Peter Dillon (1795-1849) An Irishman by birth though of uncertain descent, spent several years as a sandalwood trader in the South Pacific. But fame did not come to him until 1825 when he sailed under Chilean colours from Valparaiso as captain and part-owner of the St Patrick to New Zealand to load spars for Calcutta. At the island of Tucopia he met an old shipmate, a Prussian named Martin Buchert, who had lived in the Pacific islands for thirteen years and who gave him news of local stories that, long years before, two French ships had been wrecked on the Santa Cruz island of Vanikoro.
Silver sword-hilt of Comte Jean Franois Galaup de la Perouse: Dillon had a bright young sailor with him named George Bayly his fascinating “Sea Life Sixty Years Ago” appeared in 1885 – who bought from a lascar in Buchert’s employment a silver sword-hilt. It had belonged to the ill-fated Comte Jean Franois Galaup de la Perouse, the leader of the ill-fated French expedition to the South Seas (1785-1788). This discovery resulted in Dillon’s leading the expedition on the H.E.I.C ship “Research” which definitely ascertained the fate of the Frenchmen.
1829: On going to France with the relics in 1829 he was created a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and got an annuity of 4,000 francs from Charles X. Dillon’s “Narrative” of his voyage of discovery, published in 1829 and afterwards translated into French, is a very fascinating book.
At first Peter Dillon was very favourable to missionaries. Indeed in 1814 he had charge of an expedition from the English Church Missionary Society – for he seems to have been a Protestant – to establish missionaries in New Zealand, which he had first visited in 1809. But he also had an eye on trade, for in 1832 he wrote a letter “on the advantages to be derived from the establishment of well-conducted commercial settlements in New Zealand”.
Cargill met him in 1837 in Fiji, where Dillon had been nearly killed by the natives in 1813, by the natives who murdered his friend Charles Savage, notorious in early Fijian history. I am told that the natives still recall that fight, and speak of “Pita” as they call him to this day. In course of time, however, Dillon changed his point of view about missionaries, probably, as has been suggested, because they were beginning to teach the natives not to be fobbed off with the trash which traders gave them for their merchandise. In any case he issued a pamphlet in December 1841 – it is not in the British Museum and I have not seen – in which he made a violent attack on missionaries at English Church Missionary Society, where Cargill had begun his career, and especially on a Mr. Thomas at Vavou.
Dillon Wesleyan accused missionaries of crimes: He declared that massacre was instigated by the Wesleyan missionaries and that he “could fill a quarto volume with truths concerning the barbarities resorted to by missionaries in the South Seas during the last 25 years.”
Mr. Thomas at Vavou accused: Among other things Dillon said that Thomas had been instrumental in packing off Cargill to Fiji. Dillon’s attack must have been a godsend to Cargill, if only by way of diverting his attention from his grief over his wife, for hardly was the ink dry on his preface to her memoirs when he sat down in his rooms in Myddleton Square and dashed off his spirited reply to the Chevalier in the pamphlet just described.
Published as an HTML document by John Higgins, June 1997 An Aberdeen graduate as pioneer in Fiji by J Malcolm Bulloch http://pages.britishlibrary.net/marlodge/Cargill/Aberdeen.html from the Aberdeen University Review, June 1921