The rectory designed by Thomas Atkinson in Milnrow, Lancs.


I am grateful to Geoff Cowling, the former church warden at St James’ Church, Milnrow,  near Rochdale in Lancashire, for sending me the book extract above, which contains a few more details about the rectory building designed and constructed by Thomas Atkinson. I knew nothing about this building or Atkinson’s involvement in its design until I received the cache of documents recently from Manchester archives – see my posting of 16 February below.

In addition to a good view of the rectory in its more or less original state, including the Gothic windows which have since been modified, the book also has a fine picture of the Reverend Canon F R Raines, for whom it was built. It says the rectory was erected in 1833 on land donated by Mr R G Townley at a cost of £1,500 and was built of stone “quarried on the site”.

Further copies of Thomas Atkinson’s drawings and paintings

Yet more evidence of plagiarism of Thomas Atkinson’s drawings. I have just come across two large encyclopaedia pages, from 1882 and 1892, which both use illustrations taken from Atkinson’s books on Siberia and Central Asia.

German encyclopaedia page that uses some of Atkinson’s illustrations

The first page (above) comes from a world atlas published by F A Brockhaus in Leipzig in 1882, although the first edition appeared in 1870. The first two illustrations on the top line and the last illustration on the second line are Thomas’ drawings, although not credited.

From and English encyclopaedia

In this further example, published in England in 1892, the second illustration on the second line and the first on the third line are poor quality versions of Thomas’ drawings. Again, neither is credited. Leaving aside the issue of copyright infringement, it appears that  for many years Thomas’ drawings and paintings were the one of the main – often uncredited – sources of images of the people who lived on the Central Asian steppes in the nineteenth century.

A trove of Thomas Atkinson’s drawings and letters from the archives

I have unearthed another fantastic cache of Thomas Atkinson letters and drawings from the Manchester archives that throw further light on the buildings he designed and constructed. Dating from 1832-38 they were mostly addressed to the Royal Manchester Institution and concern paintings and architectural drawings he was submitting for exhibition at the Institution. I have written previously about some of these designs, but now we have a much fuller picture.

Surprisingly, the archive also holds nine original plan drawings for St Luke’s Church, Cheetham Hill, reckoned by many to be Atkinson’s finest building. Now partially demolished, its wonderful spire still stands as a landmark over the area.

img_20170201_143950     img_20170201_144102

Two of Thomas’s drawings for St Luke’s Church, Cheetham Hill.

A letter from Atkinson dated 2 August 1832 lists 10 drawings for inclusion in one of the Institution’s regular exhibitions. The drawings are absent, but the names themselves are revealing. Some, like Hough Hill Priory in Stalybridge and St Nicholas’ Church, Tooting, we know already. But others are new. These include a house designed for John Ashton of Newton, Cheshire, a chapel in Wales, Portland House in Ashton under Lyne, which was built for the local industrialist and mill owner Samuel Swire and Barnby Hall, near Cawthorne, which was built for John Spencer Stanhope of Cannon Hall, the estate on which Thomas had been brought up.

The entrance to Barnby Hall, Cawthorne

The following August Thomas writes to inform Mr Winstanley, secretary of the Royal Institution, that he is submitting two cases of drawings for approval for their summer exhibition. These include the headquarters of the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank in Spring Gardens, Manchester and the Bank’s office in Hanley, Staffordshire (see my posting of 10 November 2016), both of which I have previously mentioned. Also included are proposals for a new grammar school in Birmingham, a school in Wakefield, Yorkshire and a rectory for the Reverend F R Raines at Milnrow near Rochdale. The two schools were not built, but the rectory, for the well-known antiquarian Dr Raines, was completed and still stands, although somewhat modified.

An old postcard showing the rectory in Milnrow near Rochdale
A view of the rectory today

The list of paintings – none of which are in the Manchester archives – also includes designs for a gateway and cottages for Messrs Cheetham’s cotton mill in Stalybridge, a house in Hither Green in Kent, lodges for Charles Hindley in Dukinfield, Atkinson’s design for the tomb of Walter Spencer Stanhope in Cawthorne Church, a lodge for Hough Hill Priory and a design for Kirkstall Church near Leeds.

In a separate (undated) letter, Atkinson also lists several paintings, including a view of Llanberis Lake and Dolbadarn Castle in North Wales, a view of Sudely Castle in Gloucestershire and a view near Ffestiniog, also in North Wales.

