Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dillon, Robert Crawford

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DILLON, ROBERT CRAWFORD, D.D. (1795–1847), divine, was born in the rectory house of St. Margaret's, Lothbury, in the city of London, 22 May 1795. After a private education he entered at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, in the Michaelmas term of 1813. He took his B.A. 16 May 1817, M.A. 3 Feb. 1820, and B.D. and D.D. 27 Oct. 1836. He was ordained 20 Dec. 1818 to the curacy of Poorstock and West Milton, Dorsetshire. Here he stayed but a very short time, and, having received priest's orders, in 1819 he was appointed assistant minister of St. John's Chapel, Bedford Row, the recognised centre of evangelical teaching, of which Daniel Wilson, afterwards bishop of Calcutta [q. v.], was at that time the incumbent in succession to Richard Cecil [q. v.] Here he became a popular preacher, and was much run after, especially by ladies. Dillon removed in 1824 to the curacy of Willesden and Kingsbury, Middlesex, and the next year to that of St. James, Clerkenwell, the following year, 1826, obtaining an appointment at St. Matthew's Chapel, Denmark Hill. In 1822 Dillon was chaplain to Alderman Venables during his shrievalty, and filled the same office during that gentleman's mayoralty in 1826–7. In the latter year he accompanied the lord mayor and corporation on an official visit to Oxford, of which he published a too notorious account. In 1828 he was elected by a large majority morning preacher of the Female Orphan Asylum, a post which he resigned the next year for a proprietary chapel in Charlotte Street, Pimlico, to which he was licensed 24 July 1829. From 1829 to 1837 he was early morning lecturer at St. Swithin's, London Stone, where he attracted large congregations. During this period Dillon continued his evening lectureship at St. James's, Clerkenwell, and in 1839, on the vacancy of the rectory, which was in the gift of the parishioners, he became candidate for the benefice. The contest which ensued was marked with the opening of public-houses, bribery, and all the worst evils of a popular election. Dillon's private life was narrowly inquired into, and very grave scandals were brought to light, and he deservedly lost his election in spite of zealous female support. A brisk pamphlet war ensued, in which a ‘ladies' committee,’ including several ladies of rank, took an active and not very creditable part. The charges of immorality having been fully proved, Blomfield, bishop of London, revoked his license, and suspended him from his ministry in Charlotte Street, 29 Feb. 1840. In defiance of the inhibition, Dillon continued to officiate in the chapel, and a suit was brought against him in the consistory court in April of the same year, when he was condemned in costs. On this Dillon left the church of England, and, by the aid of his female followers, set up a ‘reformed English church’ in Friar Street, Blackfriars, in which, we are told, he introduced a new system of discipline and a reformed liturgy. His congregation increasing, Dillon removed to a large building in White's Row, Spitalfields, where he appointed himself ‘first presbyter’ or ‘bishop’ of his new church, and ordained ministers to serve branch-churches in various parts of London. During this period Dillon repeatedly came before the public in a very damaging way, as the defendant in suits for the restitution of conjugal rights brought against him by the woman whom he had been compelled to marry. In spite of all Dillon continued to enjoy great popularity as a preacher, and at the time of his sudden death, 8 Nov. 1847, in the vestry of his chapel in Spitalfields, he had received large promises of pecuniary support towards establishing branches of his church in some of our large manufacturing towns. Dillon was buried in the churchyard of his native parish, St. Margaret's, Lothbury, in which church a mural slab has been erected to his memory.

Dillon published several separate sermons—‘On the Evil of Fairs in general, and of Bartholomew Fair in particular,’ 1830; ‘On the Funeral of George IV,’ 1830; ‘On the Funeral of William IV,’ 1837; ‘Lectures on the Articles of Faith,’ 1835. His last written sermon, ‘intended to be delivered by him on the morning of his sudden demise,’ was issued in facsimile by his admirers in 1840. Dillon's fame, however, as an author, albeit a most unenviable one, is derived from his unfortunate narrative of ‘The Lord Mayor's Visit to Oxford’ (London, 1826, 8vo). The lord mayor requested Dillon, who accompanied him as chaplain, to keep a diary of the visit made in his official capacity as conservator of the Thames, intending to have it privately printed. Dillon's performance was written in so inflated and bombastic a style that the lord mayor requested its suppression. This Dillon refused, except on the condition of being reimbursed for the whole cost of the book, which, in disregard of the original stipulation for private printing, he had prepared for publication. These terms being rejected, the book came out, covering its author with well-deserved disgrace, and making the lord mayor and his companions ridiculous. The book was shown up in his most amusing style by Theodore Hook in ‘John Bull,’ the review being subsequently revived in the second part of ‘Gilbert Gurney,’ and for a time it enjoyed a most unhappy celebrity. Dillon too late sought to retrieve his credit by buying up the edition and destroying it. The narrative is so supremely ridiculous that it is difficult to believe it was written seriously. Such, however, was the fact. The book still finds a place on the shelves of book collectors, from whom, being rare, it commands a high price.

[Private information; newspapers of the day.]

E. V.