Eric Tufnell was born in Bangalore, India, where his father, Major Robert Hutchison Campbell Tufnell (1852-1908), who fought in the Afghan wars was stationed. The family were sufficiently important to have their history recorded in Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry. His mother, May Anne Luard Tufnell (ne Smith), was born in Madras, the youngest daughter of Judge Alexander Smith. By the time of the 1901 Census the family had returned to England and were living at Lackham House, Spring Grove, in Isleworth, which was built around 1860 by Eric’s grandfather, Thomas Robert Tufnell (1822-98), the Chairman of the Royal Mail Line Steam Packet Company.
Eric’s future was settled for him in 1903 when at the age of fifteen he became a cadet at HMS Britannia.
He “gained 7 1/2 months time on passing out of Britannia” and in September 1904 joined the twin screw battleship, HMS Albion. He was appointed Midshipman.
All midshipman were required to keep a logbook but Tufnell’s leather bound Naval Log and Journal covering the years 1904-7 and illustrated with sketches, maps, sectional drawings of ships, photographs and newspaper cuttings is now in the Surrey County Archives. Its arrangement and entries were dictated by what was expected from a young “snotty” at the start of his career but the dull chronicle of routine aboard ship is enlivened by drawings, maps and sketches.
He had made a good start to his career but seems to have quickly become disillusioned with the profession his parents had chosen for him. When he left Albion in February 1905 his commanding officer reported that he was satisfactory but “lacked interest.”
On the 3 September 1906 he “Joined HMS Ocean at Portland. In January 1908 he was an acting Sub Lieutenant studying Seamanship, Navigation, General Subjects, Gunnery and Torpedo at Portsmouth for nine months before being posted on the 29 September as a Sub Lt Eric C.E. Tufnell RN to the 12,000 ton twin screwed armoured cruiser, HMS Euryalus. Three days after Christmas a terrible earthquake at Messina in the toe of Italy killed at least 100,000 in the city and the surrounding region of Regio Calabria. HMS Euryalus and seven other warships of the Royal Navy plus merchant ships were among the ships of many nations which assembled to help rescue survivors. Tufnell received one of the commemorative medals awarded by the Italian government but when he left Euryalus in May 1909 the assessment of his CO was damming, “good judgment but takes little interest in his profession.”. This must have led to the decision to move him from the big ships of the Royal Navy to service in submarines.
Submarines were small, cramped and their range was limited and they spent a lot of time between patrols berthed alongside their depot ships. Eric Tufnell was commissioned to paint all four Royal Navy ships named Adamant, possibly by former officers who served on the submarine depot ship or its submarines.
In June 1916 he was appointed CO of D4 which had HMS Vulcan as its depot ship on the Firth of Forth and was part of the 3rd Submarine Flotilla. He also became a father when his daughter Peggy was born. He was described by a senior officer as “having an artistic temperament but does not appear to mind discomfort”, a judgment which reveals as much about naval attitudes at the time as it does about Tufnell.
He was accused of being inefficient, relieved of his command and discharged to General Service on 21 June 1917.
It must have looked as if his career was at an end but once again a change of direction offered an opportunity for a fresh start. He was posted to HMS Victory at Portsmouth for “special services in motor launches of hydrophonic flotilla.” Instead of commanding a submarine he would in future be working to counter the threat of enemy submarines. There were still some doubt as to his commitment as witnessed by this note on his service record in 1918: “Not yet settled down to any particular form of work. Appears to prefer changing from one thing to another too frequently.”
In December 1918 he was given command of M18, a shore bombardment Monitor with a huge 9.2 inch Gun which served in the Baltic from April to June 1919. Tufnell was “mentioned in Despatches” (MID) for “services to Russia” in the 12 December issue of the London Gazette and a year later, to the embarrassment of the Foreign Office, was awarded the Order of St Stanislaus (2nd Class, with swords) by the defeated White Russian Army (the announcement had to be censored from the London Gazette). His ships were getting smaller but his career seemed to be back on track.
He left M18 in September 1919 to take command of HMS Tuberose, a Flower Class sloop, but confusingly also the name adopted by the Navy for the requisitioned RMS Mauretania when used as a troop carrier. He was not given another post after leaving Tuberose but after six months “unemployment time” at HMS Victory was put in charge of a draft to Hong Kong. He was on HMS Caradoc at Batum on Black Sea coast of Georgia in 1920 when it was governed by Britain but a telegram from the Commodore Hong Kong on the 10 September 1920 reported “Returning home, 2.9.20 adverse report from CO Caradoc.” No reason was given but the following action was noted: “Relieved.
His career appeared to ‘mark time’ for the next two years with a six month posting to the depot ship HMS Blenheim at Sheerness (and as acting interpreter in Italian) followed by courses in Signals (HMS Victory) and Gunnery (HMS Excellent) and a posting to the aircraft carrier HMS Argus while training under the RAF at Lee-on-Solent as an Observer where he seemed to have done rather well, “has a sound knowledge of observer subjects.”
In December 1926 he was sent as “acting Observer” to HMS Furious with the Atlantic Fleet and in April 1927 to Farnborough for a course at the RAF School of Photography: “Result of a photographic course at RAF School of Photography. Did not complete course, but did very well.” The outcome, a transfer to the RAF: “Exceptional as Observer for photographic duties. Commenced duties with RAF, 1 June 1927.” He was promoted to Cdr and retired from the Royal Navy at his own request on the 30 December 1929.
It would appear that the Royal Navy had nothing further to offer him and although his promotion to Commander would give him a higher pension he had a wife and three children to support. His service record ends with a note on the 21 December 1929, “Particulars of service to Colonial Office”, but it appears that he did not join the colonial service and returned to Britain with only his small service pension and had to depend on his talent as a marine artist to top up his pension. The Saville Row naval outfitters, Gieves and Hawkes, helped secure naval officers as customers. They commissioned him to paint meticulously accurate water colours of the ships on which they served. He lived near Portsmouth, was active in the local dramatic society – and painted. His charges were modest and his output large.
The Parker Gallery in Albermarle Street, London, handled sales of his paintings, “they weren’t very keen on the idea at first, I don’t think they thought it was quite the thing, but they were very polite about it”. When interviewed by the Sunday Telegraph in the 1970s Mr Newbury of the Parker Gallery said he charged Â£10 a picture and “we had to use a lot of persuasion before ‘Tuffy’ would allow us to put it up to Â£15”. They developed an extensive trade in his paintings of clippers and whaling ships in the United States and the Whaling Museum at Cold Spring Harbour. New York, and the American Clipper Museum have many of them in their collections.
A few months before his death the Pacific island of Samoa issued a stamp with his painting of a three masted sailing ship, the Splendid.
Eric Tufnell had been married to his second wife for thirty-three years when he died aged 91 on the 18 July 1979.
We are grateful to Bill Forster from Holywell House Publishing for his help.
To read full biography: www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Tufnell.html