Already I have been able to track down pictures of some of these buildings, although several of them no longer exist. The list of Thomas’ architectural projects continues to grow and I feel sure we are not yet at the end of it. More will appear here on the buildings as it emerges from the vaults of obscurity. And who knows? Maybe one day some of the landscape paintings will turn up!

The life of Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson

We are publishing today a detailed biographical essay about Lucy and Thomas Atkinson’s son, Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson, written by Marianne Simpson, who is a direct descendant of Lucy’s brother, William York Finley. The essay discusses Alatau’s move to the then very remote Hawaiian Islands in 1869 and his subsequent career there in journalism and education, as well as his significant role in the American annexation of the territory. It is no less fascinating than the history of his parents. Below is a short precis of the essay, but those of you who wish to read Marianne’s full essay can find it here: to-a-higher-destiny-alatau-atkinson


The life of Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson (1848-1906)

By Marianne J E Simpson


“Convinced that circumstances had inevitably linked the destiny of Hawaii with that of the United States of America, he wrought, in season and out of season, to make the political alliance secure and permanent. Abandoning for the time his duties as school master he took up the editorial pen and through the medium of journalism did master work for annexation. To him more than to any other one man it is due that, during the long period of waiting which followed the first enthusiastic hopes of annexation, the determination to unite Hawaii’s fortunes with those of America, never faltered.”[1]

These remarks were part of the fulsome obituary for Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson that appeared in the columns of The Hawaiian Gazette at the time of his death in April 1906. Alatau Atkinson, a name well known in Honolulu for 40 years, left his mark on the evolution of modern Hawaii, both with respect to its annexation by the United States and the forging of an education system in which English was the single medium of instruction. With this international language, he helped prepare the island nation to enter into meaningful exchange with the rapidly advancing world beyond.

Alatau Atkinson was born on 16 November 1848 in Kapal, Kazakhstan to English parents, Thomas Witlam Atkinson and Lucy Sherrard Atkinson. Thomas, an architect and artist, had obtained a passport from the Czar of Russia giving him open access to all parts of the Czar’s dominions. Although there are conjectures concerning the reasons for the journey, one outcome is indisputable: it generated several hundred works of art, many of which were subsequently exhibited in London and some of which were reproduced in the two books Thomas subsequently wrote, Oriental and Western Siberia: A Narrative of Seven Years’ Explorations and Adventures (1858) and Travels in the Regions of the Upper and Lower Amoor (1860).

Alatau was born nine months into a journey which would take the family down into the rugged Kazakh Steppes, to Siberia and to the very border of China. His birth was premature, which was attributed by the doctor to the fact that Lucy had spent every day of the preceding months on horseback. Lucy later wrote that, had he been born in a native yurt, they would both undoubtedly have died. However, wonderfully, he survived and early became accustomed to the icy mountain streams in which his mother bathed him and being held close in her encircling arms while eagles hovering above swooped for their prey.

After almost seven years of travels, the family arrived back in St Petersburg just before Christmas 1853 and remained domiciled there until 1858. Andrew Dickson White, subsequently one of the cofounders of Cornell University, met Alatau and his parents at that time, recording that “The Atkinsons had also brought back their only child, a son born on the Siberian steppe, a wonderfully bright youngster…”.[2] That Alatau made a lasting impression on Dr White is shown by the following item from The Hawaiian Star:

“For about fifty years Dr White had tried to find [Alatau] but without result…The rumour was that the young fellow had gone into the navy in after years and so Dr White often but vainly enquired after him at British naval depots…”.[1]

Andrew Dickson White

Thomas Atkinson died in England in 1861 and, in straitened circumstances, Lucy was encouraged by her friends to write a book of her experiences, Recollections of Tartar Steppes and Their Inhabitants (1863). This work was rewarded by a British pension, and Alatau’s future was further assisted when a number of eminent gentlemen, including Charles Dickens, joined together to pay for him to complete his education at the prestigious Rugby School.

We can only imagine what a jolt the transfer to school must have been to Alatau. Speaking Russian equally as well as English and only four years in the country, during which time it is believed that he was educated at home by his mother, then suddenly thrust into the hurly-burly of a boys’ boarding school. Not to mention the burden of his name – inherited from the region where he was born, the Alatau mountains and the Tamchiboulac Spring, with which his parents had become captivated. In a surviving letter, his mother writes that he had just left for school and she hoped he would do well there!

