skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Bartholomew James Sulivan   27 June 1866


June 27/66

My dear Darwin

I am indeed glad to get such a cheering letter from you—and to hear that you have such a prospect of restored health.1 Up to three months ago I was in hopes I was getting better, for I had lost all the pains in joints &c. and my pulse and general circulation was stronger;2 but either from my head not being able to stand this—or because the complaint was making more progress, I became very unwell with head symptoms—such as pain in the frontal region if I stoop or cough or on the least thing trying my head; & though for some time time I have been regularly under the best doctor here I get little—if any—better. I believe it is entirely caused by congestion of all the small vessels of the brain.

about three months since my eldest boy came home promoted—having got the annual surveying promotion from the surveying ship in Mediterranean:3 he had suffered from Rheumatism—and was advised to try the hot air baths of Dr. Barter at Blarney—Co. Cork—4

He came back in six weeks well & strong: & the Doctor assured him that they would do my head great good— Finding him still very confident about it after sending him particulars of my case, and as I get no better here I think of going over there with my wife and eldest daughter next week.5 I shall also escape the bother I have with the work of my house because some builders here think nothing of breaking contracts & delaying work they have pledged themselves to do, and it is with difficulty I have been able to get common exertions made to finish it though promised me by 1st of August, & not likely to be ready by 1st of October.

And now having tried your patience with personal matters, I must tell you that my boy is going out as 2nd Lieut with Mayne,6 and that I have been looking forward to interesting Mayne & his Naturalist in a further search for “my bones”,7 having been giving my boy full particulars, & I meant to urge it on Richards (Hydrographer), also—who was my second Lieut. & with me cutting them out.8 So with the aid of First Lord I have no doubt it will be easily managed9   If I were well I should enjoy going with them and being landed at Falklands, for the summer, after a months good work at the “diggings”—10 I look forward to going on Board Nassau at Portsmouth & pointing every thing out to Mayne. His vessel is a very long unhandy vessel for Gallegos, & I should not like to take her in there in such a tide & intricate channel, but there is a nice safe anchorage just outside; inside a good bank, & so thoroughly sheltered, & this removes all objection on that score. They could pitch a tent on the far shore of the River opposite the bones, & in three or four days load all their boats twice over, with a good party—but to get the bones out carefully there would be work for a month—11

The Nassau is not going out for the survey of Straits of M. Her chief object is the better survey of the Smythe & Baker channels, & the best anchorages on them;12 which is much wanted now that many large steamers go that way. at the same time she will make larger plans of some of the Harbours in the Straits. In one, through one channel in not being surveyed, a French screw line of battle ship was nearly lost and had to go back leaking to Rio Janeiro.

She will also complete the sounding of Possession Bay, & the best positions for anchoring outside the narrows; this was left very unfinished.13

I have seen published lists of the FitzRoy subscription.14 I had one sent me but cannot now lay my hand on it— It was through that, that I knew of your handsome contribution to it.15 I have heard twice from Mrs. FitzRoy:16 but do not know what has been done with the testimonial fund. I suppose you saw that his Son was promoted into a death vacancy soon after going out in Commodores ship last year to Africa, so he has a good start—being a Commander about 26,—as times go.17

My second boy went out in a new surveying ship to N America, under Hope; and on his arrival had a Lieuts commission given him in a death vacancy, which had afterwards to be cancelled because his ship did not get on the station till two hours after the death. 18 I was not sorry as his elder brother was not then promoted.

all my party are well. my wife joins me in kind regards to Mrs Darwin & your daughters—19 Believe me my dear Darwin | Yours most sincerely | B J Sulivan

I will take care to have written particulars prepared if I am not able myself to see Mayne & the Naturalist. Hooker20 should ask Richards to further it & I will write also. B J S


