‘He [Dawes] was the scholar of the[First Fleet] expedition, man of letters and man of science, explorer, mapmaker, student of language of anthropology, teacher and philanthropist. Professor G. Arnold Wood, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society Vol. X, 1924, Part 1

Australia, aside from Kate Grenville’s 2008 fictional cardboard cut-out The Lieutenant’s star-struck Daniel Rooke, knows very  little of Marine Lieutenant William Dawes.

Nothing of the ‘eternal flame’ and nothing of his pivotal role in revealing the why or wherefore of the ‘war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’ Britain waged against Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples. See: The Big Switch

‘English clockmaker John Harrison, a mechanical genius who pioneered the science of portable precision timekeeping…invented a clock that would carry the true time from the home port, like an eternal flame, to any remote corner of the world’. Dava Sobel, Longitude, Fourth Estate, 1998

Warranne – 26 January 1788,  Given into the care of Lieutenant Dawes  K I – a faithful replica of John Harrison’s  H – 4  ‘sea-going pocket watch’ fetched up at one particular ‘remote corner of the world’  – Sydney Cove – on 26 January 1788 aboard HMS Supply one (1) of the First Fleet’s eleven (11) ships.


Discord attended H-4’s birth and accompanied K-1 to New Holland. See: Cook, Harrison, Green – Three Yorkshire-men  Walked  into a Bar

Greewich Observatory – 1675: Acrimony over methods of determining longitude when a ship at sea was beyond sight of land had been played more than a century earlier during Rev. John Flamsteed’s long tenure as Britain’s first Astronomer Royal at Greenwich Observatory, from the time of that Institution’s inception in 1675 during the reign of King Charles the Second.

While Flamsteed was Astronomer Royal (1675-1720) Edmond Halley of comet fame, with the connivance of Isaac Newton, purloined plagiarised and, without authority, published Flamsteed’s life’s work ‘The Star Catalog’.

Halley and Newton’s antics paled however when compared to those of Reverend Nevil Maskelyne Britain’s fifth Astronomer Royal 1765 to 1811.

He waged a pitched battle against John Harrison’s and, his invention H-4 a sea-going clock, that solved the problem of longitude.See: Lotto and Longitude.

Maskelyne, before and during his tenure, persecuted Harrison who, as Dava Sobel so poetically has it, ‘wrested the world’s whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch’.  See: Malicious Maskelyne

England – 1768:  Maskelyne withheld the original H-4 from Lieutenant James Cook RN. Cook with Joseph Banks set off in HMS Endeavour on a dual mission. Firstly to observe the Transit of Venus at Tahiti in 1769 and afterwards search for the fabled Great South Land.

The absence of Harrison’s ‘precision time-keeper’ must be factored into the uncertainty of Endeavour’s extended  voyage.

Jakarta:  None of the crew died from scurvy on the long passage for the this Cook is rightly lauded. However at Batavia, modern-day Jakarta on the homeward leg, 50% succumbed to malaria and dysentery.


Twenty (20) years later (1787) Astronomer Royal Maskelyne delivered K-1 into Lieutenant Dawes’ care. Cook took this chronometer on his second  voyage (1772-1775) Resolution, Adventure and the third (1776-1780) with Resolution, Discovery.

‘Of all the equipment put on board the Resolution the most notable and exciting was the Larcum Kendall K 1 which was a replica of the acclaimed H-4 the most advanced time-piece in the world for the calculation of longitude’. Rob Mundle, Cook, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2013

Hawaii – 1779:  It was said K-1 stopped at the time of Captain Cook’s murder at Hawaii on the 14th of February 1779. It would be hard to imagine the reverence with which Lieutenant William Dawes received this iconic time-piece.

Dawes would have also been aware it was Maskelyne who denied Cook the H-4 ‘pocket watch’ for the Endeavour voyage.


‘There is no man among the founders who ought to have given so much information about himself and his views as Lieutenant Dawes, and there is no man among them who has given us so little. Wood. op.cit.

