Caspian Street, SE5


A subtle reference to the life of Dr James Atkinson (March 17, 1780 – August 7, 1852), a surgeon, artist and Persian scholar. Atkinson studied medicine in Edinburgh and London before travelling to India in 1802 as Surgeon’s Mate on board a ship of the Honourable East India Company. A second trip and posting followed in 1805 when he was appointed Assistant Surgeon in the Bengal service of the East India Company and put in medical charge of the station of Backergunj, a former district of British India. It was there that he became proficient in Persian and other oriental languages, bringing him to the attention of Lord Minto, the Governor General of India, who was so impressed that he gave him a job as assistant at the Calcutta Mint. The brief foray into numismatics afforded him much free time to continue his academic pursuits, publishing translations of Persian poetry and editing the Calcutta Gazette. In 1833, under Sir John Keane, he travelled with the army as its surgeon on its ill-fated expedition to Afghanistan to oust leader Dost Mohamed Khan during the Afghan succession wars that would mark the start of the First Afghan War. He was present at the storming of Ghuznee in July 1839 and the eventual capture of Kabul shortly after in the First Afghan War, though was recalled to India in December 1840 thus avoiding the fate of the remaining British garrison which was destroyed whilst attempting to withdraw to Jellalabad in the winter of 1841. A year later Atkinson published his journals of his involvement in the campaign including a background to the conflict, his own journey across northern India to join the Army and his return. His journals recounting only the hardship endured by the Army and its followers through the harsh terrain of Afghanistan but the country’s land, its buildings and people. He retired in 1847 and returned to England. The street itself was built in 1853, a year after Atkinson’s death. At first it was called Atkinson’s Mews.

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