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Darwin Correspondence Project

From B. J. Sulivan   25 December 1866


Decr. 25 | 66.

My dear Darwin

Many happy returns of the season to you and Mrs. Darwin1 as well as all your party. The last account of your health was so much more cheering that I hope to hear it has continued to improve. I have had my Turkish bath at work for six weeks and I think my head gets steadily better, though slowly, and for the first time for some years I have gone so far into winter without the slightest cold or cough.2 I am thankful to say I can say the same of all our party so I hope Bournemouth will suit us all—3

A few days since I went to Bristol to see our Mission schooner ready for sea, and also to see the Fuegian lads before they return.4 They have been with a farmer who speaks highly of their conduct

I should have known Jimmy’s son from the likeness, he is said to be a very nice lad & good disposition—but not so intelligent as one of them from Packsaddle Bay.5 One can hardly believe that this lad was the same race as those we saw along side in that Bay where we taught them to rub their noses and say “Old Stokes”—6 There is another lad of that party who has been at the Falkland Station,7 and lately a Merchant vessel taking refuge there this lad went on board and asked the Capt to tell Mr. Stirling (our clergyman there), to come back to them soon8—and he was so anxious to go away in the schooner to the Falklands that the Father insisted on his leaving her & did not bring him again. This shows that some good influence is beginning to work & I hope that even now a shipwrecked crew would be safe with those families.9

Jimmy’s son told me several things his Father used to tell them about the Beagle and “Cappen FitzRoy”—10 Mr. Stirling again gives up the Secretaryship & goes out to the Fuegian work—11

We have been lately amusing ourselves with finding fossil leaves in the Eocine beds here. A gentleman came to examine them from the B. Association12—and he asked me to look out for portions of the bed when the cliff falls. Though only found in a few places the first little fall brought down some good bits of the bed, & of a second one distinct from the other; and though we destroy twenty leaves to get one we have now numerous specimens; some I hope different from any described in the ⁠⟨⁠Ge⁠⟩⁠ology of the Isle of Wight.13 If any of them would be of use or interest to you I should be glad to send you any after Mr. Mitchell14—who comes again soon—has seen them. It would amuse you to see me with a party of five or six young ladies working away till they are in a nice mess with wet clay, making the good folks of Bournemouth stare sometimes when they see us returning— Tho’, I fear the workers spoil more specimens every ten minutes than they save in a whole forenoons working. At present we are hoping for some more cliff to fall before fine days in spring come.

What do you think of an old Turk, a Mr. Packe M.P., a cousin of Hamonds’15—refusing permission to Mr. Michell to go up a ravine on his land where the bed was most easily accessible, though he knew Mr. M was employed by the B. Asson.

When you see Hooker16 will you say to him that if he wants any specimens of these leaves I shall be glad to get all I can for him. I suppose it is more in his line than yours.

I see in the last Cambridge book a “Darwin” in the First Class of the first year’s men. I hope that is your second boy.17 My youngest18 has just been trying the senior Local examn. of Cambridge at Southampton   I hope he may do as well as he did in the junior one two years ago, as he got the 9th position in Mathematical honors out of 760—candidates & seven of the eight above him were a year older & had gone up once before. If he does as well now I hope, when he is a year older, he may have a chance of winning a scholarship at Cambridge;19 I think of his trying at Caius or Pembroke—

The return of Christmass day always recalls strongly that one we passed on an Island of Chiloe, after you left our boat party,20 when after three weeks wet by night and day and that morning going without breakfast because the rain put the fire out, after the tent was blown down on us—& then when Paddy S.21 & I returned from egg hunting for the pudding finding the party in the Priest’s house, which a kind head Indian had opened for them, and where round a roaring fire they were drying our things and cooking a sheep, and we had the luxury of dry clothes & dry blankets for the first time for weeks—

You will perhaps have heard that last year a law was passed in Chile giving free toleration to all religions—22   we have lately heard from an English gentleman who was at the time in Santiago; that our missionary clergyman at Lota, Allen Gardiner,23 was referred to by more than one speaker in the House—and the good he was doing there used as an argument for toleration. He has now made friends with the Araucanian chiefs and they are helping him to establish stations in their country.24

Old Harris made particular enquiries for us all (at Rio Negro)25   He & his family were very kind to Stirling and his poor wife during her illness & death,26

& now wishing you again many happy christmass & new year’s days, & with our kind regards to Mrs Darwin, Believe me | yours very sincerely | B. J. Sulivan