William Dawes was born at Portsmouth in 1762. Dawes like a number of First Fleet senior officers, Governor Phillip RN, Major Ross, Captain Hunter RN, Marine Captain David Collins, Watkin Tench and chief medical officer John White among them, had seen active service during America’s  War of Independence 1775-1783.

Virginia – 1781: At a pivotal point in that conflict Dawes was wounded when his ship engaged in a fire-fight with a French vessel off Chesapeake Bay, Battle of the Capes, in September 1781.

Yorktown: France’s Admiral de Grasses’ victory over the Royal Navy at Chesapeake led to the Siege of Yorktown. The following month, October 1781,  survivors of General Lord Cornwallis’ army surrendered to a combined French, Marquis de Rochambeau and General George Washington’s Patriot armies.

‘The final battles of the American Revolution were fought not in North America but in India, another theater where Britain and France were vying for political dominance. In both the United States and India as well as throughout the developing world legacies of that distant war persist’.  Essays in the American Revolution – A World War,  Part 2,  British Global Ambitions and Indian Identity  David K. Allison, Larrie D. Ferreiro, Smithsonian, 2013 

Although fighting continued historians date Britain’s defeat and America’s ultimate victory in the War of Independence from the Battle of Yorktown.

‘By the time of the siege of Yorktown, in 1781, Britain was becoming overwhelmed by the effort of fighting five separate nation-states around the globe – France, Spain, the United States, the Dutch Republic, and the kingdom of Mysore, in India’. Larrie D. Ferreiro, Introduction, The American Revolution – A World War, David K. Allison, Larrie D. Ferreiro, Smithsonian, 2013

Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples live with the ‘legacies of that distant war’.

‘Military and police raids against dissenting Aboriginal groups lasted from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries….These raids had commenced by December 1790’.  Professor Bruce Bruce Kercher, An Unruly Child, A History of Law in Australia, Allen & Unwin, 1995 .


Sydney Cove – 1 January 1790: ‘We had now been two years in the country and thirty-two months from England….entirely cut off…no supplies…no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th of May, 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth’. Marine Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 19611790

Botany Bay -December 1790:  Governor Phillip ordered a detachment of fifty (50) men under command of Marine Captain Watkin Tench, march to Botany Bay with orders toinstil universal terror…capture six [Aborigines] if six cannot be taken, let this number be shot…bring in the heads of the slain. Dawes whose tour of duty it was to go out with that party refused that duty by letter’. Tench. ibid.

Though Professor Wood has it ‘Dawes has given us so little about himself’ what Lieutenant William Dawes gave is Olympic gold if only we would look.

Dawe’s reasons for, initially refusing to obey Governor Phillip’s General Orders of 13 December 1790, reveal an ignition point for Britain’s ‘nasty war’ that wrested New Holland from Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples and brought about their near destruction.

Governor Phillip recommended on his return to England Dawes face court-martial for his courageous stance in the face of a series of moral dilemmas that presented during Phillip’s five (5) years at Sydney from January 1788 to December 1792. See: Smallpox – A Lethal Weapon Sydney – 1789

1788 – 1792 – THE BACK STORY

‘The naval and marine force that proceeded to New South Wales was not chosen solely to preserve discipline on the voyage; a much smaller force could have done that; it was but incidental to the duty of establishing a new British settlement and it is probably that in their selection that fact received first consideration’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts To The Colonies, Library of Australian History, 1990

Governor Phillip’s ‘duty’ was to invade New Holland. He was to retain a foot-hold until reinforcements – the infantry – arrived from England to prosecute the military campaign required for consolidation and subjugation of its inhabitants.

However  ‘the troops sent to garrison the Australian colonies’ were a long time coming. The long lag-time – January 1788 to June 1790 forced Phillip to adopt the role of enforcer. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790

Sydney Cove – 3 June 1790: Lady Juliana with ‘London on her stern’ – first of four (4) second fleet vessels – arrived from England with two hundred and twenty-six (226) women convicts. She brought letters from home and news of a game-changer –  the French Revolution and overthrow of France’s Monarchy King Louis XV1.  See: The Big Switch

‘When we want to add to the military strength of India…I need not enlarge on the benefit of stationary a large  body of troops in New South Wales…they may be transported thither… before our enemies in Europe knew anything of the matter’. Anon to Evan Nepean, Historical Record of New South Wales  


Major Frances Grose the Corp’s commander remained in London to recruit sufficient numbers to satisfy establishment requirements, some ‘deserters [from] London’s Savoy Military Prison’.

