This remarkably fine document, part of the Dahlquist Collection held in Hawaii, is a copy of the passport issued to Thomas Atkinson by the representative of the Hanseatic Republics of northern Europe. It allowed Atkinson to travel to Hamburg in particular, where he had decided to take part in a competition to design a replacement for St Nikolai Kirche, one of the city’s most important churches, which had been destroyed by a disastrous fire at the beginning of May that year.
The document states:
By the Agent and Consul General for the Free Hanseatic Republics of Lubeck, Bremen and Hamburgh, resident in Great Britain.
These are to request and require all those whom it may concern to allow Mr Thomas Witlam Atkinson, National of Great Britain, Gentleman, going to Hamburgh, to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford him all aid and assistance.
Given at London, the 4th day of July 1842.
The fact that Atkinson received this passport on 4th July 1842 shows that he was well aware of the possibilities that existed in a city that had been devastated by a massive fire that raged for three days, killing over 50 people, destroying 1700 buildings and leaving around 20,000 people homeless.
I have not been able to establish just how long Atkinson stayed in Hamburg. He did not win the architectural competition, which was eventually awarded to another Englishman, George Gilbert Scott. But the likelihood is that there was plenty of work in the city for a jobbing architect. We know that his son from his first marriage, John, died there in April 1846, so it is possible he was a resident in the city for almost four years, After his son’s death, most likely from tuberculosis, Thomas made his way first to Berlin and then to St Petersburg, where, having decided to give up his profession of architect, he began his travels.
The new church was once the tallest building in the world. It was mostly destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War, but the spire still stands and is a well-known landmark. Building started in 1846 and the church was finally consecrated in September 1863.