American Smuggler Caught. 1839

American Smuggler Caught. 1839.

The Case of Mr.Dillon.

A statement copied by the Times from a contemporary journal:-

“Re the case of Mr.Dillon, late of the Royal Navy, and formerly commanding the Preventive Coast Guard station at Millcove, in the county of cork, has been at various times noticed by us as one of great hardship in its effect upon that gentleman. The particulars of that transaction we have from an eye-witness – a gentleman connected to our establishment – who happened at the time of its occurrence to be on that part of the southern coast of Ireland, and within a short distance of Millcove. Mr.Dillon, being out in his boat on duty, in a short time after nightfall, observed a sail bearing down towards Millcove, and apparently making for the harbour of Glandore. There being, as our informant heard, at that time, a suspicion that an American smuggler brig was off the coast with the intention of landing a cargo of tobacco, the Coast Guard were on the alert, and Mr.Dillon thought it advisable to hail the vessel, which he had reason to suspect, from her refusal to lie to, was the expected smuggler. The sea at the time was running high, and Mr.Dillon could not, consequently, attempt to board the brig, as he discovered her to be. She put about, and, crowding canvass made for sea. He pursued, keeping up from both his boats a continued fire on her. After she had rounded the Old Head of Kinsale, he lost sight of her; and presuming that she had cleared the Heah and got off to sea, and – as it was subsequently proved on the investigation instituted into the matter – alarmed lest his small boat with four men would be swamped by the heavy sea running off the head, he put back, satisfied that he had prevented a landing by beating the vessel off that part of the coast.

The vessel, however, finding it impossible to get out of the bay, and the gale freshening from the sea, put into the harbour of Kinsale, where she was boarded by the customs surveyor of the port (Mr.Masters), and by him seized. She was subsequently condemned as a lawful prize, and Mr.Masters received£11,786 as his share as seizing officer, whilst Mr.Dillon, the bona fide (if the matter be equitably considered) captor, got but £50. We assert Mr.Dillon to have been the bona fide captor, because, in point of fact, he not only prevented the vessel from making a landing, but he also chased her until within a short distance of her capture, and in reality into a situation in which she could not avoid being captured, although he had lost sight of her for a brief period towards the conclusion of the chase. The vessel was the brig Peru of New York, and had on board nearly £40,000 of tobacco. This entire cargo, our correspondent states, would have been run but for Mr.Dillon’s falling in with, and boating off, the vessel. For he not only did not receive his just share of the prize money, but he also lost his situation.

The government has been repeatedly appealed to by him, and petitions to parliament have been every session since the transaction occurred, presented from him on the subject. He demands, if he is chargeable with not having done his duty, in not boarding the vessel, a court martial. This it would be but fair to grant him. Sir E.Codrington, to whom the case was referred for inquiry, made a report to Lord Altrop exonerating Mr.Dillon from the charge of cowardice. He demands that this report should be confirmed, or if not, that he should be allowed to prove the facts before a committee of inquiry. It is on the whole, as gross a case of hardship as we have at any time known an officer to be oppressed by. We trust that it will shortly obtain the consideration of a new Administration, if the present have made up their minds not to entertain it, with a view to the redress of the injured gentleman’s grievance”

Ref: The Times London 3 April 1839.

Case of Mr.Dillon, late of the Coastguard.

To the editor of the shipping and Mercantile Gazette.

Sir, in your paper of the 29th. inst. A statement of my case, made by an eye-witness, and connected with your establishment. I cannot find words to express my feeling of gratitude, as well as to you, for your kindness in advocating the cause of so humble an individual. My whole case could be summed up in 50 words and decided on- not allowed to speak in Court.

I commanded the Coastguard station at Cashin River, in the County of Kerry, when I received orders to proceed forthwith and take command of the Coastguard station at Milk Cove in the County of Cork. On my arrival I found out that of my two predecessors the first had been suspended and removed, the second had been dismissed from the service through the complaints and letters of my future crew. On the first night it blew so hard that I knew tht no vessel would attempt to near the land. On the second night being very little moderated with a view to show the crew that I was not to be played with, I ordered six and four-oared boats to be manned, taking control of the six-oared boat myself, and my Chief Boatman to take command of the four-oared boat, and to proceed to sea. On my clearing the Cove the Chief Boatman who was in the best boat, got outside first: he pulled up alongside of me and I was in the act of giving him my orders, when he pointed out to me a sail to the southward, which at the time I did not see. On my seeing it I gave my orders to the crew of the other boat "To follow me" and pulled as direct as the heavy sea would permit for the sail. On my reaching close under her stern, I hailed her. The answer I received was "Come on you ----". I then pulledup alongside, and hooked on for boarding, when the vessel keeled over, I saw 40 to 50 men on her deck ready to receive me and not seeing my four-oared boat - which at the moment I thought had foundered - I judged it most prudent to sheer off from 15 to 20 yards of her sides. I made the signal for assistance and opened in on her decks as heavy a fire as I could, when I saw my four-oared boat to windward. Repeating my signal. A light from shore was made to the smuggler, when she filled and stood to sea. I followed her far out of the limits of my station, keeping up constant firing till she bore up for the river of Kinsale, when I lost sight of her.

I reported the occurrence to the Comptroller General, and inserted it in my journal: and the answer I received was, than an American brig laden with tobacco, a few hours after the occurrence I stated had run into Kinsale river, and was seized by the tide-surveyor of that part and directing me to proceed to Kinsale with one or more of my crew, to ascertain if it was the same vessel which I had attacked and prevented from landing her cargo. On my seeing the vessel, I recognised her to be the same, and reported her as such. A trial before the Commissioners took place. The defence set-up was, that she run into Kinsale river under a plea of distress from bad weather. When my journal and official letters were received in evidence, and corroborated by the testimony of one of my crew as being the same vessel which I had attacked and forced into that port, which two of her crew turned King's evidence stated, the vessel was condemned with an appeal to a higher court. She proved to be the Pero of New York laden with 2,853 bales of leaf tobacco, and 1.090 lbs. of manufactured, with a crew of 42 men, seven and the pilot made their escape on the arrival of the vessel in Kinsale previous to her being seized. The duty on the cargo and what the vessel sold for amounted to £53,252 , out of which the Tide-surveyor got £11,786, and I after refuting the charges alleged as an excuse against my claim, received the sum of £51., which was not paid until I was forced, by the words and advice of my late King, to abandon my profession, and make a determined stand which has cost me nearly £5,000. Now I stand fully and honourably acquitted through Earl Spencers high sense of justice-etc.

April 5th.

John Dillon.

Ref: The Times 12th.April 1839.

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