Sir William Henry Dillon (1780-1857) was born in Birmingham, the illegitimate son of the distinguished writer and traveller John Talbot Dillon (1734-1806), a baron of the Holy Roman Empire. The elder Dillon had briefly served in the Royal Navy, apparently obtaining his discharge in a fit of pique after being ejected, when a midshipman, from the Parade Coffee House in Portsmouth, a hostelry reserved for captains.
Sir William’s long, enjoyable, and informative memoirs, edited by Professor Michael A Lewis, one of the doyens of naval historians, are arguably the best by any naval officer of the period, and for anyone seeking an intimate glimpse into the workings of the Georgian navy and the professional concerns and vexations of its officer corps they are essential reading. The narrative, never dull, is enhanced by the editor’s erudite and, where appropriate, witty commentaries, by the sense we derive of the author’s personal foibles and by his numerous exasperated references to ‘Mrs V’ (Matilda Voller), a middle-aged widow who ensnared Dillon into marriage when he was a young lieutenant recently returned from incarceration in France.
Other illuminative Georgian memoirs in the NRS series of publications are those of Admiral Sir Thomas Byam Martin (vols 12, 19, 24), Captain John Harvey Boteler (vol 82), and Commander James Anthony Gardner (vol 31), Gardner’s being, like Dillon’s, especially vivid.
William Dillon entered the navy in 1790, and saw action on the Glorious First of June in 1794, in Lord Bridport’s engagement off the Île de Groix in 1795, and at the capture of St Lucia in 1796. Commissioned lieutenant in 1797, he served off the coast of Wexford during the Irish rebellion. This volume takes his career up to 1802.