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SULLIVAN, JOHN J., policeman; b. 28 Feb. 1846 in Trinity, Nfld, son of Florence Sullivan and Annie Handlon; m. first 21 April 1874 Annie Donaghue (Donahue) of St John’s, and they had four sons and two daughters; m. there secondly 16 Feb. 1896 Mary E. McCourt; d. there 18 Oct. 1918.

Educated at St John’s, John J. Sullivan was apprenticed in the city’s baking trade before joining the Terra Nova Constabulary, the colonial police force established in 1871 following the withdrawal of British troops from Newfoundland. He quickly rose through the ranks: acting sergeant (November 1871), sergeant (1872), second-class head constable (1875), first-class head constable (1877), sub-inspector (1885), and superintendent (1895), in which position he was second in command of the force, now called the Newfoundland Constabulary, under Inspector General John Roche McCowen*. He was stationed in several outports, including Placentia where he was assigned to investigate shipwrecks. In the late 1880s Sullivan and magistrate Daniel Woodley Prowse enforced the government’s Bait Act on the south coast, restricting the sale of bait fish by Newfoundland fishermen to French bank fishermen.

A fire destroyed much of St John’s in 1892, and in the following year the Liberal government of Sir William Vallance Whiteway* had Sullivan examine the Montreal fire department, since it intended to organize a similar paid force for St John’s. Besides acquiring equipment for the force, Sullivan was mainly responsible for the detailed work involved in setting up the new department, which became in 1895 a section of the police. In addition to these duties he frequently served in the city police court as a crown prosecutor and was, according to magistrate James Gervé Conroy, one of the “most intelligent police officers I have ever had to deal with.” In 1895 he ran foul of Prowse by supporting a constable who refused Prowse’s order to remove lawyer Alfred Bishop Morine* from court. The government suspended Sullivan for several days.

By 1905 relations between the colony’s two ranking policemen, McCowen and Sullivan, had become strained because McCowen had lost confidence in Sullivan’s ability. A government inquiry heard both sides of the dispute, but in April 1906 the two men settled their differences amicably, agreeing that the language each had used in the heat of the moment had been too strong.

Sullivan was acting inspector general for a year following McCowen’s death in 1908 and received the appointment permanently in January 1909. In the early 1890s, as second in command to Inspector General Morris James Fawcett, Sullivan had managed the St John’s police in Fawcett’s absence, and when McCowen had been appointed inspector general in 1895 there was considerable public support for Sullivan’s candidacy. The installation of the first native-born police chief was regarded in many circles as “long in coming, either through political expedience, or other causes.” A reason for Sullivan’s lack of recognition in the past may have been his reluctance to share the limelight with his administrative and political superiors, despite the fact that he had often played a critical role in solving difficult crimes and, with Conroy, had been responsible for maintaining law and order in several industrial strikes.

On New Year’s Day 1915 Sullivan received the King’s Police Medal for his long service. In September 1917 the government retired him for reasons of health, a decision which he mildly protested. He died in St John’s on 18 Oct. 1918 following several months of illness.

Melvin Baker

PANL, GN 1/3/A, dispatch 42, Robert Bond to Sir William Macgregor, 1 May 1906; GN 6, royal commission to investigate certain charges against Superintendent Sullivan by Inspector General McCowen, 1906; GN 13/1/B, box 69, no.2, file 59. Daily News (St John’s), 14 Nov. 1895, 17 Feb. 1896. Evening Telegram (St John’s), 12–14, 19 Nov. 1895. [T. R.] Bennett, Report of judge Bennett, together with evidence respecting Bait Protection Service, 1890 (St John’s, 1891), 123–29. “Births, deaths, marriages in Newfoundland newspapers,” comp. Gert Crosbie (typescript, 10v., Maritime Hist. Arch., Memorial Univ. of Nfld, St John’s, n.d.), 5 (1871–74). Arthur Fox, The Newfoundland Constabulary ([St John’s], 1971). “John Sullivan, j.p., inspector-general, constabulary,” Newfoundland Quarterly (St John’s), 9 (1909–10), no.3: 22. Nfld, Commission of enquiry into postal irregularities, [Evidence] (typescript, [St John’s, 1906]; copy at Memorial Univ. of Nfld Library), evidence of J. J. Sullivan, 26 March 1906, and James Conroy, 3 April 1906. Newfoundland men . . . , ed. H. Y. Mott (Concord, N.H., 1894). Who’s who and why, 1912.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Melvin Baker, “SULLIVAN, JOHN J,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sullivan_john_j_14E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sullivan_john_j_14E.html
Author of Article:   Melvin Baker
Title of Article:   SULLIVAN, JOHN J
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   September 30, 2023