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Darwin Correspondence Project

From B. J. Sulivan   23 September [1864]1

Board of Trade

Sept. 23.

My dear Darwin

I am very glad to hear from Hooker2 that you are so much better and that all your party are well.

I returned home about two months since, very much better for my trip, and I hope to be able to continue my work again—3 I shall give it a trial till next spring.

My wife went with me abroad, we worked our way by Paris & Toulon to Nice; and then after some days on to Mentone, & San Remo, for about the same time. Then Genoa Milan & by the Italian Lakes over the Simplon to Vevey: during these frequent journeys I did not feel much better, as I was not long enough to rest in one place, but two quiet months in Switzerland made me feel quite well, & my wife taking a walking fit for the first time in her life, we got up various hills, till I was able to stand nine hours walking (612 up hill) to one 6,000 feet which was our highest. To do this without feeling any weakness or pain in right leg or head showed I had gained much strength, as for years my leg felt a few miles walk, & I rarely walked at all without some pain.4

As the Continent was new to both of us we enjoyed it very much. The only thing I saw in the shape of a fossil was small plants in fine laminated sand stone near Mentone, but I suppose they are very common.

FitzRoy,5 when I returned, was looking much broken and thin but he has been away for his holiday & is looking very much better again. Mellersh returned from South America last week & is going to take the new Retirement which gives better pay. Johnson has also taken it.6 Gemmy Usborne now (“Staff Commander” Usborne) has command of a surveying steamer at Plymouth. Stokes by a Job forced politically in some way on the admlty. got nominally put in a small schooner at Plymouth to complete his time & so has gone on the active admty list being by our wise regulations the only one of Beagles supposed fit for Command of a Squadron.7

We are all very well, my two boys in Navy both returned lately—one is now on Excellent to pass for Gunnery8 the other in Channel fleet.9

With very kind regards to Mrs Darwin & all your party | Believe me very sincely

Yours | B. J. Sulivan


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from B. J. Sulivan, 18 March [1864].
Sulivan, a lieutenant on HMS Beagle between 1831 and 1836, had remained in the Royal Navy and now held the rank of captain (DNB). Sulivan had taken leave from his work at the Board of Trade because of ill health; he resigned his appointment on grounds of ill health in 1865. See letter from B. J. Sulivan, 18 March [1864], Correspondence vol. 13, letters from B. J. Sulivan, 8 May [1865] and 31 May [1865], and Sulivan ed. 1896, p. 378.
Sulivan’s ill health and his visit to Italy and Switzerland in 1864 with his wife, Sophia Sulivan, is mentioned briefly in Sulivan ed. 1896, p. 378.
Robert FitzRoy was commander of HMS Beagle between 1831 and 1836; CD joined the ship as FitzRoy’s companion (see Browne 1995, p. 145). For a contemporary account of CD’s voyage with FitzRoy, see Narrative and Correspondence vol. 1. On FitzRoy’s subsequent career see Mellersh 1968.
Arthur Mellersh and Charles Richardson Johnson had served on HMS Beagle between 1831 and 1836 (Correspondence vol. 1, Appendix III). Mellersh had been serving as captain of HMS Forte, a flagship stationed on the south-east coast of South America, since November 1862; he was granted his retirement on 9 September 1864. Under an Order in Council dated 9 July 1864, captains aged 50 and over were eligible for retirement, at a rate of pay of 18s. or 20s. per day, according to seniority, at the discretion of the Board of Admiralty, and providing that they had served a combined period of fifteen years at sea in the ranks of lieutenant, commander, or captain. Formerly, the minimum retirement age was 55, and Mellersh might have spent the remainder of his naval service up to retirement not employed and on the Admiralty’s half-pay lists, under which the maximum rate of pay for a captain was 14s. 6d. per day. The voluntary retirement age was lowered to reduce the number of captains eligible for active service, and to provide greater opportunities for younger officers to get promotion. Johnson was granted his retirement on 1 July 1864. See Navy list 1864–5 and Report from the select committee on Navy (promotion and retirement) (British parliamentary papers, Session 1863, 10: 24, 77, 80, and 84).
Alexander Burns Usborne, nicknamed ‘Jimmy’ (Darwin pedigree, p. 63), and John Lort Stokes were officers serving on HMS Beagle between 1831 and 1836 (Correspondence vol. 1, Appendix III). Usborne was appointed staff-commander in the Surveying Service on 11 June 1863, and Stokes was appointed rear-admiral on 9 February 1864. In April 1864, Usborne succeeded to the command of HMS Bann, a paddle surveying vessel, to obtain the deep-sea soundings off the coast of Cornwall necessary to complete the charts of the west coast of England (Dawson 1885, p. 122). In order to qualify for promotion, Stokes was required to command one or more of Her Majesty’s rated ships for a period of between four and six years, depending on whether the period fell during wartime or peacetime or both (see Report from the select committee on Navy (Promotion and Retirement) (British parliamentary papers, Session 1863, 10: 542–3)). Sulivan was one of the witnesses called by the select committee to give evidence on naval regulations in 1863 (ibid.); some of the reforms he proposed are summarised in Sulivan ed. 1896, pp. 423–4. See also letter from B. J. Sulivan, 18 March [1864].
The reference is to James Young Falkland Sulivan, who was appointed acting sub-lieutenant on 1 July 1864, and promoted to sub-lieutenant on 15 November 1864. HMS Excellent was a 2311-ton gunnery ship stationed at Plymouth (Navy list 1864–5).
The reference is to Thomas Edward Sulivan; in January 1865 he was serving as an acting sub-lieutenant on HMS Hector in the Channel squadron (Navy list 1865).


Browne, Janet. 1995. Charles Darwin. Voyaging. Volume I of a biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Darwin pedigree: Pedigree of the family of Darwin. Compiled by H. Farnham Burke. N.p.: privately printed. 1888. [Reprinted in facsimile in Darwin pedigrees, by Richard Broke Freeman. London: printed for the author. 1984.]

Dawson, Llewellyn Styles. 1885. Memoirs of hydrography including brief biographies of the principal officers who have served in HM naval surveying service between the years 1750 and 1885. 2 pts. Eastbourne: Henry W. Keay. [Facsimile reprint, London: Cornmarket Press, 1969.]

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.

Mellersh, Harold Edward Leslie. 1968. FitzRoy of the Beagle. London: Rupert Hart-Davis.

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.


BJS’s health much improved by his continental tour.

Letter details

Letter no.
Bartholomew James Sulivan
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Board of Trade
Source of text
DAR 177: 283
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4622,” accessed on 13 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12