As his later life showed, Alatau embraced learning, so it may be surmised he did not disappoint. Upon leaving Rugby, he returned to Russia in 1867 as secretary of the Turkoman-Russian boundary commission. He was afterwards a writer for the Newcastle Courant newspaper and then went to Durham Grammar School as a teacher. In January 1868 he married Annie Humble in Newcastle-upon-tyne and their first child, Zoe, was born at the end of that year. The following year he left England – as far as we know, never to see the country again – and the little family made their way to Hawaii, via Panama and San Francisco.

In Honolulu, Alatau was first Master at St Alban’s Missionary School and subsequently principal of its successor, St. Alban’s Collegiate Grammar School. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser reported that “Among the many educational establishments on these islands…none deserves more to be noticed for its efficiency than St Alban’s College”. Alatau was also musically endowed. In 1873, he was engaged as organist at Kawaiaha’o Church and in February 1874, as choirmaster, participated in the funeral service of King Lunalilo.

St Alban’s College in Honolulu

In March 1878 Alatau was appointed Principal of the Fort Street High School, described as the leading public school of the city. Around this time, he was also reported as playing a major role in the establishment of a Teachers’ Association of the Hawaiian Islands.

In January 1881, while retaining his position at Fort Street School, Alatau also became editor of The Hawaiian Gazette, and public opinion was thenceforth to be largely shaped by his own convictions. His views were formed from observations of Hawaii as he experienced it, which was very different from the Hawaii that Captain James Cook had found a century earlier when the Islands were ruled by local chieftains and the combined population has been estimated at 300,000. The islands were gradually united in the 1780s and 1790s due to successive conquests by Kamehameha the Great.

After Cook’s arrival, the region was visited by European explorers, traders and whalers. By 1820 Eurasian diseases, famine and wars among the chiefs had killed more than half of the native population and, by 1876, the population had further declined to 53,900. At the 1896 census (organised by Alatau), the population comprised 31,019 Hawaiians, 8,485 part-Hawaiians, 3,086 Americans, 2,250 British, 1,432 German, 15,191 Portuguese, 21,616 Japanese and 1,534 other nationalities.

In 1874 King Kalakaua was elected to the throne. His spending habits and gambling losses put the government continually into debt and he was poorly advised by his corrupt Prime Minister, Walter Murray Gibson. Both men were satirised in pamphlets written by Alatau. On 30 June 1887 a meeting of residents demanded that King Kalakaua dismiss his cabinet and that a new constitution be written. The King was advised to accept the demands and the Constitution which followed severely curtailed his power.

One of Alatau’s pamphlets satirising the King and his advisors

In the wake of the new order, in August 1887, Alatau was appointed Inspector-General of Education. In his new position, his responsibilities were to visit the schools of Hawaii, report upon their proficiency, and give advice and instruction to teachers. After 1887, his name frequently appears in the shipping columns of the press, either departing from or returning to Honolulu, as he continually criss-crossed the Islands in the discharge of his duties.

On 17 January 1893, anti-royalist insurgents composed largely of United States citizens living and conducting business in Hawaii, engineered the overthrow of King Kalakaua’s successor, Queen Lili’uokalani. A Provisional Government was proclaimed and, in 1894, a constitution was drawn up for the now proclaimed “Republic of Hawaii”. Alatau played no small part in the events leading up to the overthrow, being one of the 14 original members of the pro-annexation Hawaiian League.

Eight years of constant travel took a toll on Alatau’s health and in January 1896 he resigned from his position. A year later, he took up his new post as editor of The Hawaiian Star. He wasted no time in declaring his views, the following being published in the paper a few days after he took over:


The policy of this paper under its present management may be at once laid down. It will advocate the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands to the United States in season and out of season. There is no other great issue before us. It is either annexation or a feeble state that is anybody’s meat…

“The Hawaiian Islands are the outpost of Western civilization in the Pacific…Can it be possible that the United States will leave an outlying fort unassisted? For the battle of the Eastern and the Western civilizations is sure to come, and come much quicker than many people forsee [sic]. Where will the United States be if they leave so strong an outpost at the mercy of an enemy? Held in other hands Hawaii would be a constant menace to the commerce of the United States in time of war. Held by the United States the practical command of the Pacific is obtained.”

In light of subsequent history, prophetic words indeed!

In April 1897 the Republic of Hawaii opened negotiations for a political union with the United States. Shortly after, Alatau was elected on the ticket of the American Union Party to serve in the last session of the House of Representatives acting for a sovereign country.

The official transfer of power to the United States took place on 12 August 1898. The following year Alatau was appointed as Special Agent in charge of the United States 1900 census of the Territory of Hawaii and was directed to proceed to Washington for discussions and further instructions. The Hawaiian Star reported his visit: “Alatau T. Atkinson…had an extended interview with President McKinley… [who] displayed not only great interest in the Islands, but a keen knowledge of them”.

It also reported his return: “The preparation for the Hawaiian census,” Mr Atkinson said, “is practically complete…One of the most important features of the census in the Islands…was the decision to enumerate by race and not by color. On the mainland the enumeration will be by color. I insisted, however, that there was no color line here and that enumeration by race was not only the most scientific but the method that harmonized with our social and political ideas and conditions.”[3]

In June 1900 the Territory Governor appointed Alatau to the new position of Inspector General of Public Instruction, which position he held until the year before his death.

Alatau Atkinson died in Honolulu on 24 April 1906, survived by his wife, three sons and four daughters. On the day of his funeral, the Board of Education and all schools in Honolulu closed for half a day as a mark of respect. One of the obituaries which appeared in The Hawaiian Star[4], alluding to his outstanding contribution, stated the following:

Alatau’s gravestone in Oahu, Hawaii.

“…no enumeration of the individual achievements of his career, however complete, and highly creditable as these are, would in any degree do justice to his life work, without a recognition and appreciation of the…prophetic ideal which he held throughout his career…For such possibilities as he foresaw for Hawaii it was needful that she have a world language. No great destiny was possible for an isolated people speaking a little known tongue, having neither a literature nor a vocabulary of commerce or science…If Hawaii were to accomplish her high destiny, every faculty and gift of all her people must be given the best possible training and opportunity…”.

The Japanese press was also fulsome, the Hawaii Shimpo reporting, “Mr Atkinson worked among a population of a dozen races and…always held that it was the duty of the state to educate all…the Japanese especially appreciate the policy that gave them equal right in the schools and respect the memory of the man who did so much to bring it about.”[5]

And what kind of a man was Alatau? According to The Hawaii Herald (Hilo)[6], “Brilliant far beyond his opportunities, he was in every sense a man who could not fail to leave his work wherever he may have travelled”. From The Evening Bulletin[7]: “Constantly in public life…he encountered many of life’s open battles and they always found him unruffled and unprejudiced.” And from The Hawaiian Star[8], who knew him well, “Enthusiastically fond of Hawaii, he believed it possible for her to achieve a great and glorious destiny…To that ideal he devoted great talents, an indomitable energy, an enthusiasm that never failed or faltered and a luminous zeal.” The editor of The Hawaii Shimpo wrote, “Those who knew Mr. Atkinson saw in him a scholar and a thinker, an eloquent and powerful writer and a strong organizer, and more than this – they could not but feel in his presence, the influence of a true heart and a broad human charity and friendship.”

[1] The Hawaiian Star, 9 December 1911

[1] The Hawaiian Gazette, 30 April 1906

[2] “The Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White”, p.464.

[3] The Hawaiian Star, 25 and 31 October 1899

[4] The Hawaiian Star, 30 April 1906

[5] Quoted in The Hawaiian Star, 23 May 1906

[6] The Hawaiian Herald, 26 April 1906

[7] The Evening Bulletin, 24 April 1906

[8] The Hawaiian Star, 25 April 1906

More pirated editions of Thomas Atkinson’s Siberian travel books

I have previously mentioned some of the unauthorised foreign editions of Thomas Atkinson’s books on his and Lucy’s travels in Siberia and Central Asia. Here are a couple more, including one from Germany and even one from England.

First the German version. I have recently obtained a copy of Reisen in den Steppen und Hochgebirgen Sibiriens und der angrenzenden Lander Central Asiens (Travelling in the Steppes and Highlands of Siberia and neighbouring countries of Central Asia), published in Leipzig in 1864 and edited by Anton von Etzel and Herman Wagner.


The book is almost entirely based on Thomas Atkinson’s two books, although it also refers to writings by two other German travellers – Middendorf and Rabbe. Most of the illustrations, as with the Spanish book mentioned below and various French publications, are copies of the etchings and lithographs contained in Thomas’ books, but in this case they are not credited. Here is the first page that refers to Thomas’ travels:
etzel-pics46The book continues for another 250 pages, following Atkinson’s own books exactly, even down to the page headings and complete with dozens of newly commissioned woodcuts based on those that Thomas had already published.

