Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sullivan, Edward
SULLIVAN, Sir EDWARD (1822–1885), lord chancellor of Ireland, was born at Mallow, co. Cork, on 10 July 1822. He was the eldest son of Edward Sullivan by his wife Anne Surflen, née Lynch. His father, a local merchant, realised a substantial fortune in business and was a friend of the poet Moore. Sullivan received his earliest education at a school in his native town, and later on was sent to the endowed school at Midleton, an institution in which many distinguished Irishmen, Curran and Barry Yelverton among them, had been trained. In 1841 he entered Trinity College, Dublin. His career at the university was distinguished. He obtained first classical scholarship in 1843, and graduated B.A. in 1845. He was also elected auditor of the college historical society in 1845, in succession to William Connor Magee [q. v.] (afterwards bishop of Peterborough and archbishop of York), and gained the gold medal for oratory. In 1848, after two years of preliminary study at chambers in London, Sullivan was called to the Irish bar, where his well-trained and richly stored mind, his great readiness, indomitable tenacity, and fiery eloquence very quickly brought him into notice. Within ten years of his call to the bar (1858) he was appointed a queen's counsel, and two years later, during the viceroyalty of Lord Carlisle, became one of the three serjeants-at-law. In 1861 he was appointed law adviser—an office subordinate to the attorney and solicitor general, which has since been abolished—and in 1865 became for a brief period solicitor-general for Ireland in Lord Palmerston's last administration. In this capacity he was called on to deal with the fenian conspiracy. In 1865 he was returned in the liberal interest to represent his native town in parliament. From 1866 to 1868, while his party was in opposition, he applied himself mainly to his profession, and acted, about this period, in conjunction with James Whiteside [q. v.], as leading counsel for the plaintiff in the celebrated Yelverton trial.
In December 1868, on the return of the liberal party to power, Sullivan became attorney-general for Ireland in Mr. Gladstone's first administration. He took an active—next to the prime minister, the leading—part in the conduct of the Irish Church Bill in the House of Commons. His services on this occasion, the debating ability he displayed in the stormy discussions which the bill provoked, and his knowledge and grasp of the details of a most intricate subject, raised him to a high place in the estimation of the House of Commons, and earned him the complete confidence of his leader. He retired from parliament in 1870 to become master of the rolls in Ireland. Until 1882 he was mainly engrossed by his judicial duties; but he was also an active member of the privy council. His advice was often sought on critical occasions by the Irish government. Mr. Gladstone placed much reliance on his judgment and knowledge of Ireland, and it was mainly at his instance that the important step of arresting Charles Stewart Parnell [q. v.] was adopted by the government in 1881.
In December 1881 Sullivan was created a baronet on the recommendation of Mr. Gladstone, in recognition of his services both as a judge and as a confidential adviser of the servants of the crown in Ireland; and shortly afterwards the premature death of Hugh Law [q. v.] opened the way for his elevation to the Irish chancellorship, to which he was appointed in 1883. In this capacity he displayed governing qualities of the highest order, and during the troubled period of Lord Spencer's second viceroyalty he may be said to have been the mainspring of the Irish government in the measures taken to stamp out the Invincible conspiracy. He enjoyed his office for a comparatively brief period, dying suddenly at his house in Dublin on 13 April 1885.
In the list of Irish chancellors of the nineteenth century Sullivan is one of the most eminent. But he was more distinguished as a statesman than as a judge. His thorough knowledge of Ireland, combined with the courage, firmness, and decision of his character, qualified him to be what during the period of his chancellorship he was—an active champion of law and order throughout the country. Sullivan was also a man of varied accomplishments and scholarly tastes. Through life he was an ardent book-collector, and at his death had amassed one of the most valuable private libraries in the kingdom. Part of this library, when sold by auction in 1890, realised 11,000l. Besides being a sound classical scholar, he was a skilled linguist, and familiar with German, French, Italian, and Spanish literature.
Sullivan married, on 24 Sept. 1850, Bessie Josephine, daughter of Robert Bailey of Cork, by whom he had issue four sons and one daughter.[Burke's Baronetage; private information.]