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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Atkinson, Charles (1806–1837)

by C. J. Craig

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Charles Atkinson (1806?-1837), architect, claimed to have practised architecture for nine years with the commission appointed under the Church Building Act, 1818, and with the Church Building Society incorporated in 1828.

Atkinson was one of the 232 passengers in the Hibernia, bound for Hobart Town, which was destroyed by fire off the coast of South America. Seventy-nine passengers escaped in the ship's boats and were picked up after seven harrowing days and taken by the Lotus and Isabella to Rio de Janeiro where 3500 dollars were subscribed for their relief. The Adelaide was chartered to take them to Hobart, where they arrived on 20 May 1833. Atkinson applied for work to Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur who, after consultation with John Archer the civil engineer, appointed him superintendent of the road party that was building the bridge over the Macquarie River at Ross. In spite of a claim that his suggestions had improved Archer's plan of the bridge, he had trouble with his convict labourers, especially Colbeck and Herbert, to whom is attributed the carving of motifs with animal and human heads on the voussoir stones of the arches. In 1835 Atkinson was reported by Matthew Forster, the chief police magistrate, as a 'very improper person to have control of convicts in any shape whatever', and he was replaced by Captain Turner of the 50th Regiment. Atkinson also had the contracts for building St Luke's at Campbell Town and St John's at Ross. With Archer's consent he modified the plans, but his slovenly building techniques soon brought official complaints and scathing attacks in the press. Partly rebuilt under Archer's direction, St Luke's was still standing in 1966 but St John's had to be demolished in 1868.

Atkinson's architectural activity was much less important than his pioneer work in the art of lithography in Hobart. In September 1833 he published Views through Hobart-Town, four lithographic prints of Government House, Treasury, Barracks and Kangaroo Point. Next month under the same title he published four more, this time depicting the commissariat store, Macquarie Street, Elizabeth Street and Captain Wilson's house. These were said to be the first of their kind to appear in the colony. Other artists became interested and learnt to draw directly on the stone, the outstanding exponent being John Skinner Prout. Atkinson's lithographs captured much of the colony's primitive harshness, in strong contrast with contemporary French prints which depicted Hobart as a sophisticated city.

In 1837 Atkinson was thrown from a chaise and badly injured. Both his legs had to be amputated, and he died at Campbell Town on 21 March 1837. Although insolvent he bequeathed his church contracts to his principal creditor.

Select Bibliography

  • W. G. Broughton, A Sermon Preached on Whit Sunday 1833 (Hob, 1833)
  • C. Craig, The Engravers of Van Diemen's Land (Hob, 1961)
  • R. S. Smith, John Lee Archer (Hob, 1962)
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 21 May 1833, 26 July, 16 Aug 1836
  • Launceston Advertiser, 23 Mar 1837
  • CSO 1/655/14689, 1/679/15017, 1/881/18663 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

C. J. Craig, 'Atkinson, Charles (1806–1837)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

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