‘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

1788 – 24 January, Warranne:  ‘An eternal flame’  K I – a faithful replica of H – 4 John Harrison’s ‘sea-going pocket watch’ arrived at one particular ‘remote corner of the world’  – Sydney Cove – on 24 January 1788 aboard HMS Supply one (1) of eleven (11) ships of the ‘First Fleet’.

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

Initially it had been played out during John Flamsteed’s long tenure as Britain’s first Astronomer Royal at Greenwich Observatory, from the time of that Institution’s inception in 1675 until Flamsteed’s death in 1720.

Edmond Halley of comet fame who succeeded Flamsteed as Astronomer Royal had, with the connivance of Isaac Newton, purloined plagiarised and published Flamsteed’s life’s work ‘The Star Catalog’ without Flamsteed’s authority.

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

Maskelyne persecuted John Harrison and waged a pitched battle against his sea-going clock – the invention, as Sobel so poetically wrote, ‘wrested the world’s whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch’. Sobel. ibid. See: Malicious Maskelyne

Governor Arthur Phillip RN saw fit to continue that war. His target Marine Lieutenant William Dawes for his courageous stance in the face of moral dilemmas and his devotion to the ‘pocket watch’.

‘He [Dawes] was the scholar of the expedition, man of letters and man of science, explorer, mapmaker, student of language of anthropology, teacher and philanthropist.

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. Professor G. Arnold Wood, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society Vol. X, 1924, Part 1

Lieutenant William Dawes born at Portsmouth in 1762, an officer of marines, saw service during the War of American Independence (1775-83). He was wounded when his ship engaged in a fire-fight with a French vessel off Chesapeake Bay.

In 1787 Rev. Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal and, head of Britain’s Board of Longitude, delivered K-1 into Dawes’ care.

K-1 was the chronometer that had traversed the planet with Captain James Cook in HMS Resolution on his second voyage.

‘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

At Tahiti on the 14 February 1779 during his third and last voyage Cook was stabbed to death. It is said, as Cook took his last breath, K- I stopped ticking.

It would be hard to imagine the reverence with which Marine Lieutenant William Dawes received this iconic time-piece.

‘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

As Professor Wood has it ‘Dawes has given us so little about himself’.

Not so what Lieutenant William Dawes gave is Olympic gold if only we would look. His ‘views’ on the ethics of unjust, unequal war are made plain by his actions (December 1790). They give clarity to ‘the war’ that wrested New Holland from Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples.

A ‘war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia, 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986


‘Four companies of Marines landed with the first Europeans to settle in Australia’. Stanley. ibid.

In December 1790 Dawes put his life on the line. He took a stand against what he judged to be entrapment. In doing so he revealed the ignition point that brought about the near-destruction of Australia’s First Peoples. See: A Tethered Goat – John M’Entire – 10 December, 1790

Phillip’s ‘duty’ was to invade New Holland ‘with four [4] companies of marines’ establish ‘a new British settlement’ and by any and every means possible retain a foot-hold until reinforcements – infantry – arrived from England to prosecute the military campaign required for consolidation.

Reinforcements ‘the troops sent to garrison the Australian colonies’ were a long time coming. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve Sydney Cove 1788 to June 1790

1790 – June: Not until June 1790 did the first contingent of infantry, the New South Wales Corps arrive with ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ a second fleet. But they came without their commanding officer: . See:  Britain’s Grim Armada – The Dead and the Living Dead

‘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’. Stanley. ibid

Like England’s Royal Navy hero Admiral Horotio Nelson, Captain Arthur Phillip RN was a water-warrior; bang-crash- in-out.

The long-lag-time meant Phillip was forced to adopt the role of enforcer, a position not in his job-description, and one with which he was uncomfortable.

Major Francis Grose, the Corps commander, remained in England to recruit sufficient numbers to satisfy establishment requirements.

Lieutenant John Macarthur, a clever ambitious but unscrupulous junior officer took advantage of deep divisions among Corps’ officers, and stepped in to fill the power vacuum. See: Machiavellian Macarthur

Governor Phillip, whose devotion to duty never wavered, recognised in Macarthur a loose cannon whose overwhelmingly personal ambition posed a serious challenge to ‘King and Country’. See: John Macarthur – The Great Disrupter

‘New Holland is a blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India…I need not enlarge on the benefit of stationing a large body of troops in New South Wales’. Anon, Historical Records of New South Wales, Anon.

