What’s in a name?

Thomas and Lucy Atkinson’s son, Alatau, certainly must have created an impression when he attended Rugby School in the 1860s. I have previously commented on a school song that used to be sung about him, but yesterday, whilst trawling through the British Newspaper archive, I came across the following, published in the Northampton Chronicle and Echo on 14th December 1891 – many years after he had left the school and settled in Hawaii:

The name of a boy at Rugby School in 1875 was Alatau Tam Chiboulac Atkinson. It was understood that the poor lad was born in Armenia and was named after some mountains there.

But this even is not so bad as this instance. In St Faith’s District, Norwich the birth was registered in 1874 of Dodo Eliza Delilah, daughter of Arphad Ambrose Alexander Habakkuk William Shelah and Virtue Leah Woodcock.”

The author managed to get the date of his time at Rugby – he was there from 1864-66 – and the location of Alatau’s birthplace wrong, but nonetheless made his point.

My newspaper trawl also turned up several reports of an appeal made by Sir Roderick Murchison, president of the Royal Geographical Society, concerning Alatau. It was already known that following Thomas Atkinson’s death in August 1861, Murchison had launched an appeal in London to help pay for Alatau’s education. However, it is clear that the great geographer did not miss an opportunity during his travels around the country to help raise funds: a report from the Manchester Courier for 11th September 1861, when Murchison was giving a speech at the Manchester branch of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, shows this to be the case:

He (Murchison-ed) said that Eastern Siberia and the great steppes beyond it were explored a few years ago by that remarkable and enterprising traveller, Thomas Atkinson, who once lived in Manchester and had built one very good church here, and whose skill and taste as a landscape painter were well known – who had directed his enterprise for a series of years to the exploration of those remarkable regions of Mongolia and the eastern steppes of the Kirghis.  The volumes which he had published had been received with much approbation by the public, and had been read with much avidity; and he had thrown much light upon tracks in which he might venture to assert, not only Englishman, but scarcely any European, had previously trod. He knew of no traveller that had penetrated where this remarkable man had been. In his travels he had a spirited wife, who accompanied him throughout – and at the foot of one of those desolate mountains – the Alatau (in the Actau range, the middle horde of the Kirghis, and near the celebrated spring Tamschiboulac) she gave birth to their only son, now twelve years old, who, by the lamented death of Mr. Atkinson, at Walmer, only a few weeks ago, was left in a state want. For Mr. Atkinson did not travel the expense of either the Russian or the British government, but entirely at his own cost, and had expended his little means in his extraordinary journeys. It therefore occurred to him (Sir R. Murchison), as it had on similar occasions, that it was his duty, as the president of the Geological Society, to make some appeal to the public in order to establish a fund to help in the education of that fine boy, who, in commemoration of his having been born in such a remarkable spot, had been named Alatau Tamschiboulac Atkinson. They were, of course, exceedingly anxious that this young man, with so remarkable a geographical name, should in future life prove equal to his father; and in order to enable him to do so, the first thing was to give him a good education. Several subscriptions were announced.

Sir Roderick Murchison

Considering that Murchison was the greatest geographer of his age, this is indeed a remarkable tribute, both to Thomas and Lucy and also to Alatau, who did not let down his sponsor, but proudly carried his name throughout his life and rose to be director of education for the Hawaiian Islands and organiser of its first census.

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