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WHAT'S NEW > Curator's choice > December 2004

Curator's choice of Object of the Month

What is it?

Letters of Chief Stoker Walter Grainger

Amongst the Museum's many groups of papers of naval personnel are a wonderful collection of 174 letters sent by Chief Stoker Walter Grainger to his fiancé Edith Townsend.  These letters were sent home by steam packet, one written every week without fail, from the sloop HMS Daphne on the China Station in the 1890s.  Above all these are a series of intense love letters; all have been hand illustrated with water-colours, some mounted with dried flowers or filled with religious texts or love poetry.

The Daphne commissioned in Hong Kong on the 1st of January 1896 and did not re-commission with a new crew until January 1899; if Chief Stoker Grainger's passage out and return home are also added up he was away from home for well over three years.  The letters are limited as a source for the operations of the Daphne, although he does occasionally use them as an excuse - “... this letter will be short but it is no fault of mine ... we have been terribly busy getting ready to go to sea we have had all our engines to pieces and our boilers open for examination”.  However they do give a fascinating and rounded portrait of one of the Navy's stokers.  The individual that is revealed is not a stereotypical drunken sailor, but a well educated, faithful and intensely religious man.

As with many archive collection the letters only give half the story; none of the letters which Chief Stoker Grainger received (and so looked forward to) from Edith have survived.  However, his love was requited; Walter and Edith were married on his return and the letters were eventually generously donated to the Museum by their only daughter shortly before her death.

The sloop HMS Daphne, launched 1888

Where are they?

These letters are held as part of the manuscript collection and are available to researchers in the Museum Library.

The choice of Matthew Sheldon, Head of Research Collections

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