A new retelling of the Atkinson story – marred by errors and omissions

After many years gestation John Massey Stewart has finally published his book on the Atkinsons. Thomas, Lucy & Alatau: The Atkinsons’ Adventures in Siberia and the Kazakh Steppes (Unicorn, £25.00) is not the first biography to be published, coming as it does in the wake of books and papers written by Susanna Hoe, Sally Hayles, Marianne Simpson, Natalya Volkova and myself.

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In essence, it is a retelling of some of the stories and journeys contained in Thomas’ two travel books and diaries and Lucy’s book, together with the author’s limited research into their biographies. It contains six of Atkinson’s superb watercolours that have never been published before, as well as details from a number of letters and documents that add to recent biographies.

The short prologue furnishes scant details of Thomas Atkinson’s early life – although Mr Stewart mistakes the names of Thomas’ two sisters for his daughters and somehow misses the fact that Rebecca Mercer, Atkinson’s first wife, was pregnant when he married her in April 1819. Their first child, Martha, was baptised on 9 November 1819. He also skips over whether or not in the early 1840s Atkinson ever travelled to India, via Greece, Egypt and the Gulf, about which there is plenty of circumstantial evidence, but little proof.

Similarly, he has no information on the circumstances of Atkinson’s bankruptcy and whether or not he spent time in prison for debt – or the events that led to his separation from Rebecca. Whole years go by for which there is no information. He has, however, found examples of Atkinson’s architectural work in Hamburg, where in the 1840s – no dates specified – the architect worked on plans for the rebuilding of St Nikolaikirche, burnt down in a fire. There is an interesting portrait of Thomas’ son John, but little detail about his life or the circumstances of his death in Hamburg in 1846 – which must have been a pivotal event in his father’s life.

The bulk of the book is made up of the chapters that cover Thomas’ move to St Petersburg, his first journey to the Urals and northern steppes of Kazakhstan, the journey with Lucy to the Altai Mountains and to Kapal in Eastern Kazakhstan (where Alatau was born), journeys along the Yenissei, into the Eastern Sayan Mountains, to Kiachta on the Chinese border and then back to St Petersburg.

Almost all the material in these chapters is extracted from Thomas and Lucy’s travel books and Thomas’ diaries, now held by the Royal Geographical Society. Much of it has been published before, although not in quite such detail. Large sections of it were first published, for example, by W H Davenport Adams as long ago as 1880 in his book Some Heroes of Travel.

Thus, for example, we read the incredible story of Thomas and Lucy’s encounter with a Kazakh in the mountains who tried to incite his followers to beat the Atkinsons to death and throw them over a precipice and the peculiar story that some Kazakhs believed Lucy had to be a man, as no woman could do what she had done. All are faithfully retold by Mr Stewart, with some new details that have emerged from Atkinson’s diaries and correspondence.

Considering the fact that he had them all in his possession for three years, it is all the more surprising that Mr Stewart states that Thomas’ last diary was for the year 1851. In fact, there are detailed diary entries for both 1852 and 1853, although they are written into blank pages of the other diaries. This may explain why Mr Stewart criticises Thomas for “his habit of inserting entries completely out of context and often even in a different year”. In fact, there is no confusion. Having spent many months transcribing the diaries I can attest to the fact that they are very clear once this point is understood. Did Mr Stewart actually read them all?

Mr Stewart also seeks to draw a distinction between what he sees as the orderly, date-referenced stories and anecdotes contained in Lucy’s book and the dearth of dates in Thomas’ two books. He states, for example that “Thomas also had an odd sense of time: over-conscious of the times of departures and arrivals and the length of journeys, but totally blind to the passage of days or indeed weeks, and – astonishingly – prepared for even more years of Russian travel.

He paints a picture of a chaotic Thomas, unconcerned with dates and unable to deal with money, who only gets through seven years of travel in remote areas because of Lucy’s organisational skills.

In fact, this is nonsense. Thomas’ diaries, which cover all or parts of seven years, are extremely well ordered. He usually notes the Roman dates and the Russian Orthodox dates and quite often he adds sunset and sunrise times at the top of each entry. His writing is fluent, his notes clear and sparkling, mostly written in complete sentences. Thomas even lists in tabular form and date order all the 66 letters he sent to Lucy during his first journey to Siberia and Central Asia, adding his location and the date he expected her to receive them.

And as Mr Stewart himself notes, Lucy’s book often quotes verbatim from Thomas’ diary. The fact is that Lucy’s book is largely based on his diaries. All the dates are taken from Thomas, as are most of the major incidents and whole sections of narrative. It is, of course, possible that Lucy kept her own diaries, but none have ever come to light.

As for money, in the Dahlquist Collection in Hawaii there are dozens of pages of detailed handwritten financial calculations by Thomas concerning the publishing advances for his books. This is not the work of someone “unable to deal with money”.

