The Atkinsons and the remarkable Monsieur Alibert and his graphite mine

Siberian Steppes

On their journey to the Jombolok Volcano Field in the Eastern Sayan Mountains of Buryatia in the summer of 1851 the Atkinsons decided to visit a remarkable mine run by a remarkable Frenchman – Jean Pierre Alibert. Lucy describes the visit to the Batagol Mine, the ruins of which still lie in the mountains to the east of the town of Orlik, thus:

From this place we visited a lead mine belonging to a Frenchman. On the road to it we passed many Bouriat winter dwellings, sheltered in a pretty well-wooded valley, with a broad and rapid stream running through it. These people differ from the Kirghis in having fixed abodes. They are exceedingly aristocratic, possessing both summer and winter dwellings. Farther on we found them in their summer habitations, surrounded by numbers of horses and cattle, but few sheep. The men are more industrious than the Kirghis, though…

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Rare pictures of the Eastern Sayan Mountains in the 1840s.

Siberian Steppes

During the summer of 1851 as Thomas and Lucy Atkinson, together with their young son, Alatau, rode through the Eastern Sayan Mountains in Siberia, Thomas made more than 90 sketches of the beautiful landscapes he saw. They are all neatly listed in his diary for that year, along with the date each sketch was made.

Sadly, today there is no trace of these or any of the more than 500 sketches he made during his travels in Siberia and Central Asia. Of the 90 or so watercolour paintings Atkinson completed, I know the present whereabouts of less than 40, and only two or three of these show scenes from Siberia. Some of the missing pictures may have been destroyed in a house fire at the Hawaiian home of Thomas’ grandson, ‘Jack’ Atkinson, but otherwise they are all presumably hidden away in someone’s bottom drawer or tucked away on a long-forgotten…

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