skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From B. J. Sulivan   20 June 1872


June 20/72


My dear Darwin

Snows conduct on the Mission vessel was so bad, that the Clergyman who went out to take charge of the mission had to put him out of the vessel which he did with advice and approval of the Govr & Col officers.1 The fact was he had been caring more about exploring than the work of the mission, shamefully neglected the station and those there—and knowing the clergyman coming out as superintendent would put a stop to this, on his arrival he disputed his authority, refused to obey his orders & claimed to act as he liked with the vessel. The Clergyman tried every thing he could to show him his folly—and only when there was clear proof he was going off with the vessel he appealed to the authorities & Snow was put out of her.

He brought an action against the Committee & “in forma pauperis”—he took his own case & for six hours abused us all like pickpockets & told no end of falsehoods, & even then Cockburn told him on his own statement alone without calling on us to reply he must non suit him—but on his declaring there were documents at Falklands to bear out his statements. Cockburn said if we would not object he would adjourn the trial to give time to send out for them. This was done; eight months after the trial went on with the documents they proved that he had been making false statements. Cockburn showed him up thoroughly in his address so the jury saw through the motives of his conduct clearly—and the jury without leaving the box instantly gave us a verdict—but it cost us 500£ as we could not get a penny from him2   since then I have heard of some [quere] think getting some one to go with him & his wife3 to America & then leaving them—& the wife in great distress. I did not know he had turned up in England again— He threatened me again and again with actions for personal defamation. Merely because I stated what was the truth but finding he could get nothing out of me by threats he gave it up.4

I believe him to be a most dangerous and unprincipled man. that it is better to keep quite clear of.

He is a sailor, & did pretty well at first—but soon got to treat the vessel as a yacht for his pleasure & amusement & for pretended exploring and discovery trips that would enable him to write letters and puff himself—and he did not like being entirely controlled & having to do real work for the Mission.

His conceit & self esteem is unbounded—& sometimes it made me think he must be a little out of his mind. Do not mention my name to him in any way or I shall have more threats of actions.

Even for your own sake I should advise you to keep clear of him—for you will never hear the last of him if you once give him an opening.5

I have been gradually getting over the bad state of my head; every year I can trace improvement—& now a sneeze (which is my barometer) which used to give me pain for two or three days—and even a year since for two or three hours—only gives me slight pain for some minutes—so I think there must be very great improvement. sometimes I am so well that I forget, and do what I ought not in the way of exertion—& then I am pulled up for a few days.

I was glad to hear pretty good accounts of you all from Langton, Mrs. L & baby are going on well.6

With our kind regards to all your circle Believe me | Dear Darwin | yours most sincly. | B. J. Sulivan

PS. I entirely forgot to tell you what wonderful accounts we have from Beagle Channel   Bishop Stirling found the station going on very favorably & quite a revival commencing with the natives.7 Several of those trained at Station he was able with confidence to Baptise & I suppose some others, as—with their young children—he baptised above 30. & of the adults he says he had not a doubt about their fitness for it. On one occasion he accidentally heard a party all natives holding a prayer meeting in a hut and one of them was praying earnestly for the conversion of their fellow natives.

He also married several couples some had been living together before others not—

I have been very anxious that some of those finer natives from the East coast should be got over to the Falkland station. It would be great thing to do something for them.

I was much interested in Musters book—but the natives sunk in my estimation as hunters from letting that Bull escape. We would have had him at Falklands in Phelomel days even without horses or trees to aid.8



