A Naval Biographical Dictionary/Dillon, William Henry

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DILLON, Kt., K.C.H. (Rear-Admiral of the Blue, 1846. f-p., 28; h-p., 29.)

Sir William Henry Dillon, born 8 Aug. 1779, is only surviving son of the late Sir John Talbot Dillon, and derives, through female descent, from the great house of Wingfield, being great-grandson of Sir Mervyn Wingfield, the sixth Baronet.

This officer entered the Navy, in May, 1790, as Captain’s Servant (under the auspices of Vice-Admiral Roddam) on board the Alcide 74, Capt. Sir Andw. Snape Douglas; during his attachment to which ship, on the Channel station, he was occasionally lent to the Hebe 38, and Niger 32, Capts. Alex. Hood and Rich. Goodwin Keats. In Dec. 1792, he joined, as Midshipman, the Thetis 38, Capt. Fras. John Hartwell, and on his return with convoy from St. Helena, was placed, in Sept. 1793, on board the Defence 74, Capt. Jas. Gambier; under whom he appears to have been stunned by a splinter, while officiating in the most exposed part of the ship, during Lord Howe’s action of 1 June, 1794. On next accompanying Capt. Gambier into the Prince George 98, Mr. Dillon took part, as that officer’s Senior Midshipman, in Lord Bridport’s action with the French fleet off Ile de Groix, 23 June, 1795; subsequently to which he served, in the same ship, and in the Glory 98, and Thunderer 74, under Rear-Admiral Sir Hugh Cloberry Christian; with whom, after witnessing two terrific gales, he sailed for the West Indies, where he actively cooperated in the reduction of Ste. Lucie in May, 1796, and was sent with a flag of truce to take possession of Pigeon Island. On 20 of the following month, he became Acting-Lieutenant of the Ariadne 20, Capt. Henry Lidgbird Ball; and on soon after removing to L’Aimable 32, Capts. Jemmet Mainwaring and Wm. Grenville Lobb, came frequently into contact with the enemy’s batteries, and on one occasion was present in an unsuccessful attack upon a squadron of French frigates lying at St. Eustatia. While in L’Aimable, we also find Mr. Dillon often employed as the bearer of a flag of truce to Victor Hugues, Governor of Guadeloupe, for the purpose of effecting an exchange of prisoners. He was afterwards appointed – 1 May, 1798, to the Glenmore 36, Capt. Geo. Duff, under whom he creditably co-operated, with the army at Wexford, at the time of the Irish rebellion, and succeeded in arresting one of the popular chiefs – 22 April, 1799, to the Crescent 36, Capt. Wm. Grenville Lobb, on the Jamaica station – and, in 1802-3, to the Juno 32, and Africaine 38, both commanded by Capt. Thos. Manby. During the period of his servitude in the Crescent, he assisted at the capture, 15 Nov. 1799, in sight of a Spanish line-of-battle ship and frigate, of the corvette El Galgo of 16 guns – next, in June, 1800, of La Diligence French national brig, of 12 guns and 100 men, of which he was placed in charge – and, in June, 1801, at the destruction of the British frigate Meleager, which had grounded in the Gulf of Mexico, and of a part of whose crew, who had been taken prisoners, he ultimately effected the exchange. On being sent, as Senior Lieutenant of the Africaine, with a flag of truce from Lord Keith to the Dutch Commodore Valterbuck, at Helvoetsluys, 20 July, 1803, Mr. Dillon was most unjustifiably made prisoner, and handed over to the French, by whom, in spite of every remonstrance, he was detained in captivity until Sept. 1807. On 16 Jan. 1808 (having been awarded the rank of Commander 8 April, 1805), he assumed charge, on the Leith station, of the Childers, an old worn-out sloop, carrying 14 twelve-pounder carronades and 65 men. In that vessel, off the coast of Norway, he gallantly engaged, 14 March following, and ultimately drove off, after an action, with intervals, of six hours’ duration, the Danish man-of-war brig Lougen of 20 guns and 160 men. The Childers, however, was so battered as but narrowly to escape foundering, and sustained a loss of 2 men killed and 8 wounded. Among the latter was Capt. Dillon, who was badly wounded in both legs, and had his arms and shoulders much contused, for which he waa presented by the Patriotic Society at Lloyd’s with a sword, valued at 100 guineas. Being rewarded for his spirited conduct with a Post commission, dated 21 March, 1808, he further joined – 8 June, 1809, pro tempore, L’Aigle 36, in which frigate he accompanied the expedition to the Walcheren, and there superintended the debarkation of a division of the army – 13 Sept. 1809, and 18 Aug. 1810, the Camilla 20, and Bellerophon 74, both employed off the coast of Holland – 28 Feb. 1811, the Leopard 50, armée en flûte, in which he took out a battalion of Guards to Cadiz, served actively off the coasts of Portugal and Spain, commanded a small squadron for the protection of Carthagena, and saved seven or eight villages in Murcia and Valencia from the ravages of the French army – 18 Jan. 1814, the Horatio 38, successively employed, until paid off in Jan. 1817, in escorting convoy to Newfoundland, protecting the whale fishery at Greenland against the Americans, cruizing off the coast of France for the interception of Buonaparte after the battle of Waterloo,[1] and in a voyage to China – 14 April, 1818, the Phaeton 46, which frigate, after another visit to India, he paid off in Oct. 1819 – and, 9 July, 1835, the Russell 74. In that ship, which was put out of commission in Jan. 1839, Capt. Dillon during a period of 12 months rendered much service to the Spanish cause, and was afterwards employed in the Mediterranean and off Lisbon. Since the date last-mentioned, he has not been afloat. His promotion to Flag-rank took place 9 Nov. 1846.

