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

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

1788 – 26 January, Warranne:  In Lieutenant Dawe’s care ‘an eternal flame’  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 eleven (11) ships of the ‘First Fleet’.

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

The initial acrimony had been played out long ago 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.

While Flamsteed was Astronomer Royal (1675-1720) Edmond Halley of comet fame, 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 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

Rev. Nevil Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal at Greenwich Observatory, withheld the original H-4 from Lieutenant James Cook RN who, with Joseph Banks set out in 1769 aboard HMS Endeavour for Tahiti, on a dual mission. Firstly to observe the Transit of Venus and afterwards search for the Great South Land.

Twenty (20) years later, in 1787, the same Nevil Maskelyne delivered K-1 into Lieutenant Dawes’ care. K-1 being the chronometer that traversed the planet with the then Captain James Cook RN in HMS Resolution on his second and third voyages of exploration.

‘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

Dawes would have been aware that it was Maskelyne who denied Cook Harrison’s H-4 ‘pocket watch’ on the Endeavour voyage. The lack of a ‘precision time-keeper’ must be factored into the reality that one-half of Endeavour’s crew died not of scurvy, for this Cook is rightly lauded but, at Jakarta on the homeward leg, they succumbed to malaria and dysentery.

It is said on Captain Cook’s fatal third voyage K-1 stopped ticking as he took his last breath on the 14th of February 1779. It would be hard to imagine the reverence with which Lieutenant William Dawes received this iconic time-piece.

Why did Britain invade 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, 2013

‘Four companies of Marines landed with the first Europeans to settle in Australia’. Dr. Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia, 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986

Marine Lieutenant William Dawes born at Portsmouth in 1762 saw active service during the Revolutionary War of American Independence. He was wounded when his ship engaged in a fire-fight with a French vessel off Chesapeake Bay.

‘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.

Although Professor Wood has it ‘Dawes has given us so little about himself’ this is not so. What Lieutenant William Dawes gave is Olympic gold if only we would look.

‘Dawes whose tour of duty it was to go out with that party [14 December] refused that duty by letter’.

Dawe’s reasons for, initially refusing to obey Governor Phillip’s General Orders of 13 December 1790, ‘the capture of six…if six cannot be taken, let this number be shot…bring in the heads of the slain’ reveal the ignition point for the ‘nasty war’ that wrested New Holland from Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples and brought about their near destruction.

His ‘views’ on the ethics of an unjust, unequal ‘nasty war’ are plain. Governor Arthur Phillip RN saw fit to target Marine Lieutenant William Dawes for his courageous stance in the face of a series of moral dilemmas that presented at Sydney 1788 – 1792.

‘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


‘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

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

The enforcers infantry ‘troops sent to garrison the Australian colonies’ were a long time coming. Not until June 1790 did a ship arrive from England. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790

Captain Arthur Phillip RN, like Admiral Horatio Nelson served during the American War and was, like Nelson when in battle, a decisive guts-and-go warrior. The long lag-time – January 1788 to June 1790 – meant Phillip was forced to adopt the role of enforcer, a position not in his job-description, and one with which he was uncomfortable.

‘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.

1790 – June: The second fleet ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ brought the first contingent of infantry, the New South Wales Corps. They guarded approximately one thousand (1000) male convicts embarked in England. Of these 25% died during the passage.

The Corps came without Major Frances Grose their commanding officer who remained in London to recruit sufficient numbers to satisfy establishment requirements.

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

Governor Phillip, whose devotion to duty never wavered, recognised Macarthur’s overwhelming 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 stationary a large  body of troops in New South Wales…they may be transported thither [East Indies]…before our enemies in Europe knew anything of the matter’. Anon. Historical Record of New South Wales  

In December 1790 with New South Wales at stake Phillip chose ‘universal terror’. See: ‘Terror’ – Arthur’s Algorithm 

1790 – 14  December, Sydney: General Orders [amended-initially] 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

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.

HMS Sirius had sunk off Norfolk Island in March 1790. In April 1790 HMS Supply sailed to Jakarta for supplies. See: Missing In Action – HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

1790 – 10 December, Botany Bay: Pemulwuy a Bidjigal warrior speared and wounded convict John McIntyre. Governor Phillip’s response ; ‘the natives will be made severe example of whenever any man is wounded by them’. .See: John McIntyre – Death of a Sure Thing

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 or the lives  of others – black and white, innocent as well as guilty, on the line for a ‘charade’ a bit of fun.

And 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

A known assailant followed by 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.

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. But to a very different settlement.

At dawn that very morning Waaksamheyd from Jakarta had arrived with urgently needed food and medicines.

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.

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

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

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

‘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 had replaced  Lord Sydney as Home Secretary, show 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 her 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 Marine Garrison who were overdue for repatriation. 

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

Extremes of heat and cold, many children did not survive the 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 ‘true time’.

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

2019 – 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

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

Earlier Dawes, February 1788, 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. A matter of days after the medallion was completed, Governor Phillip signed Barrett’s death warrant. He was hanged that same day.

Purchased for the nation in 2008 the medal can be seen at the Maritime Museum Sydney.


1790 – 24 January, Sydney Cove: ‘Phillip noticed two [2] French ships in the offing‘. Four (4) days after the ‘First Fleet’ arrived Comte Jean-Francois La Perouse and La Boussole and L’Astrolabe appeared at the entrance to Botany Bay.

1788 – 27 February: Why did Governor Phillip kill Thomas Barrett? ‘Alarmed’‘in case an insurrection took place’– Phillip felt compelled to assert authority over ‘his people’ and he chose ‘terror’. See: The Ketch Connection

1790 – December: Why did Governor Phillip kill McIntyre? The arrival of  the Dutch ship Waaksamheyd  from Jakarta. Fearing military ‘insurrection’ he again chose ‘terror’ and sacrificed John McIntyre his convict game-keeper another ‘servant of the Crown’. See: McIntyre – Death of A Sure Thing

In both instances, Governor Phillip faced with ‘insurrection’ and, the possible loss of New South Wales to a rouge military outfit, achieved his objective.

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





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