Lieutenant John Macarthur, a clever ambitious junior officer, took advantage of deep divisions that had arisen among the senior Corps’ officer. He stepped in to fill the power vacuum. See: Machiavellian Macarthur

Governor Phillip was fully aware of what the Pitt Administration expected from the conquest and occupation of New Holland.

At the end of the American Revolutionary Wars [1775-1783] it had become clear that the upsurge in French shipbuilding activity had reached new heights and that the French and the Dutch were manoeuvring for advantage in India and the East’. Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor, Mercenary Governor Spy, Hardie Grant Books  (Australia – UK )2013

As Phillip saw it Macarthur’s overarching personal ambition posed a serious challenge to ‘King and Country’.  He believed New South Wales, a stepping stone to India, was at stake. With few options, he chose to create a common foe.

‘New Holland is a blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Anon. op.cit.

Governor Phillip was isolated in the midst of an increasingly hostile soldiery in June 1790 when the second fleet brought news of the French Revolution

Sirius had sunk off Norfolk Island (March 1790). HMS Supply  was on her way to Batavia, modern-day Jakarta (April 1790) to buy food for the starving settlement.

The first contingent of infantry, one hundred and fifteen (115) officers and men of the New South Wales Corps, were distributed throughout the fleet guarding one thousand (1000) mainly male convicts. ‘Famine was approaching with gigantic strides’ exacerbating an already critical situation.

Government had contracted Suprize, Neptune, Scarborough three (3) of its four (4) vessels to Camden, Calvert and King a firm of Atlantic slave traders working out of London.

‘Camden, Calvert and King…were to preside over a great loss of life in a context of cruelty and suffering’. Michael Flynn, The Second Fleet, Britain’s Grim Armada, 1993. 

Plymouth – January 1790: One thousand (1000) male and seventy-eight (78) women prisoners departed England for Botany Bay on 17 January 1790.

Starved, locked below docks and treated with savage brutality, one-quarter (25%) died on the passage and further 15% within weeks of landing.

Sydney Cove – June 1790: ‘Some….died after the ships came into the harbour, before they could be taken on shore part of these had been thrown into the harbour and their dead bodies cast upon the shore, and were seen lying naked upon the rocks’. Reverend Richard Johnson, First Fleet Chaplain. Jack Egan, cited Buried Alive, Allen and Unwin, 1999

xxxAt the end of June Justinian the first stores-ship from England

Manly Beach – September: A migrating whale beached itself on the sand. The stranding caused great excitement in both camps. Whale, the Eora Peoples totem drew them to marvel at its grandeur. While Governor Phillip, whose salt-water career began hunting whale in Arctic waters was rowed across the harbour to identify its type. See: Kidnapped

Sydney – October 1790: HMS Supply (170 tons) returned from Jakarta with medicines and as much floor as she could carry. Lieutenant Ball had as ordered purchased tons of supplies and chartered a Dutch vessel to bring them to Sydney as soon as possible.

quote Tench

Botany Bay – 9 December 1790: Three ( 3) armed convicts with a marine NCO were sent out to Botany Bay to kill kangaroos.

10 December: At 1 am Pemulwuy a Bidjigal warrior speared and wounded John Mc Intyre Phillip’s own convict gamekeeper ‘the person of whom Baneelon, [Bennalong] had on former occasions shewn so much dread and hatred’.

Governor Phillip’s response ‘the natives will be made severe example of whenever any man is wounded by them’.

Sydney – 13 December: Phillip’s General Orders [initially] ‘ten’ were amended to six ‘bring in six of those natives who reside near the head of Botany Bay; or if that should be found impracticable, to put that number [6] to death…bring in the heads of the slain’. Governor Arthur Phillip, General Order to Marine Captain Tench.

‘In reality it [Botany Bay raid] was an extravagant charade…served only as a melodramatic show of force’. Michael Pembroke. ibid.

