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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Bartholomew James Sulivan   4 February [1863]1

Board of Trade. S.W.

Feby 4

My dear Darwin

You will I have no doubt be surprised when I tell you that it is most probable I shall shortly leave England as Commodore to command the Squadron on West Coast of S america 2   The Station being from Equator to Cape Horn. The Admiral taking the North Pacific— Will it not be singular if should once more go over our old ground—3 The fact is I have been for more than two months suffering from Bronchial complaint which though slight will not get better as every time it seems better I get a fresh cold. about six weeks since I was very unwell. I was saying at home that as it was the third winter I had been so frequently attacked this way I should have to avoid the winter in England—& I wished there was any appointment in a good climate that I could get as it would set me up again as twice I had been set up by going to S america   But I knew of nothing likely and therefore we were seriously discussing my having to give up before next winter. The very next day I saw in the paper that a Commodore was to be sent to the Chili Station. It seemed of all things the very best as it would also enable me to serve my time for Active Flag, which next winter would be too late for.4 after hesitating for several days I found no one was nominated, so I went in for it—and at first thought it was quite settled, for Senior Naval Lord & Private Secy—both nominated me for it to First Lord, which is generally conclusive,5 but they first postponed the appt. to April on account of the financial years account preventing their doing it this year—and also to prepare a ship, and then they would not tell me if I were to go or not but I have heard some interest was rising for another— However as four admirals at admy have concurred in telling 1st Lord I have a stronger claim to it than any one, and as the Senior Naval Lord has told me what the limits of station are & other particulars it ought to be pretty certain. I have also heard from several that it is said at admiralty I am to go: and so it rests till March.

I have not spoken about it outside Admiralty—for if I do not get it I would rather it was not generally known, so I only tell you for your private information that you may turn over in your all mind all the Geological instructions you wish to give me. The ship will be “Curacoa” a Screw frigate, and if I go I shall probably go through Straits of M. and so see much of our old ground—6

If they will give me leave my wife7 and girls will go with me as the Sea Voyage & the climate of Valpo8 might do the girls much good.

I hope you are better now—& that our talking so much did not do you any more than a Scrap of injury. I hear that Wickham and his family have not been well in France9

with kind regards to all Your family believe me | Yours very siny | B J Sulivan


The year is established by the reference to Sulivan’s visit to Down House in October 1862 (see n. 9, below).
Sulivan was a naval officer in the marine department at the Board of Trade (Sulivan ed. 1896, pp. 375, 379, and DNB). A commodore is an officer intermediate in rank between a captain and an admiral.
Sulivan was second lieutenant during the visit of HMS Beagle to South America and during its surveying voyage of 1831–6 (Freeman 1978).
Sulivan was attempting to qualify for the active list of admirals (Sulivan ed. 1896, p. 377).
The first lord of the admiralty was Edward Adolphus Seymour Seymour, his private secretary was John Moore, and the senior naval lord was William Hall Gage (Navy list, Post Office London directory 1863).
Sulivan refers to the Straits of Magellan; the Beagle sailed through the Straits between 27 January and 13 February 1834, and between 25 May and 10 June 1834 (Narrative, Appendix, pp. 23–4, 29–30).
Sulivan married Sophia Young in 1837 (County families 1871).
The reference is to Valparaiso, Chile.
On 21 October 1862, Sulivan, and two of the other officers who had served with CD on board HMS Beagle, Arthur Mellersh and John Clements Wickham, visited Down House. CD suffered ill health following the visit (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from B. J. Sulivan, 18 October [1862] and n. 1, and letter to John Lubbock, 23 October [1862]). Wickham had retired to the south of France; he died of a stroke on 6 January 1864 (Aust. dict. biog.).


Aust. dict. biog.: Australian dictionary of biography. Edited by Douglas Pike et al. 14 vols. [Melbourne]: Melbourne University Press. London and New York: Cambridge University Press. 1966–96.

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

County families: The county families of the United Kingdom; or, royal manual of the titled & untitled aristocracy of Great Britain & Ireland. By Edward Walford. London: Robert Hardwicke; Chatto & Windus. 1860–93. Walford’s county families of the United Kingdom or royal manual of the titled and untitled aristocracy of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. London: Chatto & Windus; Spottiswoode & Co. 1894–1920.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Narrative: Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s ships Adventure and Beagle, between the years 1826 and 1836. [Edited by Robert FitzRoy.] 3 vols. and appendix. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Navy list: The navy list. London: John Murray; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. 1815–1900.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.


Thinks he may be appointed Commodore commanding the Squadron on the west coast of S. America. Wishes to leave England for his health’s sake.

Letter details

Letter no.
Bartholomew James Sulivan
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Board of Trade
Source of text
DAR 177: 280
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3968,” accessed on 14 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11