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Darwin Correspondence Project


From Bartholomew James Sulivan   8 May [1865]1

Board of Trade. S.W.

May 8th.

My dear Darwin

I was going to write to you today thinking you would like to know that I saw the remains of poor FitzRoy laid in their last resting place on Saturday.2 I was in Cornwall when I heard of it, having read a letter from him the day before. I had resigned my appointment a week before that—as three Doctors—consulted separately—told me I must give up, & ought to have done so sooner.3

FitzRoy wrote to me saying he thought I was right, and that he was anxious about what he ought to do. We have been urging him here for some time to take a long rest—& I have told him over & over again that he ought to do so, or give up entirely: but he wanted the strength of mind to decide, and I fear the idea of losing the Income for his family had much to do with it—4 In his note he said he had been very ill but his wife5 & a skilful Doctor, had—under god—saved his life, & he also remarked on never really feeling the value of blessings & particularly of health—until losing them. Though he trusted in his case it was only temporary— This I think shows he had no previous idea of taking away his own life, and that it could only have been done through the sudden impulse of insanity.

I came back Thursday night hoping to be in time for the funeral. I found a note from Mellersh6 at Brighton asking me to tell him when it was to be—but I found no one knew any thing about it at the Board or Admty and I should not have known had not Mrs. FitzRoys brothers7 come to his office to lock up his papers &c & they told me it was early on Saturday at the Norwood Church, close to his house,8 & they had told no one but relatives as they thought under the circumstances it ought to be very private—but they were sure it would be gratifying to Mrs. FitzRoy if we were present. A French officer Capt Pigeard—of the Embassy—came to me afterwards to know when it was as he wished to attend on behalf of the French Navy, as they all thought so highly of him & many had recieved much kindness from him.9 Mellersh came up in time & he & I—Capt Pegeard, & Babbington—FitzRoy’s assistant,10—were the only strangers. His brother,11 two of Mrs FitzRoy’s brothers12—Lord Campden13 and Genl Wood & his brother14 I think made up the old party. It was a very quiet and plain funeral, just what I think all funerals should be. Poor Mrs. FitzRoy would go, & the two daughters were with her.15 we all waited outside and walked after her carriage—& the same back the brothers only going into the house. It was a trying scene at the grave. Poor Mrs. F and the girls looked dreadfully ill, & Mrs. F gave way very much. The coffin was plain black wood with “Robert FitzRoy, born — — died — —” on a brass plate. You may suppose what a trial it was for me, and the thought of old times and scenes that would be mixed up with it all. The relatives were much pleased at the French Captain—showing such a desire to be present. I have no doubt many would have been there if they had known it, but no answer could be given to numerous letters to the office asking when it was to be, even from distant ports.

& Now about my own case. I remained abroad four months,16 was not much better for two months while moving about in France & Italy—but after six weeks quiet rest at Vevey I got so well that when we went up to a mountain Pension for three weeks I was able to walk up mountains for hours without any return of pain or weakness in leg, or headache, & I returned as well as I ever felt but as I got to work again the symptoms soon returned, and by January I was very unwell. at one time I was a fortnight at home with severe shooting pains in back of head every few seconds, and afterwards for six weeks my leg gave way so in knee & below it that I could not walk from the station to office—& latterly—for the first time,—I feel my work a burthen to me. About a month since, the Dr at Brighton, who sent me abroad, told me I must have perfect rest for my head: to make sure I consulted two others without their knowing what others said, and they all agreed, & said I ought to have given up before, & that if I went beyond the turning point I should go rapidly down hill, but that avoiding brain work & excitement I might live to a good age, as there was no disease of the heart, but only weakness of action so that the small vessels of head were congested— After the weather got warmer I got better, but with these opinions I felt I ought at once to give up— I go on till end of this month, and then go on half pay as a private gent. again. We mean to sell the house as I cannot afford to live near London, and also my girls are better by the sea; so we go to Bournemouth where we shall settle.17

I should like to run down to you for one night before I leave, to see you before we go. I am sorry to hear such a poor account of you. Why do you not give up all work and try a Summer in the Swiss Mountain air? My eldest boy18 passed last July and is now Sub Lieut & Assist Surveyor of Firefly in Mediterranean. The second is now passing at Portsmouth.19 The youngest20 asked me to let him try the Cambridge local examination last December   he was 15 & of course in the Junior batch.21 out of 675 he was bracketed 9th. in the Mathematical Honors only 12 getting them; and of the 8 above him, 7 were so much older that they had gone up for the previous examn a year before, which also gave them a great advantage in experience. I hope therefore he will be able to win an open Scholarship at Cambridge if he lives to try. I always wished one boy to do that.