Sulivan may have acquired a Turkish bath after undergoing treatment in Ireland at the hydrotherapy establishment of the physician Richard Barter (see letter from B. J. Sulivan, 27 June 1866 and nn. 4 and 5).
After retiring from the Board of Trade in April 1865, Sulivan moved from London to Bournemouth (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from B. J. Sulivan, 8 May [1865]).
The Patagonian Mission Society (the name was changed to South American Mission Society in 1865) owned a ship, the Allen Gardiner, which was built in 1854 to serve as an offshore base for the society’s missionary work in the islands of Tierra del Fuego (Hazlewood 2000, pp. 161–2). In August 1865, the superintendent missionary, Waite Hockin Stirling, had returned to England from Tierra del Fuego with four Yahgan boys, Uroopa, Mamastugadagenges, Sesoienges, and Wammestriggins, who was called Threeboys (see below, n. 5). They left for Tierra del Fuego on 8 December 1866 (ibid., pp. 313–16). The Yahgan are one of the three indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego, found in the most southerly parts of the islands (OED).
The Yahgan Orundellico, known to the British as Jemmy Button, was brought to England in 1830 and returned to his native land in 1833 on the Beagle by Robert FitzRoy (see Correspondence vol. 1). One of his sons, Wammestriggins, known as Threeboys, was among the Yahgan boys brought to England in 1865 (see n. 4, above). Packsaddle Bay was located off Hardy Peninsula in the south-eastern part of Tierra del Fuego (British Admiralty chart no. 1373, 1841).
The reference is to John Lort Stokes, who was mate and assistant surveyor on the Beagle voyage with CD (Correspondence vol. 1). For CD’s account of the mimicry skills of Fuegians, see Journal of researches, p. 229.
The Falkland missionary station was on Keppel Island (Hazlewood 2000, p. 165).
The reference is to Waite Hockin Stirling (see n. 4, above).
Sulivan may be alluding to an incident that took place at Wulaia, Tierra del Fuego, in November 1859, when some Englishmen were killed by a group of Yahgans (see Hazlewood 2001, pp. 249–53).
FitzRoy was commander of the Beagle from 1828 to 1836; see also n. 5, above.
Stirling had been secretary of the Patagonian Mission Society from 1857 to 1862, when he became the society’s superintendent missionary for Tierra del Fuego (Crockford’s clerical directory).
William Stephen Mitchell had reported to the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in August 1866 on the fossil leaf-bed at Alum Bay, Isle of Wight (W. S. Mitchell 1866).
The reference is to a list of Eocene plants published in the Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain (Harpe and Salter 1862) that included material collected at Bournemouth. Mitchell noted in his report that many new forms had been discovered since the list was published (W. S. Mitchell 1866, p. 147).
See n. 12, above.
Robert Nicholas Hamond had served with Sulivan and CD on the Beagle voyage (Sulivan ed. 1896, p. 202). Charles William Packe, MP for South Leicestershire, owned the Branksome Tower estate in Poole, Dorset (Thom’s Irish almanac 1866).
George Howard Darwin achieved a first class in the ‘Junior Sophs’ examination, Michaelmas term 1865 (Cambridge University calendar 1866, p. 388).
No record of Henry Norton Sulivan’s attending Cambridge University has been found, but Sulivan later reported that his son left Cambridge after only a few weeks owing to ill health (letter from B. J. Sulivan, 19 March 1868, Calendar no. 6026).
Sulivan refers to Christmas 1834, which he spent on Chiloé Island, off the south coast of Chile (see Sulivan 1896, p. 44). CD had remained on the Beagle while Sulivan and a party of men surveyed Chiloé (see Journal of researches, p. 342).
The reference is to Peter Benson Stewart (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from B. J. Sulivan, 18 March [1864], where ‘Paddy’ is incorrectly transcribed as ‘Padeby’). For a list of the people on the Beagle between 1831 and 1836, see Correspondence vol. 1, Appendix III.
Article 5 of the Chilean constitution of 1833 prohibited the public practice of any religion other than Roman Catholicism. An amendment of 1865 made it legal to practice other religions and to establish non-Catholic schools on private property. (Bizzarro 1987, s.v. Constitution.)
Lota is a coastal city in the Región del Biobío, over 200 miles south of Santiago, Chile. Allen Weare Gardiner took up his missionary post in Chile around 1865 (Clergy list 1864, Crockford’s clerical directory 1865).
‘Araucana’ was the name the Spanish gave to the native people (who called themselves ‘Mapuche’) occupying the area between the rivers Biobío and Toltén in southern Chile (Blancpain 1990, p. 20). The Araucanians were not under the control of the Chilean government.
James Harris, a trader based at Patagones (now known as Carmen de Patagones), near the mouth of the Río Negro, Patagonia, had acted as CD’s guide in Argentina (see Journal of researches, p. 79).
Louisa Jane Stirling died in October 1864, ten weeks after her arrival at Patagones (Macdonald 1929, p. 59).


Bizzarro, Salvatore. 1987. Historical dictionary of Chile. 2d edition. Metuchen, N.J. & London: Scarecrow Press.

Blancpain, Jean-Pierre. 1990. Les Araucans et la frontière dans l’histoire du Chili des origines au XIXo. siècle. Une épopée américaine. Frankfurt am Main: Vervuert Verlag.

Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

Cambridge University calendar: The Cambridge University calendar. Cambridge: W. Page [and others]. 1796–1950.

Clergy list: The clergy list … containing an alphabetical list of the clergy. London: C. Cox [and others]. 1841–89.

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

Crockford’s clerical directory: The clerical directory, a biographical and statistical book of reference for facts relating to the clergy and the church. Crockford’s clerical directory etc. London: John Crockford [and others]. 1858–1900.

Hazlewood, Nick. 2000. Savage. The life and times of Jemmy Button. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Macdonald, Frederick C. 1929. Bishop Stirling of the Falklands. The adventurous life of a soldier of the cross whose humility hid the daring spirit of a hero & an inflexible will to face great risks. London: Seely, Service & Co.

Mitchell, William Stephen. 1866. Report of the committee appointed to investigate the Alum Bay leaf-bed. Report of the thirty-sixth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Nottingham, pp. 146–8.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Salter, John William. 1862. On Peltocaris, a new genus of Silurian Crustacea. [Read 21 May 1862.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 19 (1863): 87–92.

Sulivan, Henry Norton, ed. 1896. Life and letters of the late Admiral Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan, KCB, 1810–1890. London: John Murray.

Thom’s Irish almanac: Thom’s Irish almanac and official directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Dublin: Alexander Thom. 1846–80.


Discusses the South American mission.

Has been busy digging out fossil leaves from local Eocene deposits.

Letter details

Letter no.
Bartholomew James Sulivan
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 287
Physical description
ALS 12pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5325,” accessed on 3 February 2023,

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