William Parker Snow had been dismissed in 1856 from command of the Patagonian (later South American) Missionary Society’s vessel, Allen Gardiner, by the superintending missionary in the Falkland Islands, George Pakenham Despard, supported by the governor, Thomas Edward Laws Moore. Snow had refused to carry a party of missionaries led by Despard from Stanley in East Falkland to a recently established mission station on Keppel Island off the coast of West Falkland; according to Snow, the group was insufficiently provisioned. In 1857, Snow privately circulated his account of the affair; the society responded in a pamphlet, and Snow published an expanded account in 1858 (Patagonian Missionary Society 1857; Snow 1858). For the history of the mission station and Snow’s involvement, see also A. G. E. Jones 1979, ODNB s.v. Snow, William Parker, and Philpott 2009.
Snow brought an action for wrongful dismissal against the Committee of the Patagonian Missionary Society in December 1858 in the Court of Common Pleas; the trial resumed in December 1859 in the Court of Queen’s Bench and was presided over by Alexander James Edmund Cockburn (The Times, 8 December 1859, p. 8). In forma pauperis: in the character of a pauper (Latin).
Sulivan was called to give evidence at the trial as he had instigated the Patagonian Missionary Society’s acquisition of the vessel that Snow commanded; he described acrimonious meetings between himself and Snow after Snow’s return from South America in 1856 (The Times, 8 December 1859, p. 8). At various periods Snow promoted emigration to South America and to New Zealand (A. G. E. Jones 1979, p. 29).
Snow was in financial difficulties in the 1870s and had presumably approached CD for help. Though no evidence has been found in CD’s accounts that he gave or lent any money, Snow later referred to CD’s rendering of ‘temporary aid … a few years ago’ (letter from W. P. Snow, 21 November 1881 (Calendar no. 13495); see also A. G. E. Jones 1979, p. 27).
Emma Darwin’s nephew Edmund Langton and his wife Emily Caroline Langton lived near Sulivan in Bournemouth; their third daughter, Diana, was born on 6 June 1872 (R. B. Litchfield, Births, Deaths and Marriages (DAR 248/3); Burke’s landed gentry s.v. Massingberd).
Waite Hockin Stirling, the bishop of the Falkland Islands, had established a mission to the Fuegians at Ushuaia in the Beagle Channel, Patagonia. In 1867, CD contributed £5 to the ‘Fuegian mission’ through Sulivan, who kept him informed of its progress (CD’s Classed account books (Down House MS); see also Macdonald 1929, pp. 69–70, and Correspondence vol. 18, letter from B. J. Sulivan, 27 June 1870, and letter to B. J. Sulivan, 30 June [1870]).
George Chaworth Musters had recently published an account of an expedition to Patagonia in 1869, including a description of an unsuccessful hunt during which one wild bull escaped when Musters misfired after tripping over a root and a native hunter’s lasso was caught in a tree, and another when a bolas failed to bring it down (Musters 1871, pp. 150–3). Sulivan took part in a surveying expedition to the Falklands on board the Philomel in 1842 to 1845 (ODNB).


Burke’s landed gentry: A genealogical and heraldic history of the commoners of Great Britain and Ireland enjoying territorial possessions or high official rank but unvisited with heritable honours. Burke’s genealogical and heraldic history of the landed gentry. By John Burke et al. 1st–18th edition. London: Henry Colburn [and others]. 1833–1969.

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.

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

Jones, A. G. E. 1979. William Parker Snow. Falkland Islands Journal (1979): 26–31.

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.

Musters, George Chaworth. 1871. At home with the Patagonians: a year’s wanderings over untrodden ground from the Straits of Magellan to the Rio Negro. London: John Murray.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Patagonian Missionary Society. 1857. A brief reply to certain charges made against the Patagonian, or South American Missionary Society, by W. Parker Snow. Bristol: I. E. Chillcott.

Philpott, Robert A. 2009. Keppel: a South American Missionary Society settlement in the Falkland Islands, 1855–1911: an archaeological and historical survey. Stanley: Falkland Islands Museum and National Trust. Liverpool: National Museums Liverpool.

Snow, William Parker. 1858. The ‘Patagonian Missionary Society’ and some truths connected with it: addressed to the subscribers and friends of missions. London: Piper, Stephenson, and Spence.


Privately advises CD against having anything to do with W. P. Snow, whose personality and past conduct on a mission vessel were very bad.

Reports on the successes of the missionaries on the Beagle Channel [Tierra del Fuego].

Letter details

Letter no.
Bartholomew James Sulivan
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 298
Physical description
ALS 11pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8393,” accessed on 26 September 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20