The Expedition into Affghanistan: Notes and Sketches Descriptive of the Country, Contained in a Personal Narrative during the Campaign of 1839 & 1840, up to the Surrender of Dost Mahomed Khan


James Atkinson (1780–1852) was a man of many talents, best known for his early translations into English of Persian poetry and prose. He was born in England and studied medicine in London and Edinburgh. He was appointed an assistant surgeon in the Bengal service of the East India Company in 1805, and spent most of the rest of his life in India. In his spare time he mastered Persian, and by 1814 he had published a translation of part of the Shahnamah (Book of kings), the first time the Persian epic was made accessible to an English audience. In 1838 Atkinson was appointed chief surgeon of the Army of the Indus, and in that capacity he accompanied the army on its march to Kabul in the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–42). The Expedition into Affghanistan: Notes and Sketches Descriptive of the Country, published in London in 1842, is Atkinson’s account of the war. It begins with a chapter on the causes of the expedition (the perceived Russian threat to Afghanistan and by extension to India), which is followed by a history of Shah Shujaʻ and of the Durrani dynasty. Subsequent chapters describe the advance of the army to the Indus, to Kandahar, the march from Kandahar to Ghazni, the capture of Kabul, and the march to Jalalabad. Atkinson returned to Bengal in 1841 and thus escaped the disaster that befell the Anglo-Indian army of occupation the following year, when Afghan tribesmen annihilated the Kabul garrison, a British and Indian force of 4,500 men. Atkinson was a talented artist who, in the same year in which this book appeared, published a book of lithographs entitled Sketches in Afghaunistan, based on drawings he made in Afghanistan. Atkinson also published translations of Italian verse and wrote a medical treatise on the bladder. He is regarded as a pioneer of oriental research who helped to make Persian and Afghan culture better known in Britain and beyond.

Last updated: October 27, 2016