Throughout this book there is a strong tendency to seek a division between Thomas and Lucy, where none is merited. For example, Mr Stewart suggests Thomas seldom shows affection to Lucy and Alatau, which is simply not true. The saddest example comes when Mr Stewart speculates about Thomas’ feelings on Lucy’s pregnancy: “Was he pleased now to have another son, having already lost his only son, John William, as an adult? Or could he have half-hoped even unconsciously that Lucy might miscarry, since a baby would surely be a major encumbrance hugely circumscribing all future travel? We will never know. But if the latter, he was very much mistaken and the young Alatau seems to have curtailed nothing – rather the contrary, indeed. He may have added a major and inescapable complication to his parents’ travels, but he was to win many hearts and his young presence was to smooth the way for many future encounters.”

So without any evidence – in fact, plenty to the contrary – Mr Stewart suggests that Thomas may have wished that Lucy had miscarried her baby. This does the author no credit and suggests he does not understand very well the subject of his biography. In fact, Thomas appears to have been an exemplary father, often tending to the baby Alatau, changing his clothes, washing him, carrying him in his arms as they rode through the mountains. There is no evidence anywhere that he regretted Alatau’s birth. His diaries  are full of warm comments towards both Lucy and Alatau.

Mr Stewart also appears to be obsessed by Thomas’s bigamy. It is true that he married Lucy in Moscow in 1848 having not divorced his first wife Rebecca. But we should note that the only way anyone could obtain a divorce in the 1840s was through a private act of Parliament. No ordinary person could obtain a divorce. Seven years abroad with a strong belief that his former wife was dead would have been enough to escape a charge of bigamy following his second marriage. In fact, Thomas had been separated from Rebecca for longer than this before he remarried, even if he could not swear that Rebecca was dead. There is a lot of recent scholarship on the subject of divorce and bigamy in the nineteenth century, but none is referenced in this book.

Although Mr Stewart is certain that Thomas deceived Lucy by not telling her about the first marriage and deceived his first wife by not telling her about Lucy, in fact, things are not so simple. First, several national newspapers and magazines reported that Thomas, Lucy and Alatau were a family unit, not least the Illustrated London News, which even reported a visit to their apartment in St Petersburg. It is hard to believe that Thomas’ first wife Rebecca or his daughter Martha and her wealthy solicitor husband James Wheeler did not see these reports. There is little chance they did not know about the second marriage and the existence of Alatau.

And what about Lucy? If she did not know that Rebecca was still alive, then her reaction on finding out was nothing short of saintly. In November 1861, three months after Thomas’ death, she wrote to a friend “I earnestly beg of you not to think my husband guilty – he was too good a man to deceive me”. This was after Rebecca had come forward to demand Thomas’ estate. And note that in her own book Recollections of Tartar Steppes, published two years later in 1863, she signs it simply ‘Mrs Atkinson’ on the title page, in clear defiance of those who sought to drive a wedge between the couple and to make the point that she was still Thomas’ wife. There is no evidence she ever changed her mind – or name – or turned against him.

Senior figures at the RGS such as Sir Roderick Murchison also continued to support Lucy and Alatau, not out of pity, but in recognition of Thomas’ achievements. They never allowed the issue of bigamy to get in the way. Presumably Mr Stewart thinks we should judge all our national heroes according to their peccadilloes? What then of Nelson and the rest?

In this context we have to consider other possibilities. Did Thomas come to a private arrangement with his first wife? There are some signs that this was the case. She is described in several censuses as an annuitant. Who was paying the annuity? Rebecca had no resources of her own. Mr Stewart has no answers. And why was Thomas Longridge Gooch present at Thomas’ death and the informant to the coroner? Gooch, a famous railway engineer, was a close associate of Atkinson’s son-in-law (and railway solicitor) James Wheeler. Was he there to make sure the terms of a private agreement on Atkinson’s estate were honoured? More than likely in my view. And why, in her detailed account of Thomas’ death, did Lucy not mention Gooch’s presence? Undoubtedly, there are still discoveries to be made here. Either way, Mr Stewart is not able to offer any explanation.

Another important controversy examined in Mr Stewart’s book concerns Thomas’ journey on horseback across northern Mongolia. He calls it “seemingly fictitious”, but never really gets to grips with this subject. He does not mention, for example, the great Russian explorer PP Semenov Tian-Shansky’s take on this debate, which can be found in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society. This is a surprising omission. Personally, I cannot fully resolve this issue, but I would be loathe to dismiss Atkinson’s account without further research. And if he did invent it, why? Therein may lie another story.

The other great issue discussed by Mr Stewart is the debate over plagiarism in Thomas’ second book on the Amur River, only the headwaters of which he visited. I have written previously on this blog that Thomas was actually more sinned against than sinner in this respect. Whole chapters of his books were reproduced without permission and his pirated drawings were used in numerous encyclopaedias through the late nineteenth century.

I have also previously written about the fact that the title and subject matter for Thomas’ second book were decided upon by his publisher and foisted on the author. The title that Atkinson wanted for the book, that does not mention the Amur, is the subject of a previous posting on this blog.