With very kind regards to Mrs. Darwin & your Daughters | Believe me dear Darwin | Yours most sincerely | B. J. Sulivan


The year is established by the reference to the death of Robert FitzRoy; he committed suicide on 30 April 1865 (DNB).
FitzRoy was buried in the cemetery at St Luke’s Church, Norwood, on 6 May 1865 (DNB). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 May 1865, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 4 May [1865].
Sulivan had been suffering from health problems (see Correspondence vol. 12, letters from B. J. Sulivan, 18 March [1864] and 23 September [1864], and Sulivan ed. 1896, p. 378). He had been working as chief naval officer of the Marine Department at the Board of Trade (DNB).
FitzRoy had been head of the Meteorological Department at the Board of Trade (DNB). On FitzRoy’s financial difficulties, see Anderson 1999, pp. 201–2.
Maria Isabella FitzRoy.
Arthur Mellersh and Sulivan had both served under FitzRoy on the Beagle during the 1831–6 voyage (see Correspondence vol. 1), Mellersh as a midshipman and Sulivan as second lieutenant (Freeman 1978).
The reference is to John George Smyth and Henry Smyth (Burke’s landed gentry 1846, s.v. Smyth of Heath Hall).
See letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 May 1865 and n. 4.
Charles Pigeard was naval attaché at the French Embassy, London (Post Office London directory 1865). Elements of FitzRoy’s weather-forecast service were based on work in France; FitzRoy had also been elected a corresponding member of the Académie des sciences in Paris in 1863 (see Burton 1986).
Thomas H. Babington was a senior clerk at the Board of Trade, where he worked as FitzRoy’s assistant in the Meteorological Department (British imperial calendar 1865, p. 100; Mellersh 1968, pp. 288–9).
Sulivan refers to George FitzRoy of Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire (Burke’s peerage 1970, s.v. Grafton, duke of).
See n. 7, above.
Charles George Noel, Viscount Campden (Burke’s peerage 1865).
Sulivan refers to Lieutenant-general Thomas Wood. Wood had two brothers, David Edward Wood and Charles Alexander Wood; the Woods were cousins of FitzRoy (County families 1865; Burke’s peerage 1878 s.v. Londonderry, Marquis of; DNB, s.v. FitzRoy, Robert, and Wood, David Edward).
For FitzRoy’s surviving daughters see letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 May 1865 and n. 4.
Sulivan had taken six months’ leave in 1864 because of poor health (see Correspondence vol. 12, letters from B. J. Sulivan, 18 March [1864] and 23 September [1864]). See also Sulivan ed. 1896, p. 378.
The Sulivans retired to Bournemouth in Hampshire (County families 1872–90; see also letter from B. J. Sulivan, 31 May [1865]). Only two of Sulivan’s daughters have been identified, Sophia Henrietta and Catherine Sabine Sulivan.
James Young Falkland Sulivan.
Thomas Edward Sulivan. Sulivan refers to the Royal Naval College in Portsmouth, Hampshire.
Henry Norton Sulivan.
The University of Cambridge established the Local Examination Syndicate in 1858. The aim was to use the authority of the University to promote a standardised measure of educational attainment. At centres throughout the country two examinations were held in December every year, one for boys under 16 and one for boys under 18. Papers relating to the syndicate are in the University Archives–CUL (Cambridge University Register (Local Examinations) 57.1: 1–46).


Reports on the funeral of Robert FitzRoy.

His own health has deteriorated and he must give up his work.

Letter details

Letter no.
Sulivan, B. J.
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Board of Trade
Source of text
DAR 177: 284
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4831,” accessed on 29 July 2016,