skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To B. J. Sulivan   5 November [1878]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Nov. 5

My dear Sulivan

Many thanks for your note & enclosure, herewith returned.— The account of the Fuegians is very interesting & curious,—especially about the conversation of the natives.— Where on earth the cattle can feed passes my comprehension.2 Many thanks, also, for your news about the old Beaglers.3

I have nothing to tell you about myself: I work all day long, as far as my strength will endures, on vegetable physiological questions.—4 My eldest son has gone for a tour to the U. States with his wife & is enjoying himself much.—5

We have just been reading Miss Brasseys voyage in the Sun-Beam,—a light sketchy book,—but I was glad to read the account of the passage up the wonderful channels north of the E. entrance of the St. of Magellan.—6

I most sincerely hope that you may soon recover the use of your leg, which seems a very strange sort of attack.

My dear Sulivan | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

I will keep back this note for a day that my sister-in-law7 may read the Fuegian Letter.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from B. J. Sulivan, 3 November 1878.
See letter from B. J. Sulivan, 3 November 1878 and n. 1. The account of native peoples in Tierra del Fuego, and their ownership of cattle, was probably written by the missionary Thomas Bridges. Bridges was compiling a dictionary of the Yaghan language, which he described as ‘comprehensive and regular’, and thought its speakers engaged in an unusually large amount of conversation (Chapman 2010, p. 479).
Sulivan had passed on news of former shipmates from HMS Beagle in his letter of 3 November 1878.
CD had been engaged in experiments on aspects of movement in plants since the summer of 1877 (see Correspondence vol. 25).
William Erasmus Darwin and his American wife Sara Sedgwick sailed on 14 September 1878 to visit her family in Massachussetts (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242); letter from Emma Darwin to W. E. Darwin, 17 September [1878] (DAR 219.1: 115)).
Annie Brassey had recently published an account of a voyage around the world from July 1876 to May 1877 onboard the schooner Sunbeam (Brassey 1878). The account, which went into four editions within a year, included a description of Brassey’s experiences sailing west through the Straits of Magellan from Possession Bay, an area of Patagonia north of Tierra del Fuego that CD had visited between January and May 1834 while on board HMS Beagle (ibid., pp. 114–30; Keynes ed. 1988, pp. 217, 221, and 240).
Sarah Elizabeth Wedgwood.


Brassey, [Annie]. 1878. Around the world in the yacht ‘Sunbeam’: our home on the ocean for eleven months. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Chapman, Anne. 2010. European encounters with the Yamana people of Cape Horn, before and after Darwin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.


Thanks for account of Fuegians

and news about old "Beaglers".

Has been reading A. A. Brassey [Around the world in the yacht "Sunbeam" (1878)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Bartholomew James Sulivan
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11736,” accessed on 1 March 2021,