Mr Stewart mentions Richard Maak’s 1859 book on the Amur and the fact that the last five (very short) chapters of Thomas’ second book and several appendices were lifted from it. He wonders aloud who could have translated Maak’s book from Russian so quickly after its publication. The obvious answer is Lucy, who was fluent in Russian. She had previously translated Dr F V Gebler’s notes on climbing Mt Belukha from Russian into English for Thomas. Does that make her a co-conspirator and plagiarist too?

Again, it would probably be useful to stand back a bit and re-examine this controversy. There is some evidence that Thomas’ original plan was for a 2-volume account of his travels. The publisher decided against this and went for a large (610 pages) single volume instead. When it was a success he wanted another volume, this time on the newsworthy (at the time) subject of the Amur River. Thomas had wanted a very different second book but settled for this idea, filling it with overmatter from his first book unconnected with the Amur River, plus some odds and ends from Maak and elsewhere. I have analysed this in more detail previously on this blog.

Why did this happen? I believe Thomas’ main concern was to get some income for Lucy and Alatau, knowing that he was gravely ill and not likely to live much longer and that his estate would be seized by his former wife. He even tried to get a non-returnable advance for a third book from Longmans, but this did not happen. In fact, the Amur book was reasonably successful, running to several editions in both England and America, by which time Thomas had died.

So the question of plagiarism is also bound up with many other issues and it is therefore far too simplistic to put this down to a weakness of Thomas, at a time when he was ailing fast. Once again it is Mr Stewart’s desire to tarnish Thomas’ reputation that over-rides his ability to resolve this matter.

Once Thomas, Lucy and Alatau return to London – we are not provided with a clear answer about the dates – the rest of their lives are dealt with in a few pages that don’t even reference previously published material. What happened to Lucy in the 32 years between Thomas’ death in 1861 and her own demise in 1893? What happened to Alatau? For that matter, what happened to Thomas’ children from his marriage to Rebecca? Other than a few passing anecdotes, there are no answers in Mr Stewart’s book. A full biography ought to have dealt with such matters.

There are other issues in this book that I will leave for another time. For now, it is enough to say that it is a useful book that documents some of the Atkinsons’ journeys – and therefore adds to a growing body of work. It contains useful lists of Thomas’ known paintings and his architectural projects. It falls down, however, through some basic errors, substantial omissions and by making inaccurate judgements over issues that have not been sufficiently researched and where the author has allowed his own feelings to overwhelm the facts.

Another surviving Thomas Atkinson building found in Manchester

Thomas Atkinson never ceases to surprise, and his architectural work still keeps revealing itself, with the latest revelations concerning his business partner in Manchester, writes Sally Hayles.

We know that Thomas had two professional partnerships. Both were formed for specific projects which no doubt Thomas hoped would enhance his reputation and his pocket. The first began in the late 1820s when he teamed up with Charles Atkinson (not a relation) for the publication of his folio book, Gothic Ornaments Selected from the Different Cathedrals and Churches of England.

The second was formed in the mid-1830s in Manchester, with architect and painter Alfred Bower Clayton for a development known as Brighton Grove Villas in Rusholme, Manchester.

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Part of the prospectus for Brighton Grove

At the time of the idea for the Brighton Grove project, Clayton was a moderately successful architect mainly working in London and Kent. He had been born in about 1796 in London, the fourth of six children. His father, Robert James Clayton was the Chief Clerk at the Surveyor’s Office of the Navy Board at Somerset House. His grandfather, James Clayton, an attorney and landowner in Chichester, had married Hannah Penn later in life. Hannah was the daughter of Richard Penn, one of the three sons of the proprietor of Pennsylvania, William Penn.

We know that in the mid-1820s, together with David Riddall Roper, Clayton had designed St. Mark’s Church in Kennington, south London, a Commissioners’ Church. In 1826 he had also worked with Roper on the Shot Mills, part of the Lambeth Lead Works in Belvedere Road near Waterloo Bridge. Their Shot Tower was a London landmark until its demolition in 1967 to make way for the South Bank Centre.

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Two of Clayton’s earlier projects: St Mark’s Church Kennington and the Shot Tower

Alfred also had an interest in the railways and the Science Museum holds three of his works: View on the London and Manchester Rail Road Under the Moorish arch (1830), a lithograph showing the London and Manchester Railway at the point it crosses the Bridgewater Canal (1831) and a coloured aquatint titled Geometrical Elevation of the London and Greenwich Railway (1834). They show an early interest in railways and in the north west when he was based in London.

Clayton’s drawing of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway 1831

In June 1834 Clayton married his second wife Elizabeth and was living at Doctors’ Commons and St. Benet’s Hill in the City of London. A son, Cornelius, was born in 1835, to add to the three children born to his first wife Sarah. At that time, he had purchased the freedom of the City of London in the Guild of Fan Makers (motto: Arts and Trades United). Presumably Alfred must have thought this would enhance his business opportunities.

In July 1834, together with Dr David King MD, he had also published Subterranean Passages at Eltham Palace, Lately Discovered and Explored, about their investigation of the ruins of the once-Royal palace in south-east London.