The British pirated version of Thomas’ writings was published in 1885 by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and written by W H Davenport Adams:
heroes01a              heroes02a

Davenport Adams’ book contained about 70 pages taken from Thomas’ two books. He is very complimentary about Atkinson and clearly holds him in high regard: “Mr Thomas Witlam Atkinson among recent travellers is not one of the least distinguished,” he writes. “For some years he lived among the wild races who inhabit Siberia and Mongolia, the Kirghiz steppes, Chinese Tartary and the wilder districts of Central Asia; and he collected a vast amount of curious information in reference not only to their manners and customs and mode of life, but to the lands which they call their own.” Did Lucy receive any royalties for any of these publications? I doubt it.

Robert Shaw and the Atkinsons

Before the Atkinsons there were precious few European travellers in Central Asia. Those that did visit, like the Scotsman John Bell or the German Peter Simon Pallas, were mostly just passing through on their way from Moscow to China. Alexander von Humboldt and Roderick Murchison briefly visited the steppes along the southern border of Siberia to the south of the Altai Mountains, in the 1820s and early 1840s respectively, and there was a sprinkling of others, but few of them actually spent time in the region or travelled extensively across the great steppelands.

Even after the Atkinsons it was some years before others followed them into Central Asia. There were a few Russians, like Pyotr Semyonov and Nikolai Severtsof, who were engaged in mapping and exploring the lands newly conquered by the Tsar’s imperial armies. But British colonial rulers in India were reluctant to allow anyone to cross the Himalayas from the south. In fact, when the tea merchant Robert Shaw and adventurer George Hayward visited Kashgaria in 1868 it was in defiance of this long-standing policy.

Robert Shaw (to the right of centre) and his attendants

It was because of this Indo-centric view of the world that the Atkinsons’ remarkable journeys were little known in the Raj. The Atkinsons, of course, had travelled not from British India, but from St Petersburg and barely met another Englishman during the entire seven years they spent travelling in Central Asia and Siberia.

However, as I recently found out, Robert Shaw himself certainly did know about Thomas and must have read his books. He makes two references to Thomas in his book Visits to High Tartary, Yarkand and Kashgar (1870). Writing on 10th November 1868 from his tent which was pitched on the flat roof of a fort on the Karakash River on the northern side of the Karakorum Pass, Shaw notes how for the first time he came across people speaking a dialect of Turkish: “Now, as three days ago my knowledge of Toorkee was confined to the word ‘yok’ – no – which I had picked up in Atkinson’s book, and as they know no Persian, and, of course, no Hindostanee, we have to make up by smiles and signs for our lack of common words”, he writes.

A few pages later Shaw describes his first view of a nomad’s yurt: “There was no mistaking it after reading Atkinson’s books. A circular structure, with a low dome-shaped roof, covered with a dirty-white material, evidently felt.”

So in some circles at least, Thomas Atkinson’s writings were known and respected. Within a generation, however, he and Lucy had been all but forgotten.

An early Spanish version of Thomas Atkinson’s book on Siberia and Central Asia

atkinson-in-spanish1                 atkinson-in-spanish2

The two pages above come from a Spanish book, Nuevo Viajero Universal, published in Madrid in 1860. The first is the title page to the second volume (of five), which is a compendium of journeys of exploration from the first half of the nineteenth century. The first essay in this volume is a precis of Thomas Witlam Atkinson’s book Oriental and Western Siberia, which had been published two years previously. In total the precis runs to  73 pages, complete with five illustrations.

As I mentioned in my recent article about plagiarism, Thomas was more sinned against than a sinner. It is very unlikely that the publishers of this Spanish version of his book paid any royalties to his publisher. The same is true for the German, French and Russian editions that were published soon after Thomas’ own book was issued. As with the others, the publishers used local illustrators to make copies of the illustrations contained in Thomas’ book. As you can see below, they are much inferior to those that appeared in the official version.

atkinson-in-spanish-pl3      sultan-souk-and-family

The picture on the left is a woodcut from the Spanish book, whilst the picture on the right is a colour lithograph from Thomas’ own book.

However, it is clear from the many pirated versions of Thomas’ book that appeared in the 1860s that there was enormous interest in the journeys conducted by him and Lucy over the course of nearly seven years. His books were the first to bring European readers a sense of the geography and way of life in Siberia and Central Asia.