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Sulivan, Bartholomew James (DNB00)


SULIVAN, sir BARTHOLOMEW JAMES (1810–1890), admiral and hydrographer, eldest son of Rear-admiral Thomas Ball Sulivan [q. v.], was born at Tregew, near Falmouth, on 18 Nov. 1810. On 4 Sept. 1823 he was entered at the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth, where he passed through the course with distinction, and was appointed to the Thetis. In her, with Sir John Phillimore [q. v.] and afterwards with Captain Arthur Batt Bingham, he remained till 1828, when the Thetis happening to come into Rio just as one of her former lieutenants, Robert Fitzroy [q. v.], was promoted to the command of the Beagle, Fitzroy obtained leave for Sulivan to go with him. In the end of 1829 he returned to England in the North Star, passed his examination on 29 Dec., and on 3 April 1830 was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. In June 1831, at Fitzroy's request, he was again appointed to the Beagle, and remained in her during the whole of that voyage so celebrated in the annals of nautical and natural science. The Beagle returned to England in November 1836, and Sulivan, after a year's rest, in the course of which he married, was appointed in December 1837 to the command of the Pincher schooner, going out to the west coast of Africa; but a few weeks later he was moved from her to the Arrow, and sent out to survey the Falkland Islands. His wife accompanied him, and the Christian name of Falkland given to his eldest son marks the belief of the family that he was the first British subject born in the Falkland Islands. The Arrow came home in 1839, and on 14 May 1841 Sulivan was promoted to the rank of commander.

In April 1842 Sulivan was appointed to the Philomel brig, in which he was sent out to continue the survey of the Falkland Islands during the summer months, and to return each winter to Rio. There, however, the disturbed state of the country rendered it necessary to consider the Philomel rather a ship of war than a surveying vessel, although such surveys of the river as were practicable were made, and proved afterwards of extreme value. In August 1845, when the English and French squadrons were obliged to undertake hostile operations, Mrs. Sulivan and her family were sent home, and the Philomel formed part of the squadron, under Captain Charles Hotham, which forced the passage of the Parana at Obligado on 20 Nov. 1845. In this and all other measures found necessary Sulivan acted as the pilot of the squadron, charting or correcting the charts of the river as they went on. His account of this short campaign, and of the action at Obligado, as written at the time to his wife (Life, pp. 73–87), is the best, almost the only one at all satisfactory, that has yet been printed.

In the early spring of 1846 Sulivan returned to England, and in March was posted by a commission dated back to 15 Nov. 1845. In 1847 he was appointed supernumerary to the Victory for surveying duties and to organise the dockyard brigade, composed of the dockyard workmen, then enrolled and drilled as a sort of militia. At this time, too, he paid great attention to the formation of a naval reserve, his ideas on which were prominently brought forward ten years later, and seem to have formed the basis of the present system (H. N. Sulivan in the Journal of the R.U.S.I., October 1897). Towards the end of 1848, seeing no prospect of immediate employment, he obtained three years' leave of absence, and went with his whole family to the Falkland Islands, where he remained till 1851. On his way home in a merchant ship the crew mutinied, and till they were starved into submission the captain, the mate, and Sulivan worked the ship, going aloft and bringing her under easy sail as a timely precaution. After a passage of ninety days they arrived at Liverpool.

On the imminence of a war with Russia in the beginning of 1854, Sulivan applied for a command; but his reputation as a surveying officer stood in his way, and it was not till 25 July 1854 that he was appointed to the Lightning, a small and feeble steamer, for surveying duties in the Baltic, and more especially in the gulfs of Finland and Bothnia. It was thus distinctively as a surveying officer that he served in the Baltic during the campaigns of 1854 and 1855, in the course of which he reconnoitred and surveyed the approaches to Bomarsund and Sveaborg [see Napier, Sir Charles; Dundas, Sir Richard Saunders], and accompanied his reports by suggestions as to the way in which these places might be attacked, suggestions which were to some extent afterwards carried out. On 5 July 1855 he was nominated a C.B., and in December 1856 was appointed as the ‘naval officer of the marine department of the board of trade,’ which office he held till April 1865. Not having completed the necessary sea time, he was on 3 Dec. 1863 placed on the retired list with the rank of rear-admiral, and on his retirement from the board of trade in 1865 settled at Bournemouth. On 2 June 1869 he was made a K.C.B; he became vice-admiral on 1 April 1870, admiral on 22 Jan. 1877, and died on 1 Jan. 1890.

Sulivan married, in January 1837, a daughter of Vice-admiral James Young, and by her had a large family, the eldest of whom, James Young Falkland Sulivan, became a naval officer.

[H. N. Sulivan's Life and Letters of Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan (with a portrait); Fitzroy's Voyage of the Adventure and Beagle, vol. ii.]

J. K. L.