Constantine and Fanny Dillon

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Constantine Dillon (1813-1853) and Fanny Dillon (died 1896)
Constance DillonConstance Dillon The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Collection, T-69659-3
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The Honourable Constantine Dillon, a younger son of the 13th Viscount Dillon of Ditchley, Oxfordshire, served in the Royal Navy, working as aide-de-camp to key military figures.

He was supported in all of his endeavors by his beautiful, distinguished and intelligent wife, Fanny, whom he married in 1842. The Dillons sailed for New Zealand on the George Fyffe, arriving in Nelson on  December 12, 1842.

On January 16 ,1843, Dillon wrote from Nelson to his mother, Lady Dillon, announcing the birth of their first child, Henry Philip Constantine. "We had staying with us the doctor who came out in the ship with us and a very good farmer's wife- a Mrs Redwood....Nothing could exceed her attention and kindness, she could not have done one bit more had it been her own daughter."

Dillon wrote to his sister, Margaret on August 7, 1843, describing ‘the most dreadful calamity' at the Wairau: " Most of our best men are killed. Captain Wakefield can never be replaced....He was a man of great energy and activity, both of body and mind, and was pushing us up hill very fast."

The Dillons had some capital, with £4000 settled on Dillon upon marriage and Fanny's £100 a year. They were soon growing corn, potatoes and wheat and had a herd of dairy cattle, a team of bullocks, a horse, pigs and poultry.

Fanny Dillon was a popular and gracious hostess with a zest for living and nurturing her children. In July 1844, she wrote to ‘my dearest Lady Dillon' that she hoped her mother-in-law would eventually meet her New Zealand grandchildren who "are really great darlings." By February 1848, the Dillons had four children.

In June 1848, Dillon was appointed as civil and military secretary to Governor George Grey  on a salary of £400 per year, and the family relocated to Auckland.

On 22 June, he wrote to his sister Margaret: "I have several times repented....having left Nelson where we were so comfortable. This is such a horrid place, always raining, and up to one's knees in mud and dust, everything dirty and shabby. There is not one person can be called a bona fide settler, they are all speculators and sharks."

However, he was pleased to be working with Governor Grey for whom he had "the greatest admiration both as a public and private person and in whose honesty I now have the most implicit faith."

Dillon became Commissioner of Crown Lands and the family returned to Nelson towards the end of 1850. In June 1851, he became a member of the Legislative Council as Collector of Customs.

On 10 February 1851, Dillon tenderly wrote on their ninth wedding anniversary: "May the next nine years of our lives, if we should be spared as long, be as productive of joy and comfort to me as the last nine, and may God give me to be a stay and comfort to her whom above all other created beings, I loved and adore."

But it was not to be. On 16 April, 1853, Con Dillon was returning from inspecting his Delta Dairy in the Waihopai  and drowned as the party crossed the Wairau River at Manuka Island.

Heartbroken, Fanny and the children returned to Oxfordshire. Some of the family later returned to Marlborough's Waihopai Valley, where Dillons continue to live and farm.

This article is paraphrased from a series of columns written by Joy Stephens and published in the Nelson Mail in 2007.

 

Sources used in this story

  • Lash, M. (1992) Nelson Notables Nelson, N.Z.: Nelson Historical Society, p48-9
  • Harper, B. (1980) Petticoat Pioneers: South Island Women of the Colonial Era, book 3. Wellington, N.Z. : Reed
  • McAloon, J. (1987) Nelson, A Regional History. Whatamango Bay, N.Z. : Cape Catley in association with the Nelson City Council
  • Sharp, C.A. (Ed.) (1954) The Dillon letters : the letters of the Hon. Constantine Dillon, 1842-1853. Wellington, N.Z. : A.H. & A.W. Reed

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