Dr James Atkinson


Sketches in Afghanistan


Dr. James Atkinson was a notable surgeon, Orientalist, soldier and artist. Atkinson studied medicine in Edinburgh and London, and was appointed assistant surgeon in the Bengal establishment in 1805. In 1810 he was appointed to the post of Assistant Assay Master at the mint in Calcutta, and in 1817 also entrusted with the superintendence of the Government Gazette, the official British journal in India. Famed in his day for his immense knowledge of Persian literature, he was as an accomplished Persian scholar, translator of classic literature and served as Deputy Professor of Persian Art at Fort William College.

In 1838 Atkinson was appointed Superintending Surgeon of the Army of the Indus Bengal division and preceded with the Army under Sir John Kean to re-establish the pro-British Shah Shujah Al Mulk in Afghanistan amid concerns the Russian Empire was seeking to establish alliances in the region. Atkinson took part in the storming of Ghuznee in 1839 for which he was awarded the Order of the Dooranee Empire but in 1840 was recalled to India to take up the post of Superintending Surgeon of the Cawnpore Division thus escaping the subsequent rebellion that saw an estimated 16,000 British soldiers and their dependants slaughtered in a week by the Afghans.

In 1842 Atkinson published his journals of the march of the Army of the Indus from Sindh to Kabul via Quetta and Kandahar in 1839 and 1840 in The Expedition into Afghanistan, and in the same year issued Sketches in Afghanistan, a folio of 25 tinted lithographed plates. A second volume had been planned but the drawings were lost at sea en route to his publisher.

Atkinson’s experiences in Afghanistan provide an extraordinary first-hand visual record of one of the most disastrous and bloody campaigns in British military history, the first Anglo-Afghan war of 1839-42, whilst illustrating his perceptions of a new culture and the vibrancy of his work as an artist.

Below are a few examples from this collection. Please click on an image to see it in high-resolution with details of the work itself. For the full list of original antique Atkinson lithographs available,  please do contact us.