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Clayton’s pamphlet on Eltham Palace

Clayton had also been engaged in the development of the New Corn Exchange, Mark Lane in the City of London with the architect George Smith and had designed Christ Church at Herne Bay in Kent between 1834-1835. This may have been a joint project with Thomas Atkinson, although there is no documentation to support this contention.

During these busy years Clayton had been exhibiting at the Royal Academy, mainly historical subjects and architectural views. He exhibited 18 times between 1814 and 1837. In 1815, aged about 19, he had won the ISIS silver medal at the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (now the RSA) for his ‘Architectural Design for a Monumental Chapel’. His winning entry was in the ‘Polite Arts Section’ for young people. Thomas Atkinson had also won an ISIS medal in 1827 for his drawing of architectural ornaments.

Architectural design for a monumental chapel by Alfred Clayton - 1815
Clayton’s design for a monumental chapel

Correspondence dated August 1836 gives Clayton’s whereabouts as Manchester and his London address as Doctors’ Commons. The correspondence relates to his submission of drawings to an exhibition at the recently opened Royal Manchester Institution (now the Manchester Art Gallery). He included in his list of submissions a farmhouse lately erected in Harold, Bedfordshire for W. Gambier, a cottage to be erected at Herne for the Rev. GW Evans and a design for the Penzance Court House buildings.

His presence in Manchester in August no doubt relates to the June issue of the prospectus for Brighton Grove Villas, Rusholme, his project with Thomas. The idea behind the project was to capitalize on the trend for wealthy Manchester industrialists to move out of the city to grander dwellings in nearby rural areas. In 1831 the number of ratepayers in Rusholme was 3,679. It was soon to transform from village to suburb.

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The prospectus drawing for the Brighton Grove development
Designs for Italianate villas Indianapolis museum
Note the similarity of the Brighton Grove Villas project to this drawing by Thomas of Italianate Villas, held at the Indianapolis Museum

Thomas was well qualified architecturally for the project and his stock was high in Manchester. He had built a number of grand country houses for prominent men and completed the very grand St. Luke’s Church at Cheetham. He was also engaged in building the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank headquarters in the centre of the city.

The Brighton Grove project came hot on the heels of a similar development at Victoria Park which had been launched in April 1836. That project had as its architect Richard Lane, well regarded in Manchester and likely a rival to Thomas.

Both projects were to be financed by subscription. The newspaper entries in June 1836 for the Brighton Grove project show a prospectus asking for 800 shares at £50 each, raising £40,000 capital. In contrast, the Victoria Park scheme offered 7,500 shares at £100 each.

Thomas and Alfred’s plan for the development was extremely attractive, aided by Thomas’ skill as a landscape architect. It included houses built around a lake with rustic bridges, pleasure grounds, and good access to the city. In this it was remarkably similar to the Beulah Spa project in south London, which also sought to sell of attractive plots of land and houses to the gentry via an early form of mortgage.

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One of the surviving villas built by Atkinson and Clayton

Ultimately, the Brighton Grove scheme failed to win backers, perhaps because Thomas and Alfred were financially unrealistic. In October 1836, less than six months after the launch, their partnership was dissolved. Nothing in Clayton’s biography suggests that he was a risk taker and perhaps he quickly got cold feet, leaving Thomas to face the failure of the project with only a handful of villas and the gatehouse completed. In 1838 Thomas was made bankrupt over another project.

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A surviving gatepost from the original entrance lodge (right)

Perhaps it was just that Clayton’s life took a different turn. He seems to have abandoned London for the north. A further child Mary was born in Ormskirk, Lancashire in 1837, followed by Robert James in 1839 and Octavius Plater (another tribute to a friend, see below) in 1841 when the family were living in Aughton, a small village near Ormskirk.

His next child Decima was born in 1843 and the family were living at Queen Anne Street, Liverpool whilst Alfred was running an architectural practice at 3 Cable Street Chambers, Liverpool. The only work during this period attributed to Alfred was the remodelling of Norley Hall, Cheshire in 1845 for wine importer Samuel Woodhouse.

By 1851 the family were living in Everton, north Liverpool. The Royal Collection Trust has two lithographs dated 1855 that are said to be after Alfred and which show the costumes of the 1st Grenadier Guards. He was the bridgemaster, responsible for the upkeep of bridges and highways in the area, for the Hundred of West Derby, one of the six subdivisions of Lancashire. His offer to superintend all the county buildings without extra pay was accepted by the county authorities.

Alfred Clayton died in 1855, although his widow Elizabeth survived until 1881, having moved to Balmain in New South Wales, Australia to live with Penelope, Alfred’s sister.

Thomas died in Walmer, Kent in August 1861. It is unclear why he chose to go to Walmer but there are possible connections with Alfred, who knew Walmer, having exhibited a drawing entitled A Norman Arch in Walmer Church at the Royal Academy in 1827. Perhaps the friendship with Thomas had endured?