Not under any circumstance would God-fearing William Dawes have put his life or the lives  of others – black or white, innocent as well as guilty, on the line for a ‘charade’ a bit of fun. See: John McIntyre – Death of a Sure Thing


Captain Tench and Lieutenant Dawes knew, when the ailing Governor Phillip issued these orders, his position as Captain-General, isolated as he was in the midst of a hostile military, was precarious in the extreme.

Norfolk Island: HMS Sirius the fleet flag-ship, in the process of evacuating 50% of ‘Phillip’s people’ to Norfolk Island struck a submerged reef and sunk. See: Missing In Action – HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

Jakarta –  April 1790: Following the wreck of HMS Sirius, Phillip ordered Lieutenant Henry Ball RN sail HMS Supply to Batavia, modern-day Jakarta, for supplies.


Dawes had been down this road before – in February 1788 – he had witnessed the sacrifice of another convict – Thomas Barrett. See: From Here to Eternity

Dawes, whose tour of duty it was to go out with that [December 14th] party, refused that duty by letter…even after the Governor had taken great pains to point out the consequences of his being put under an arrest’. Professor G.A. Wood, Lieutenant William Dawes and Captain Watkin Tench, Royal Australian Historical Society Journal, Vol. 19, Part 1, 1924

Pemulway a known assailant – indiscriminate retaliation ‘punishing guilty and innocent’. Dawes laid his moral dilemma before Rev. Richard Johnson, Chaplain of the ‘First Fleet’ who counselled Dawes on his military obligation.

Following that conversation Dawes; ‘informed Captain Campbell that the Rev. Mr. Johnson thought he might obey the order, and that he was ready to go out with the party, which he did’. Tench. ibid.

Botany Bay – 14 December:  At dawn on the 14 December Tench’s detachment of fifty (50) men moved out for Botany Bay with; ‘three [3] days provisions, ropes to bind our prisoners, and hatchets and bags, to cut off and contain the heads of the slain’. Tench. ibid.  

Sydney – 17 December: Three (3) days later Tench’s exhausted troops returned to Sydney empty-handed with no prisoners and no heads. They returned to a very different settlement.

Jakarta: At dawn that very morning Waaksamheyd – the ship hired by Lieutenant Ball – arrived from Jakarta loaded with urgently needed food and medicines.

Sydney – 19 December: Lieutenant Dawes wrote  to Governor Phillip via Company Adjacent Lowe repeating his initial reservations:

With regard to my declaration of the 13th December 1790…by which I do not by any means wish to have forgotten…I feel at this instant no reason to alter the sentiments I then entertained…inform[ing] the Governor that he was sorry he had been persuaded to comply with the order [13th] and very clearly showed that he would not obey a similar order in future’. Records. ibid.


Botany Bay – 22 December: Our first expedition having so totally failed, the governor resolved to try the fate of a second; and the ‘painful pre-eminence’ again devolved on me [Tench].

The orders under which I am commanded to act differing in no respect from the last. A little before sun-set on the the evening of the 22d we marched’. 

The second raid ‘differing in no respect from the last’ was a bridge-too-far for Dawes who refused ‘to obey’.

Phillip could have judged Dawe’s failure to ‘comply’ – ‘dereliction of duty’ a capital office and had him shot or hanged as a traitor. He did neither but recommended Dawes face court-martial and a possible death sentence on his return to England.

‘I should gladly have reconciled with this officer to a proper sense of his duty; but as he returns to England and thinks his conduct justifiable it become necessary to inform you Lordship on what grounds I was displeased with Lieutenant Dawes who, from being an officer of His Majesty’s Marine Forces, was not amenable to a general court-martial in this country. Governor Phillip to Lord Grenville, Historical Records of New South Wales 

Correspondence between Lieutenant Dawes, Governor Phillip and Lord Grenville, who replaced  Lord Sydney as Home Secretary, show Phillip denied Dawe’s fervent request to be allowed to remain in Sydney.



1791 – Sydney: Three (3) months later (15 March 1791) HMS Gorgan, a converted warship of 911 tons packed to the gunnels with relief supplies and more troops arrived from England.

