June 15 marks the 228th birth anniversary of John Sullivan, the founder of Ootacamund and builder of modern Nilgiris. Sullivan was born on June 15, 1788 and baptized on July 2, 1788 at the Parish of St. George at Hanover Square, London. His parents are mentioned as John and Ann Sullivan.
John was the Rt. Honorable John Sullivan, the Resident at the court of Raja Serfoji at Tanjore in 1781 who later became a member of the Board of Control of the East India Company. Ann was the Lady Henrietta Hobart, daughter of George Hobart, 3rd Earl of Buckinghamshire and brother of Governor Lord Hobart, governor of Madras from 1872 to 1875.
But there was a hitch. Sullivan was born in June 1778 but the marriage of John and Ann took place in May 1789. John Sullivan’s birth, therefore, became illegitimate.
David Sullivan, historian and a direct descendant of John Sullivan told Nilgiri Documentation Centre, ‘ English law at that time did not allow an illegitimate son to inherit, even if the father had married the mother after the birth.
There was another school of thought according to which John Sullivan was the son Stephen John Sullivan, son the legendary Laurence Sullivan, President of the Board of Control of East India Company who put down the rise of Robert Clive.
But there is enough evidence to show John Sullivan was the son of Rt.Hon.John Sullivan who had distinguished brothers like Benjamin Sullivan, a Judge of the Supreme Court of Madras and Richard Joseph Sullivan, a writer and expert on Indian affairs. According to David Sullivan, the ‘true relationship between Laurence Sullivan and any of the Benjamin, John and Joseph Sullivan families was always kept secret for some reason and still remains unknown’.
Though ‘illegitimate’ John Sullivan of Ootacamund had a career no less distinguished than the other Sullivans and contributed no less to Indian affairs. The only inheritance he got from his father was the same name.
As Sullivan of Ootacamund could not be buried in the family vault at Buckinghamshire because of the illegitimacy of his birth, his grave remained a mystery for years till the Director of Nilgiri Documentation Centre with a little bit of internet sleuthing discovered the grave in 2009 in a church in Upton in London.
As a saying goes, ‘There are illegitimate parents but I don’t believe there are any illegitimate children’.
Nilgiri Documentation Centre