Quite what Clayton would have made of his grandson Edwy Godwin Clayton one can only wonder. Born in 1848 to his eldest child Alfred (also an architect), Edwy was an analytical chemist – and the explosives expert for the Suffragette Movement. He had married Clara Tilbury in 1881 and both were strong supporters of the movement. Edwy was identified following a raid on the flat of Annie Kenney, a leading Suffragette. The police found letters from Edwy to Kenney about mixing chemicals and suggestions as to possible targets. He was sentenced to 21 months.

Edwy did not forget his grandfather and in the 1920s wrote to various architectural journals asking for information for a monograph he was preparing about Alfred. If only we could find that monograph we might be able to answer some of many questions that still remain about the extraordinary life of Thomas W. Atkinson.

 

The feminist princess who climbed Mont Blanc

For some time I have been puzzling over the identity of the writer of two undated letters to Thomas Atkinson in the Dahlquist Collection in Hawai’i.  Now I think I have found out the intriguing identity of the letter writer.

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The two letters in the Dahlquist Collection

The letters, written in French, are brief, simply requesting to visit Atkinson’s home in St Petersburg. They are headed by an embossed gold and red crown and signed Princess Massalsky. This turns out to be a remarkable woman of Romanian (Wallachian) origin called Elena Ghika, niece of the reigning prince of Wallachia, Grigore IV Ghika. She was very well-educated and even knew the German geographer Alexander von Humboldt – as did Thomas Atkinson. She often wrote under the penname Dora D’Istria.

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A portrait of Dora D’Istria by Peter Mateescu (1876)

In 1849 she married the Russian duke Alexander Koltsov-Massalski to become the duchess Helena Koltsova-Massalskaya. They lived for several years in Russia, mostly in Saint Petersburg and it must have been at this time, after the Atkinsons had returned to the city in December 1853, that they made her acquaintance.

But Dora disliked the Russian nationalist views of her husband and the Eastern Orthodox bigotry of the Russian Court under Emperor Nicholas I. When her health began to suffer, she took her husband’s advice and travelled to Switzerland for several years and then journeyed through Greece and Anatolia. Finally, she returned to Italy and lived in a villa in Florence, while occasionally traveling to France, Ireland and the United States and taking up the cause of Romanian and Albanian nationalism.

Today she is regarded as an early feminist, having made one of the earliest climbs by a woman of Mont Blanc and also of The Mönch (4107m). She is the subject of the first chapter of Celebrated Women Travellers of the Nineteenth Century  by W H Davenport Adams (1882) and was a friend of Garibaldi and other nineteenth century nationalists. She died in Florence in 1888.

Just out – new book on the Atkinsons

JMSbook

Delighted to see that John Massey Stewart’s long-awaited tome on the Atkinsons has finally been published. At 344 pages, Thomas, Lucy & Alatau: The Atkinsons’ Adventures in Siberia and the Kazakh Steppe provides a detailed narrative of the Atkinsons’ travels and includes some never-before-seen watercolours. A useful addition to the growing body of literature on the Atkinsons. A more detailed look at the book will follow soon.

The Alatau Atkinson Letters to Lahainaluna High School

Letters from Alatau Atkinson, Thomas and Lucy’s son, are almost unknown, so I was delighted recently when Leslie Hiraga, one of the Lahainaluna Historical Preservation Committee (LHPC) members at Lahainaluna High School on Maui, in the USA, State of Hawai`i, sent me copies of a previously unknown set of letters dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century. They provide a treasure trove of information.

One of Alatau’s letters to the headmaster of Lahainaluna High School

Readers of this blog will remember that Alatau, who was born in a remote part of what is now eastern Kazakhstan, migrated to Hawaii in 1869, together with his wife Annie and first child Zoe. There he started work as a teacher, before eventually rising to inspector general of public schools for the Kingdom of Hawai’i and then the Republic of Hawai`i, and served in the Territorial House of Representatives in 1898, as well as editing the Hawaiian Gazette for many years. (A detailed biography of Alatau, written by his relative Marianne Simpson, can be found here.

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Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson

One of several educational innovations introduced by Alatau was his leadership in revitalizing Lahainaluna School on Maui. The school was originally established in September 1831 as a “high” school, making it the oldest educational establishment surviving today west of the Mississippi River on the continental US. For many years it was the leading educational light in Hawai`i. Indeed, the first newspaper ever published in the Pacific Region was issued from its printing press. Later a bookbindery was added where text-books in Hawaiian and English were published as well as commercial printing.

But by the beginning of the twentieth century Lahainaluna was struggling with funding and a decline in enrollment. After Hawai`i became a territory of the USA (1900) federal funds became available to establish a land grant college.  Atkinson lobbied strongly to convert Lahainaluna, which was an English-speaking, work-study boarding school for boys, into the college. Alas, the 1901 Territorial Legislature awarded the location to Honolulu on the island of O`ahu, opening the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1907 (present day University of Hawaii at Manoa).

With the location of the college already decided, Atkinson revised his vision for Lahainaluna. He then lured C.A. MacDonald away from Kamehameha School for boys on Oah`u to take the helm as principal and with funds obtained from the Territorial government in 1903 Atkinson orchestrated a complete reorganization of Lahainaluna. New buildings were constructed and new teachers employed with the aim of developing a vocational trade school. New dorms were constructed, continuing the enrollment of male boarders. The new main building was named in Atkinson’s honor. A principal’s home was constructed, becoming a social hub hosting dignitaries visiting the area.

