DORRILL, RICHARD, officer in the Royal Navy, governor of Newfoundland; b. c. 1719; d. 1762.
Richard Dorrill entered the navy in 1732. He was promoted lieutenant in the Royal Oak in 1739, and was present at the action against the combined French and Spanish fleets off Toulon in 1744. In 1746 he was given command of the sloop Jamaica.
Commanding the Penzance, Dorrill was commissioned governor of Newfoundland in May 1755, and arrived at St John’s on 5 August. The Heads of Enquiry he was given were similar to those issued to his predecessor, Hugh Bonfoy. Dorrill did not provide full replies to them “as I was a single ship there this year,” though he did collect complete statistics on the fisheries and on the number of inhabitants. He also reported on the strength of the various military garrisons, and included inventories of ordnance and ordnance stores.
Like Bonfoy, Dorrill had been instructed to look into the conduct of the Irish settlers on the island. During his relatively short stay he encouraged the local magistrates to enforce more vigorously the restrictions initiated by Bonfoy against the practice of Catholicism. He had a Roman Catholic priest at Harbour Grace arrested for celebrating mass. At Harbour Main fines were assessed against the owners of 18 dwellings where mass had been said; some of the buildings were burned to the ground. Dorrill ordered magistrates at St John’s to prohibit Irishmen, or persons employing them, to retail liquor; violation of this order entailed the destruction of dwellings built by the Irish and the seizure of their lands.
The Irish, like most of the migrant fishermen and settlers, were poor; low wages were not enough to pay their passage home or to support them after the fishing season ended. They were held responsible for most of the disorders committed during the winters. With their rapidly growing numbers – according to Dorrill they formed one third of the population – they were more and more feared by the Protestant settlers. Dorrill ordered all ship masters to carry home at the end of the fishing season “the whole Number and same Passengers they Bring here, except such as may have my Order to remain in the Land”; after his departure, however, this order was not strictly enforced. It should be noted that Dorrill’s actions were not unlike measures against Catholics enacted elsewhere under the British penal laws. Yet other than religious motives were involved: many Irish served in the French military forces, and, with the threat of war with France, the Irish in Newfoundland were distrusted by the British as a large group of disaffected subjects.
On returning to England Dorrill was commissioned captain in the Royal George at Deptford (now part of London) in February 1756, and in May he was given command of the Lowestoft on the Channel station. His health began to fail, and in a letter to the admiralty from Plymouth Sound, dated 2 April 1757, he asked to be relieved, complaining of “swimming in the head, so that he could hardly stand.” He was placed on half-pay and died at Bath on 1 Jan. 1762. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth.
[It has been wrongly stated in some works that Dorrill was governor in 1756. There was no governor that year, but Captain George Darby commanded the convoy. m.g.]
PANL, Nfld., Dept. of Colonial Secretary, Letter books, I/2, p.236. PRO, Adm. 1/1700, sect.8, 13; 25/62; 80/121, pp.10, 14; CO 194/13; 195/8, pp.333–35. PRO, JTP, 1754–1758. Charnock, Biographia navalis, VI. M. F. Howley, Ecclesiastical history of Newfoundland (Boston, 1888), 172–74. Lounsbury, British fishery in Nfld.