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Thomas Witlam Atkinson (1799-1861)

Oriental and Western Siberia : a narrative of seven years' explorations and adventures in Siberia, Mongolia, the Kirghis Steppes, Chinese Tartary, and of Central Asia (1858)

Originally an architect, Atkinson moved to Russia in 1846 and spent six years exploring and sketching in Central Asia and Siberia.  He married Lucy Finley in 1848 and together they travelled around 40,000 miles; their son, Alatau, was born in Kazakhstan.

Atkinson documented their explorations in a series of journals and produced over 550 watercolours and drawings, some of which were exhibited at the Colnaghi Gallery in London.  His vibrant descriptions of life on the steppes and accomplished artworks are unique for their time.  Atkinson claimed to have suffered for his art:

I have several times looked upon what appeared inevitable death, and have had a fair allowance of hair-breadth escapes when riding and sketching on the brinks of precipices with a perpendicular depth of 1500 feet below me.

The twenty colour lithographs, produced by Day & Hague, Lithographers to the Queen, are especially fine; some illustrate ‘scenes on which no pencil has previously been employed’, such as the ‘stupendous masses’ of the Syan-shan.

I have brought back faithful representations of the scenery, without taking any artistic liberties … Mine has been a tolerably wide field, extending from Kokhan on the west to the eastern end of the Baikal, and as far south as the Chinese town of Tchin-si; including the immense chain Syan-shan, never before seen by any European; as well as a large portion of the western part of the Gobi…

Atkinson and his family returned to England in 1858.  His first book, Oriental and Western Siberia, was published the same year and a sequel, Travels in the regions of the Upper and Lower Amoor, appeared two years later.   First editions of both books are held at the Devon and Exeter Institution; as a pair, they can be considered one of the greatest travel accounts of the 19th century.