Lahainaluna became known as The Vocational Trade School until 1923. At that time it was incorporated into the public school system of the Territorial Department of Public Instruction as a Technical High School, adding both male and female day students to the previously exclusive boarding school. In 1961, not long after statehood Lahainaluna became a comprehensive high school eventually adding female boarders in 1980, and continues today as such.

The correspondence held in the school archives consists of seven letters from Alatau Atkinson to the school’s principal, C. A. MacDonald. There is also a letter from Alatau’s wife, Annie, sent following her husband’s death. The opening ceremony invitation for the new buildings on 7th June 1905 – which Alatau and his wife attended and at which he gave an address – and several photographs complete this important little collection.

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Programme for opening ceremony of the new Atkinson Hall at Lahainaluna in 1905 (courtesy of LHPC)

In these letters there are clear indications of Alatau’s pride in having helped to reorganize the school:

I am pleased to hear of the success of the institution which you so ably conduct. It is a great satisfaction to me, a broken man, to see a younger man going forward as you are doing. It gives me this pleasure that I made no mistake when I chose you and your good wife to look after Lahainaluna. You certainly had a bad time when first you started, but your sterling Scottish blood has overcome the difficulties. Everything you tell me of the improvements is a joy to me. I shall never see Lahainaluna in its prime, as it will be under you, but it is satisfactory to know that the institution is so well started.

Alatau’s reference to being a ‘broken man’ refers to his bruising encounter with the new appointed Territorial Governor of Hawai`i, George Carter, who had recently engineered his dismissal as Inspector-General of Public Instruction.

One letter, written just before the formal opening of the new buildings – including the main hall, which was named Atkinson Hall in his honor – refers to his political troubles:
Of course, I feel your kindness and friendship in desiring to call the main building Atkinson Hall, and I should consider it a great honor, especially as it is the stand that I took about Lahainaluna that sealed my fate. You will remember our interview with the Governor. But do you think it wise to name the place after a fallen man? I confess I would like my name to be associated with Lahainaluna, but I do not want to get you into trouble, my dear friend.”

Sadly, the hall was destroyed in a fire in 1959.

Atkinson Hall-Lahainaluna High School-Hawaii
Atkinson Hall before it burnt down in 1959

There is also a letter to Mr. MacDonald from Alatau’s wife Annie, written soon after her husband had died. She recalls their visit to the school: “I was so happy to know I was with him at Lahainaluna for he was so proud of the place and had such a good opinion of you.”

I have little doubt that there is still more documentation about Alatau to be found in Hawai`i. Besides his civic duties and journalism, he was also the organizer of the territory’s first Census in 1896. A spokesperson for Lahainaluna High School told Siberian Steppes: “A. T. Atkinson’s foresight and contributions to Hawai`i’s educational advancement during a tumultuous time are embedded within Lahainaluna’s 187 years of enduring and proud history.”

Thomas Atkinson and Royal Beulah Spa

The Victorian obsession with spas and pleasure gardens is well known, particularly those in London. Sadler’s Wells, the Clerkenwell Spas, Bagnigge Wells, Hampstead Spa, St Pancras Wells, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and literally dozens of other similar establishments were once the Victorian equivalent of theme parks, offering music, entertainments, food and drink and other pleasures to an eager public.

But until now the role of Thomas Atkinson in running and designing Beulah Spa – later known as Royal Beulah Spa following its patronage by Queen Victoria and members of her court – in South London was only known to a few specialists.

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Beulah Spa in south London. Atkinson designed the gardens and lakes and the colonading around the pump house.

In fact, Atkinson played a significant role in redesigning Beulah Spa, reinvigorating its gardens and entertainments and acting as its general manager in the mid-1830s.

Today Beulah Spa as a place has almost entirely disappeared. A small park and a few buildings are all that is left of a place that was once one of the grandest venues in the city. I am grateful to Professor James Stevens Curl and to Chris Shields who have both written about the heyday of Beulah Spa* and alluded to the role played by Thomas Atkinson. Thanks also go to Sally Hayles for her research into this interesting subject.

Beulah Spa is located in Upper Norwood in the borough of Croydon, close to present-day Crystal Palace. Landowner John Davidson Smith was the first person to exploit the natural spa at Beulah, testing its waters in the 1820s and getting a very positive reaction from scientists, including the great Michael Faraday. In August 1831 the Countess of Essex opened the landscaped Beulah Spa Gardens, with a pump house to dispense its medicinal waters designed by the famous architect Decimus Burton.

The spa soon became popular. A hotel was opened on the site and before long great extravaganzas were being staged. In October 1832 the Band of the Royal Artillery played to 1500 people on the lawns, songs were written (‘I met her at the Beulah Spa’, for example), and the landowner Smith was soon selling off chunks of nearby land to cash in on the resort’s popularity.