Sir Wm. Henry Dillon (who held the office of equerry to H.R.H. the late Duke of Sussex) was nominated a K.C.H. [errata 1] 13 Jan. 1835. He received the honour of knighthood 24 June following; and obtained the Captain’s Good Service Pension 25 Jan. 1839. He has been thrice married. His second wife was Isabella, eldest daughter of John Willan, Esq., of Hatton-garden. His present wife, whom he espoused 6 June, 1843, is Elizabeth, eldest daughter of T. J. Pettigrew, Esq., of Saville-row. Agents – Messrs. Stilwell.


Addendum:

DILLON, Kt., K.C.H. (Rear-Admiral of the White, 1846.)

Sir William Henry Dillon was often during the war employed, as we have already noticed, on the extra-duty of carrying flags of truce, owing in a great measure to the knowledge he possessed of the French language. It was on many of those occasions in his power, by timely concessions – made, indeed, on his own responsibility, but always with a degree of judgment that called forth the warm thanks and approbation of the Commander-in-Chief – to assuage the angry feelings of our enemies, and thereby to facilitate the exchange of prisoners. The attack upon the French frigates at St. Eustatia was made by a British squadron, consisting, with L’Aimable, of the Bellona and Invincible 74’s and Lapwing 28. It was not, however, persisted in, inasmuch as the island was Dutch, and it was found impossible to destroy the frigates without inflicting material injury on the town. The expeditious manner in which, although the service was attended with risk, Mr. Dillon, aided by a brother officer, succeeded, when in the Glenmore, in securing the person of the Irish rebel before alluded to, whose name was Skallion, elicited the thanks of a Court-martial at the time sitting to try such offenders. In July, 1803, as we have stated, he was sent with a flag of truce from Lord Keith to the Dutch Commodore Valterbeck; who, to his surprise, detained him, separated him from his men, and placed him in confinement on board a small armed schooner lying in the outer anchorage. At the end of eight days he received an answer to his despatch from the Hague, and was told that he might depart. As he was in the act of making sail, however, to rejoin his ship, an armed launch belonging to a French frigate came alongside, and, as he had no means of resistance, compelled him, although he was under a flag of truce, to surrender. Ultimately he was ordered to Verdun, where he remained, in spite of a demand made by the British Government for his release through Lords Yarmouth and Lauderdale, until Sept. 1807, when he was at length, through private influence, restored to liberty. In the action with the Lougen Capt. Dillon had 2 men killed and 9 wounded. He was for nearly 30 years Equerry to the Duke of Sussex.


  1. Original: K.C.B. was amended to K.C.H. : detail

  1. Capt. Dillon at this period commanded a small squadron at the blockade of Cherbourg. He had previously been senior officer on the Guernsey station.