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Commander Eric Tufnell RN (1888-1978)

Ahead of two solid days of maritime sales in June 2016, Brian Goodison-Blanks takes a look at the life of the renowned maritime artist Commander Eric Tufnell RN (1888-1978).

Eric Erskine Campbell Tuffnell (1888-1978) - HMS Asphodel (MA16/865) offered in
        our Maritime Auction starting on 16th June 2016 at our salerooms in Exeter, Devon.

Eric Erskine Campbell Tuffnell (1888-1978) - HMS Asphodel (MA16/865) offered in our Maritime Auction starting on 16th June 2016 at our salerooms in Exeter, Devon.

This year Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood is holding two days of maritime sales in June 2016 with the Anthony and Yvonne Pardoe Collection of Diving Helmets and Equipment on the 15th June 2016 and the Maritime Auction on 16th June 2016, which includes a good selection of watercolours by the artist Eric Erskine Campbell Tuffnell (1888-1978)

Eric Erskine Campbell Tuffnell (1888-1978) was born in Bangalore in India, where his father Major Robert Hutchison Campbell Tufnell (1852-1908), who fought in the Afghan wars, was stationed.

His future was settled for him in 1903 when at the age of fifteen he became a cadet at HMS Britannia from where he passed-out in September 1904 joining the twin-screw battleship HMS Albion shortly after it was recommissioned at Wei-Hai-Wei on the China Station. It may not have been a coincidence that his uncle Rear-Admiral Lionel Grant Tufnell RN was also on the China Station. He was appointed midshipman on 30th November 1904.

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'.

Eric Erskine Campbell Tuffnell (1888-1978) - HMS Fearless Off Gibraltar (MA16/873).

Eric Erskine Campbell Tuffnell (1888-1978) - HMS Fearless Off Gibraltar (MA16/873).

After a further 24 years of service on nearly 20 different ships and submarines including HMS Ocean, HMS Hannibal, HMS Hebe, HMS Bonaventure and HMSVictory at Portsmouth, 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 left to support his wife and three children. He returned to Portsmouth with only his small service pension and depended on his talent as a marine artist to top up his income. The Saville Row outfitters Gieves & Hawkes helped secure naval officers as customers and they commissioned Tuffnell to paint meticulously accurate watercolours of the ships on which they served. His charges were modest and his output large.

In the Autumn of 1938, with war imminent, he offered his services again to the Royal Navy and on the 12th September 1938, two weeks before the Munich Agreement brought the promise of "peace in our time", was posted to HMS President in London and sent on a meteorological training course. In December, he was posted as a Single Observer Forecasting Officer on the staff of the Commander in Chief, East Indies Station, in Colombo, Ceylon - a solitary job involving 'just me and a barometer'. Here he met a twenty-two year old nurse Vera Jane Clark married to a fellow officer. They fell in love, she became pregnant and returned to England to have their child.

Eric Erskine Campbell Tuffnell (1888-1978) - HMS Vindictive (MA16/874).

Eric Erskine Campbell Tuffnell (1888-1978) - HMS Vindictive (MA16/874).

In July 1942, Tufnell returned to Britain to take up an appointment as Executive Officer at HMS Minos, the shore base in Lowestoft responsible for Harbour Defence. He was then posted to HMS President in London on the Staff of the Chief of Naval Information at the Ministry of Information where Lt Cdr Angus A Mackenzie RNR was also stationed. Mackenzie commissioned Tufnell to paint four of the five ships on which he had served, the exception being HMS Vimiera, the loss of which along with most of its crew haunted him for the rest of his life. Tufnell remained at HMS President until he left the Royal Navy for the second time some months after the war ended.

Eric Tufnell had been married to his second wife for thirty-three years when he died aged 91 on the 18th July 1979.

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  • Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
  • Martime Auctions
  • Commander Eric Tufnell RN (1888-1978)

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