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One of several popular songs written about Beulah Spa

However, despite the success of the resort and its patronage by aristocrats and politicians, by the end of 1834 Smith was bankrupt and the entire place was put up for auction in May 1835, including the Spa, music-room, lodge and entrance, walks, gardens, farm buildings totalling around 30 acres. Several contemporary newspaper reports noted that the new owner was Thomas Atkinson, who they said had paid £27,000 for the entire business.

In fact, it seems very unlikely that Atkinson was the actual purchaser. Designer or creative director would seem to be more accurate terms. Atkinson had moved to Manchester in 1834 and was working on a number of projects alongside his new business partner – and fellow architect – Alfred Bower Clayton. However, he was beginning to experience serious financial problems with his largest project to date – the central Manchester headquarters building for the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank.

By the mid-October 1836 Atkinson and Clayton had dissolved their partnership. Thomas remained in Manchester, with his family living in nearby Chorlton, but it seems likely he was also looking for work in London, where he had first made his name. Taking on a short-term project at Beulah Spa would have provided him with cash and the possibility of finding further commissions.

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Press article from July 1836 explaining the changes made by Atkinson at Beulah Spa

We know that Atkinson took on the job of redesigning the gardens and also reinvigorating the entertainments. His efforts appear to have paid off. In July 1835 Princess Victoria made the first of four recorded visits to the Spa, riding across country from Windsor, accompanied, according to the Morning Post, “by his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Saxe Weimar, the Earl and Countess of Denbigh, and Miss Hope Johnson.”

That August grand galas were held every Monday, Tuesday and Saturday, including one advertised as having “grand illuminations, a hermit’s cave and Harry Twist, the Shakespearean clown and jester.” The Beulah Minstrel strolled through the grounds singing love ballads in exchange for a silver coin, Indian juggler Ramo Samee entertained the crowds, there were concerts and public dancing and bands from the Coldstream and Scots Guards and Miechel’s German Band. Those bored with the music could visit the camera obscura which apparently had a telescope powerful enough to see Windsor Castle.

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Poster for one of the many ‘spectaculars’ held at Beulah Spa

Thomas Atkinson’s work at Beulah Spa included enlarging the flower beds and lawns and building log houses, lakes and new walkways. He was described as “a gentleman combining knowledge of architecture with great natural facility for landscape gardening” and said he “intended to carry on with vigour, tempered by discretion and a scheme of attraction and amusement.”

One report noted that “under the tasteful eye of this gentleman, new walks have been opened, affording different and varied views of the surrounding scenery and country. The lawn in the centre of the Spa has been enlarged and beautified by the intermixture of rustic flower beds, planted with geraniums, fuchsias and other exotics: an arcade in the same style has been thrown up, communication with a refreshment room and within a step of the well and it is in contemplation to erect another well at the back of the arcade, as the mineral water is very abundant and the increased popularity of Beulah Spa has created a great additional demand for it.”

Another report from July 1836 noted the improvements, commenting: “The arrangements have been entrusted by the proprietors to Mr Atkinson, the highly successful architect, who if it be allowable to judge by what has been already done in the grounds, cannot but prove more than equal to the task assigned him.” In fact, Atkinson had greater ambitions; plans for a new hotel, together with between 50 and 70 houses in a grand crescent were drawn up by Atkinson, ready for the 1837 season. The idea was to sell the houses off to the gentry and in the process make a considerable fortune.

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The grand terrace Atkinson proposed for Beulah Spa. It was never built.

Although some drawings were done for the houses, they were never built, probably because such a terrace well outside London proper was never likely to find backers. In the meantime, his problems had not gone away, particularly those involving his other major project, in Manchester – the headquarters of the Manchester and Liverpool and District Bank. It was this project that finally forced Atkinson into bankruptcy.

Looking at Atkinson’s comparatively short involvement with Beulah Spa, it seems clear that he took on the job of redesigning the grounds and possibly building a grand crescent as a way of gaining some extra money with which to support his Manchester business. When that failed, Atkinson must have been devastated. It seems likely that his marriage collapsed not long afterwards and after travelling to India, he returned to England only to leave soon after for Hamburg in the early 1840s, where he worked for several years as an architect.

But by 1846 even that was no longer satisfying enough. Following the tragic death of his son from TB in Hamburg in the spring of 1846, he left for Russia, from where he did not return for more than a decade, and then with a new wife and child. Beulah Spa, long forgotten, represents an interesting and important phase in his remarkable life. Indeed it is likely that when he met Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle in 1857, when he was a famous explorer, he may even have mentioned to her that he had seen her at least once before – at the Beulah Spa pleasure gardens 20 years previously.

* See James Stevens Curl, Spas, Wells and Pleasure-Gardens of London, Historical Publications, London 2010. ISBN 978-1-905286-34-8; Also Chris Shields, The Beulah Spa 1831-56: A new history, 2018. ISBN 978-0-244-37303-0. Many thanks to both for all their assistance.

