some notoriety in his home town.
For the rest of his four-year career with Challenger, we will let his letters speak for him.