The letter from CD to Sulivan has not been found.
Sulivan had suffered health problems in 1864, and had resigned his position as chief naval officer in the Marine Department at the Board of Trade in 1865 because of his continued ill health (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from B. J. Sulivan, 8 May [1865]).
James Young Falkland Sulivan had served as sub-lieutenant on HMS Firefly, stationed in the Mediterranean, from November 1864; he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in January 1866 (Navy list). See also Correspondence vol. 13, letter from B. J. Sulivan, 8 May [1865].
The physician Richard Barter ran a hydrotherapy establishment in Blarney, County Cork, Ireland, offering hot-air baths and Turkish baths (DNB).
Sulivan refers to his wife, Sophia, and to their eldest daughter, Sophia Henrietta. Sulivan did undergo treatment by Barter (see Sulivan ed. 1896, p. 391).
James Young Falkland Sulivan served as lieutenant on HMS Nassau from 1866 to 1867 (Navy list); the vessel surveyed the Straits of Magellan from 1866 to 1869 (Cunningham 1871). Richard Charles Mayne was the commander of the Nassau during the survey expedition (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 13 May 1866 and n. 9).
The naturalist on HMS Nassau was Robert Oliver Cunningham (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 February 1866 and n. 4). In January 1845, while commanding HMS Philomel, Sulivan had discovered the fossil bones of mammals at the base of a cliff along the Río Gallegos in Patagonia (see Correspondence vol. 3, letters from B. J. Sulivan, 13 January – 12 February 1845, and 4 July 1845). Six casks of bones were collected and sent to Richard Owen, who described several of the findings (ibid., letter to Richard Owen, 21 [June 1846]; Report of the 16th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Southampton in 1846, Transactions of the sections, p. 66, and Owen 1853). For CD’s interest in the findings, see Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [4 June 1845], and letter to C. G. Ehrenberg, 29 October [1845]. For Sulivan’s interest in returning to the site, see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to Richard Owen, 28 April [1850], and Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Arthur Mellersh, 30 November [1862]. Sulivan’s discovery is discussed in Brinkman 2003.
George Henry Richards was lieutenant on HMS Philomel (Sulivan ed. 1896, p. 56); he became hydrographer to the Admiralty in 1863 (Modern English biography).
The first lord of the Admiralty was Edward Adolphus Seymour Seymour, twelfth duke of Somerset (DNB).
Sulivan had surveyed the Falkland Islands from 1837 to 1839, and lived there from 1848 to 1851 (DNB).
The search for the fossils took place in December 1867 and May 1868. The ship’s naturalist, Cunningham, reported that the strata were rapidly disintegrating, and that few specimens of any size or value were found, except for one fossil cranium of a large quadruped, later identified by Thomas Henry Huxley as a new genus of mammal allied to Anoplotherium (Cunningham 1871, pp. 279–82, 469–73).
The Smyth Channel is north of the western end of the Strait of Magellan, between the Archipiélago de la Reina Adelaida and the Península de Muñoz Gamero. The Baker Channel is at the southern end of the Golfo de Penas. (Times atlas.)
Possession Bay is on the north side of Bahía de Lomas, at the eastern entrance to the Strait of Magellan (Mapa de Chile, 1: 3.000.000. Instituto Geográfico Militar, Santiago, 1975). HMS Beagle had visited Possession Bay on 24 January 1834 (Narrative, Appendix).
Robert FitzRoy commanded HMS Beagle during the 1831 to 1836 voyage on which Sulivan was second lieutenant and CD naturalist and companion to FitzRoy (see Correspondence vol. 1). FitzRoy committed suicide on 30 April 1865 (Correspondence vol. 13). A testimonial fund was set up for his family (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from Charles Shaw, 3 October 1865).
CD had subscribed £100 to the FitzRoy testimonial fund (CD’s Classed account books (Down House MS), 4 October 1865).
Maria Isabella FitzRoy.
Robert O’Brien FitzRoy had served as flag lieutenant of HMS Bristol, stationed on the west coast of Africa, from 7 October 1865, and became commander of the vessel on 1 February 1866; the commodore of the vessel was Geoffrey Thomas Phipps Hornby (Navy list).
Thomas Edward Sulivan was sub-lieutenant on HMS Gannet from July 1865; from December 1866, he was lieutenant on HMS Duncan (Navy list). James Hope was navy commander-in-chief in North America and the West Indies (DNB).
Sulivan refers to Emma, Henrietta Emma, and Elizabeth Darwin.
Joseph Dalton Hooker.


Brinkman, Paul. 2003. Bartholomew James Sulivan’s discovery of fossil vertebrates in the Tertiary beds of Patagonia. Archives of Natural History 30: 56–74.

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

Cunningham, Robert Oliver. 1871. Notes on the natural history of the Strait of Magellan and west coast of Patagonia, made during the voyage of H.M.S. ‘Nassau’ in the years 1866, 67, 68, & 69. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas.

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.

Modern English biography: Modern English biography, containing many thousand concise memoirs of persons who have died since the year 1850. By Frederick Boase. 3 vols. and supplement (3 vols.). Truro, Cornwall: the author. 1892–1921.

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.

Owen, Richard. 1853a. Description of some species of the extinct genus Nesodon, with remarks on the primary group (Toxodontia) of hoofed quadrupeds, to which that genus is referable. [Read 13 January 1853.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 143: 291–310.


Reports on his health.

Discusses a surveying expedition under Richard Charles Mayne on which his son will be Second Lieutenant; hopes to arrange for them to excavate some bones in the Falklands.

Letter details

Letter no.
Bartholomew James Sulivan
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 286
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5133,” accessed on 13 June 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14