In this picture Campbell capitalised on public interest in the fate of troops engaged in putting down the Indian Mutiny 1857-8, and the massacre of British troops. The event inspired many paintings. Most showed war through more reassuring domestic incidents rather than the violence of battle. Letters in Victorian narrative paintings commonly represented distant events. In this scene, a locksmith reads a letter from his soldier son in India. It begins ‘Lucknow March 1858. My dear old Daddy, I dare say you will read this in the old shop and here am I under the burning sun of India’.
he model for the old man appears to be the same one used in the artist's painting, 'Waiting for legal advice', also in the Walker Art Gallery’s collection.
This painting was once owned by George Rae (1817 - 1902) of Birkenhead, an important Pre-Raphaelite collector.