The original title for Atkinson’s second book

I have commented before on the fact that the title of Thomas Atkinson’s second travel book, Travels in the Regions of the Upper and Lower Amoor, published in 1860, seems odd in the light of its content, which is mostly about Central Asia, with only a small part about the Amoor – or Amur, as it is now known – most of which was taken from Richard Maak’s book on the River.

Cover of Amoor book
The cover of Atkinson’s book on the Amur

We know that Atkinson was prevented by the Russian authorities from travelling on the Amur River, probably due to concerns that he may pass on information that might be of use to the British Admiralty in the event of a war between the two countries. At that time, in the early 1850s, the Russians were in the process of seizing large chunks of Chinese territory along the Amur and had no wish for nosey British subjects to witness their activities. Atkinson had intended to travel from Irkutsk to the Pacific coast along the river, but this plan was blocked, despite his urgent appeals. In the end, he was only able to travel to the river’s headwaters in the Khingan Mountains in what is now northern Mongolia.

I have always thought that the title of this second book was decided upon by Atkinsons publishers, because the Amur was in the public consciousness at that time and they wanted to capitalise on this fact. This theory may be borne out by one of the documents in the Dahlquist Collection, held by Atkinson descendant Paul Dahlquist in Hawaii. One of the original documents is a draft outline for the title of the book. Clearly written in Atkinson’s own hand, it reads as follows:

         Travels In the Great Deserts of Gobi and the Northern Regions Of China              With adventures in the Chinese Penal Settlements; among the Escaped convicts And Mongols.

Also an account of Russia’s progress towards Pekin, Her Harbours in the Sea of Japan And Their influence on The Tea Trade,

At the top of the document, is the following inscription, written by Alatau Atkinson, Thomas and Lucy’s son: “My father’s first draft of the title to his book”.

This would appear to confirm that the decision on what to call the book was more than likely made by Hurst & Blackett, his publishers. Unfortunately, we are never likely to know for sure, as the company’s archives were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.

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