island of Tucopia (in lat. 12° 21′ S., long. 168° 43′ E.), which had never before been visited by any European.
In 1814 Captain Dillon was in command of the Active brig of Calcutta, and commissioned by the Rev. Samuel Marsden to convey Messrs. Kendall and Hall, missionaries, to the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. In 1819 Dillon commanded the St. Michael. While commanding his own ship, the Calder, from 1822 to 1825, he was employed likewise in purchasing and taking cargoes of timber from New Zealand and the South Sea Islands for the East India market. In May 1825 the Calder was wrecked and lost at Valparaiso. In May 1826, being commander of his own ship, St. Patrick, when bound from Valparaiso to Pondichery, Dillon again visited the island of Tucopia, where he found Bushart and the lascar. From these he obtained a silver sword-guard, a silver spoon with crest and cipher, which Dillon rightly surmised might be relics of the long-lost expedition of La Pérouse. These articles were said to have been brought from an island of the Mannicolo group to the westward of Tucopia. Dillon attempted to reach this island, but being becalmed for seven days when in sight of it, and being short of provisions, he sailed for Calcutta, where he gave information of his discovery to the Bengal government.
The East India Company's surveying vessel Research was fitted out and] placed under the command of Captain Dillon, who sailed from Calcutta in January 1827. A French officer, M. Chaigneau, and Dr. Tytler, a scientist, were sent to assist Captain Dillon in his investigations. Through a disgraceful intrigue of Dr. Tytler, the Research was detained at Hobart Town in April 1827, and the unfortunate Captain Dillon was prosecuted and sentenced to two months' imprisonment, which, however, was remitted, and the Research was enabled to proceed on her voyage on 20 May, reaching the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, on 1 July. While in New Zealand, Dillon learned that Captain Dumont D'Urville had lately sailed thence for the Friendly Islands in search of the remains of La Pérouse's expedition. He accordingly sailed for Tongatabu in hopes of meeting with the French commander. Tonga was reached on 16 Aug., but the Astrolabe, D'Urville's ship, had left. After touching at Rotumah Island, Tucopia was reached on 5 Sept., when, by means of Martin Bushart, friendly intercourse was opened with the natives, and more information obtained about the ships of La Pérouse; a silver sword-handle and other relics brought from Mannicolo were purchased from the Tucopians. On the 8th Captain Dillon arrived in the Research at Mannicolo, now known as Vanikoro, one of the Santa Cruz group, in lat. 11° 17′ S., long. 166° 32′ E., wholly surrounded with a barrier reef, in which are but a few openings. Here the remains of the unfortunate ships of La Pérouse were found. One of the ships, the Boussole, had been wrecked on the outer reef opposite the district of Paiou at the south-west of the island; the Astrolabe is supposed to have foundered outside the same; reef. Some cleared ground was found in the vicinity, where the survivors had built and launched their brig. Several brass guns and a number of other articles were collected, from which the identification of La Pérouse's ships was clearly established. On his voyage back Dillon touched at Port Jackson, and learned that D'Urville's ship was then at Hobart Town. On hearing of Dillon's important discovery Dumont D'Urville proceeded to Tucopia and Vanikoro, where he succeeded in gathering together an additional number of relics of the lost expedition, and erected a monument in honour of La Pérouse and his comrades. Dillon reached Calcutta in April 1828, when he was warmly received by the governor-general and sent home to England in company with M. Chaigneau. On arriving in London the successful explorer proceeded to Paris, and the articles recovered from Vanikoro were presented to King Charles X, by whom they were placed in the museum of the Louvre. On Captain Dillon was conferred the order of the legion of honour, together with an annuity of 4,000 francs per annum. The full narrative of his voyage of discovery was published by Peter Dillon in 1829. Captain Dillon died in Ireland on 9 Feb. 1847 (Moniteur, 13 Feb. 1847).
Dillon was author of 'Narrative and Successful Result of a Voyage in the South Seas, performed by order of the Government of British India to ascertain the actual Fate of La Perouse's Expedition, interspersed with Accounts of the Religion, Manners, Customs, and Cannibal Practices of the South Sea Islanders,' 2 vols. London, 1829.
[Dillon's Narrative, 1829; Voyageurs Anciens et Modernes, par Édouard Churton, vol. iv., art. ‘La Pérouse;’ Van Ténac's Hist. Générale de la Marine, iv. 258–64; William Smith's Coll. of Voyages, vi. 3, 358; South Pacific Ocean Directory, by Alex. George Findlay, 1884, art. ‘Santa Cruz Islands;’ Nouvelle Biographie Générale; La Grande Encyclopédie.]