Dillon's Bay

Dillon’s Bay was the site of the first missionary contacts on Erromango. There were also longer-term mission settlements that were explored with excavations.

Dillon’s Bay was the site of the first missionary contacts on Erromango. On 20 November, 1839, John Williams and his secretary James Harris were killed while attempting to establish a mission station at Dillon’s Bay. Local social memories suggest that the violent acts of other white colonizers had led local people to agree to block any European settlement on their island. Some of the maps and photographs relate to places of memory from this event.


The first long-term resident missionaries at Dillon’s Bay were George and Ellen Gordon. George Gordon was from Prince Edward Island, Canada. He trained as a Presbyterian missionary in Canada, and met Ellen in London, while on his way to Erromango. They arrived at Dillon’s Bay in 1857, and built a house high on a cliff overlooking the river. We partially excavated this house (G. Gordon House) in 2012 and 2014, and many of the drawings and photos relate to this. The Gordons were also killed in 1861 as they were blamed for a particularly deadly measles outbreak, reflecting local understandings about sorcery and illness. Intriguingly, many of the artefacts from G. Gordon House were burned, suggesting the house was burned after the missionaries died, possibly to protect against the return of their spirits.


Hugh Angus Robertson, another Canadian missionary, and his wife Christina settled at Dillon’s Bay in 1872. They lived in Erromango for over 40 years, and had much success in converting local people. Excavations at Robertson House recovered a small sample of material from the mission, though there was also a large amount of evidence for more recent activity in the 20th century, as the mission is in the middle of the current village of Dillon’s 
Bay. Among other things, excavations in TU3/4 behind the house exposed two earth ovens used for cooking native foods. Mission-period artefacts included clay tobacco pipe fragments, French and British coins, and sewing items. Teaching sewing to young girls was one way the missionaries attempted to teach ‘civilized’ domestic life and gender roles to Melanesian converts.