Thomas Atkinson at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions 1830-42

Thomas Atkinson was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy Summer exhibition, a fact that can be checked easily using the online index recently made available here. Between 1830 and 1842 Atkinson exhibited a total of nine pictures and one model at the prestigious exhibition held at Burlington House in Piccadilly, London. Most of works he exhibited are now lost and known only from the entries in the catalogue or from similar drawings held in other collections.

Those that are known include Atkinson’s View of the East Front of Hough Hill Priory, erected at Staly Bridge, Cheshire for David Cheetham, Esq, which was exhibited in 1832. The original is held by Tameside Archives. A view of the front of the house is also held by the RIBA Library in London. Cheetham was the brother of John Cheetham, the MP, for whom Atkinson also built a large mansion in the same town.

Hough Hill Priory, Stalybridge4
Hough Hill Priory by T W Atkinson

Less well known is the View of the crescent proposed to be erected on the terrace, Beulah Spa, Norwood, exhibited in 1836. A version of this is currently held by the local archives in Streatham, south London. Atkinson was engaged at this point as general manager and designer for the very popular Beulah Spa – a kind of mid-Victorian theme park lying to the south of London, close to what became Crystal Palace.

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The proposed terrace Atkinson designed for Beulah Spa

Atkinson’s design for a tomb in memory of Walter Spencer Stanhope (on whose estate Atkinson had been raised) is known from a surviving drawing held by RIBA, as well as other near-contemporary drawings. The tomb itself still exists, although part of it has been obscured by more recent building work.

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One of Atkinson’s drawing for Walter Spencer Stanhope’s tomb at Cawthorne Church, Yorkshire.

St Nicholas Church in Tooting – which is still standing – is known from the aquatint published by the church elders as a gift to benefactors and about which I have written previously. However, the existence of a model of the church – and its present whereabouts, if it survives – are unknown.

The two drawings of the palace at Moorshedabad exhibited in 1842 are known from the fact that they were sold at auction by Christie’s as recently as 1979. Both are signed by Atkinson, who also added his title of ‘Architect’ to the drawings. The fact that he wrote ‘architect’ on the drawings cannot refer to the fact that he designed these buildings, which were begun in 1829 and finished in 1837. He was in England during these years. Even the title says the palace was “designed by and executed under the superintendence of Lieut. Col. McLeod.”

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One of the two drawings by Atkinson of the palace at Moordshedabad, India

There is something of a mystery surrounding these drawings – and a number of others listed amongst Atkinson’s possessions from such locations as Athens, Egypt, Aden, Persia and India – which illustrate locations that are consistent with a journey to India. However, no evidence of such a journey – which must have taken place in the early 1840s – has yet come to light.

There are a number of architectural drawings of St Luke’s Church, Cheetham Hill, held in the Manchester Archives, although these do not include the interior views or a south-west view of the church, which is widely regarded as Atkinson’s greatest architectural achievement.

Unknown – and possibly lost – pictures from the Royal Academy include his interior views of a Catholic Church in Manchester exhibited in 1840, and the proposed church for Camberwell shown in 1842.

Several of the pictures are wrongly attributed in the original catalogues to ‘J Atkinson’ or ‘J W Atkinson’, errors that probably result from clerks misreading Atkinson’s handwriting.

The full list of Atkinson’s pictures/models exhibited at the Royal Academy:

1830Address given as 8 Upper Stamford Street, Blackfriars Road.

Catalogue No: 1049: A tomb erected in Cawthorne Church, Yorkshire, to the memory of Walter Spencer Stanhope Esq.

1832Address given as 8 Upper Stamford Street, Blackfriars Road.

961: Model of St Nicholas Church, Lower Tooting, Surrey, erected under the direction of TW Atkinson.

989: View of the east front of Hough Hill Priory, erected at Staly Bridge, Cheshire for David Cheetham, Esq, under the direction of T W Atkinson.

1836Address given as Beulah Spa, Norwood.

973: View of the crescent proposed to be erected on the terrace, Beulah Spa, Norwood                J Atkinson.

1840Address given as Manchester

913: View of the altar, pulpit, reading desk, etc, in St Luke’s Church, Cheetham Hill, Manchester. T W Atkinson.

960: S W view of St Luke’s Church, Cheetham Hill, Manchester. T W Atkinson

1061: Interior view of a design for the Catholic church, Manchester, showing the high altar, side altars and organ gallery. T W Atkinson.

1842Address given as Rutland Cottage, Downshire Hill, Hampstead.

1027: View from the south-east of the palace of the Nawaub Nazim of Moorshedabad, the capital of Bengal, designed by and executed under the superintendence of Lieut. Col (Now Major-General) McLeod, late chief engineer, Bengal Establishment. J W Atkinson

1050: View of the north-east of the palace of His Highness the Nawaub Nazim of Moorshedabad, the capital city of Bengal. Designed by and executed under the immediate superintendence of Lieut. Col. (now Major-General) McLeod, late chief engineer, Bengal Establishment, exclusively by native workmen. J W Atkinson

1151: View from the S W of a church proposed for Camberwell designed by J Atkinson