Captain John Parker RN her commander was under orders to discharge his cargo and return to England with marines of the Sydney  Garrison who were overdue for repatriation. 

England: HMS Gorgan sailed for England on the 19th of December 1791 with Tench, Dawes and almost the entire marine battalion, including twenty-one (21) marine wives and forty-six (46) children.

Because of the extremes of heat and cold, many children did not survive the challenging voyage home.

‘In reality it [Botany Bay raid] was an extravagant charade…served only as a melodramatic show of force’. Michael Pembroke. ibid.

Not under any circumstance would God-fearing William Dawes have put his life or the lives  of others – black or white, innocent as well as guilty, on the line for a ‘charade’ a bit of fun. See: John McIntyre – Death of a Sure Thing

Captain Parker set a course for England by way of Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope. On the long, difficult passage, Parker relied on both Lieutenant Dawes and Lieutenant Ball, who had taken K-1 with him to Jakarta, provide ‘true time’. See: HMS Gorgan and the Botany Bay Escapees


1792 – Portsmouth: Almost immediately Gorgan docked at Portsmouth on 18th June 1792 Dawes hired a carriage and set off for Greenwich Observatory to return ‘the eternal flame’ and other astronomical instruments supplied him by Astronomer Royal Rev. Nevil Maskelyne. See: Lotto and Longitude

2020 – Greenwich: Royal Observatory – ‘H-4 hibernates, un-moving and untouchable mated for life with K-1 in the sea-through cave they share’. Sobel. ibid


Dawes in December 1790 Dawes put his life on the line. He took a stand against what he judged to be entrapment. Unlike his friend and conferee Captain Tench, Dawes was not willing to engage in a contrived strategy that exposed a tethered goat to harm. See: A Tethered Goat – John Mc Entire

Dawes earlier had supplied convict Thomas  Barrett, maker of the Botany Bay Medallion, with the wealth of technical information shown on the obverse of the exquisitely engraved medal.


At that time – 27th January 1788 – a matter of days after the medallion was completed, Governor Phillip signed Barrett’s death warrant. He was hanged that same day.

The million dollar Botany Bay Medallion, purchased for the nation in 2008, is on permanent display at Australia’s Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney.

Why did Governor Phillip kill Thomas Barrett?  ‘In case an insurrection took place’.

Botany Bay- 24 January 1788 : ‘Phillip noticed two [2] French ships in the offing‘. On the 24th January 1788, four (4) days after the ‘First Fleet’ dropped anchor there Comte Jean-Francois La Perouse and La Boussole and L’Astrolabe appeared at the entrance to Botany Bay. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head

Phillip ‘alarmed…in case an insurrection took place’ felt compelled to assert authority over ‘his people’ and he chose ‘terror’. See: The Ketch Connection

Why did Governor Phillip kill John McIntyre? ‘In case an insurrection took place’.

Jakarta – 17 October 1790: The arrival of Waaksamheyd  from Jakarta. Fearing ‘insurrection’ he again chose ‘terror’.  This time it was the sacrifice of the ‘hated’John McIntyre. See: Kidnapped – Manly What’s in a Name

‘Insurrection’ threatened in both instances.  The probable loss of New South Wales to a rouge military outfit – the New South Wales Corps. Phillip saw fit to sacrifice another convict ‘servant of the crown’. See: McIntyre – Death of A Sure Thing


‘Late in the [American] war special army companies composed entirely of convicts were sent to West Africa’. Roger Knight, First Fleet Studies From Terra Australia to Australia, ed. John Hardy and Alan Frost, 1989

All males on the First Fleet – marine and convict alike ‘were rationed as troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham. ibid

Phillip killed Barrett and McIntyre because ‘according to the rules and disciplines of war’, sanctioned by the Hulks Act, he could. See: April Fools Day – The Hulks Act of 1776

‘Twenty-five regiments of British infantry served in the colonies between 1790 and 1870…the troops sent to garrison the Australian colonies participated in the great struggle at the heart of the European conquest of this continent…war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’. Stanley. ibid.

See: Why New Holland + Britain + America + India + France + Spanish South America = European Australia







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