With New Holland at stake – Phillip chose ‘universal terror’. See: ‘Terror’ – Arthur’s Algorithm 

1790 – 14  December, Sydney: [amended orders – originally ten [10] ‘bring in six [6] 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. Sydney’s First Years, Marine Captain Watkin Tench, F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

Governor Phillip spelt out his rationale for the Botany Bay raid; ‘the natives will be made severe example of whenever any man is wounded by them’. 

Tench and 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. See: Missing In Action – HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

1790 – 14 December: ‘In reality it [Botany Bay raid] was an extravagant charade…served only as a melodramatic show of force’. Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip, Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy, Hardie Grant Books (Australia-UK), 2013

Not under any circumstance would God-fearing William Dawes have put his life on the line for a ‘charade’.

Dawes, unlike Captain Tench, was not willing to engage in a contrived strategy; ‘a melodramatic show of force’ that exposed a tethered goat to harm. See: A Tethered Goat – John Mc Entire

Dawes had been down this road before – the sacrifice of another convict – Thomas Barrett.

Dawes keeper of the ‘eternal flame’ had supplied Barrett, maker of the Botany Bay Medallion, with the wealth of technical information shown on the obverse of the exquisitely engraved Medallion.

A matter of days after the medallion was presented to Phillip the Governor signed Barrett’s death warrant. Barrett was executed that same day (27 February 1788).  See: From Here to Eternity

Governor Phillip killed Barrett because he could. See: April Fools Day – The Hulks Act of 1776

‘No one in the colony caused Phillip more trouble than Major Ross [and] the persistent antagonism, both covert and open, which Ross pursued against him’. John Moore, First Fleet Marines, Queensland University Press, 1987

Why did Phillip kill Barrett? Restive frightened convicts and he was faced with a disgruntled military led by hostile Major Robert Ross their commanding officer.

Phillip felt compelled to assert his authority and he chose ‘terror’. See: A Vicious Circle – The Hangman’s Noose

Nearly three (3) years later -December 1790 – Phillip faced an even more dangerous situation.

Dawes, whose tour of duty it was to go out with that 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

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.

1790 – 14 December, Botany Bay: 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.     

1790 – 17 December, Sydney: The raid was unsuccessful. Three (3) days later Tench’s exhausted troops returned to Sydney empty-handed with no prisoners and no heads. See: A Hatchet Job on the Bidgigal of Botany Bay

1790 – 19 December: Lieutenant Dawes wrote  to Governor Phillip via 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.

1790 – 22 December, Botany Bay: 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. The orders under which I [Tench] 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’. Tench. ibid

Dawes did not go out on the second raid. Phillip could have judged Dawes a traitor and had him hanged. It is not known if Phillip was aware ‘draw[n] and quarter’ had been taken off the books for military offenders.

Charged with ‘dereliction of duty’ Dawes could have been shot. Phillip took neither action but appears to have recommended Dawes face court-martial 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, also reveal Phillip denied Dawes request to be allowed to remain in 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. 

1791 – 19 December, Sydney: HMS Gorgan sailed for England in mid-December 1790 with Tench Dawes and almost the entire marine battalion, including twenty-one (21) marine wives and forty-six (46) children. Many children did not survive the extremely challenging voyage home. See: HMS Gorgan and the Botany Bay Escapees

Captain Parker set a course for England by way of Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope. On the long, difficult passage, Parker fully appreciated K-I and relied on Lieutenant Dawes to provide him Gorgan’s precise longitude location.

1792 – 18 June, Portsmouth:  Almost immediately HMS Gorgan docked at Portsmouth, his home town, 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


2018 – England:  At Greenwich Observatory; ‘H-4 hibernates, un-moving and untouchable mated for life with K-1 in the sea-through cave they share’. Sobel. ibid. 

 2019 – Australia: Aside from Kate Grenville’s 2008 fictional cardboard cut-out, star-struck Daniel Rooke of The Lieutenant, Australia knows little of Lieutenant William Dawes and nothing of his pivotal role in revealing the why and wherefore of Britain’s military campaign against Australia’s First Nations –  a ‘war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’. See: ‘Terror’ Arthur Phillip & John Macarthur, The Elephant In The Room.







Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply