LIEUTENANT WILLIAM DAWES – ‘THE ETERNAL FLAME’ & ‘UNIVERSAL TERROR’

‘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:  K I – a faithful replica of H-4, John Harrison’s ‘sea-going watch‘ carrier of the ‘eternal flame’, 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 Britain’s invasion fleet.

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

Initially that discord had been played out during John Flamsteed’s long tenure as Britain’s first Astronomer Royal at Greenwich Observatory, from that institution’s inception in 1675 until his death in 1720.

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

These antics paled however when compared to those of the Reverend Nevil Maskelyne fifth Astronomer Royal from 1765 to 1811, he persecuted John Harrison and waged a pitched battle against his invention – the sea-going clock – as Sobel says so poetically; ‘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 devotion to both God and 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, in addition head of Britain’s Board of Longitude, delivered into Dawes’ care K-1 the chronometer that had traversed the planet with Captain James Cook 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

It would be hard to imagine the reverence with which Dawes received this iconic time-piece. K-I is said to have stopped ticking at the moment of Captain Cook’s murder at Tahiti on 14 February 1779.

‘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 would have it ‘Dawes has given us so little’ – not so – what Lieutenant William Dawes gave is Olympian gold if only we would look. Dawes gave clarity to a ‘war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’ the war that wrested New Holland from Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples

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

‘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

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 – the infantry – arrived from England to prosecute the military campaign required for consolidation.

However the first infantry were a long time coming. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve Sydney Cove 1788 to June 1790

‘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.

1790 – June: Not until June 1790 did the first contingent – the New South Wales Infantry Corps – arrive with a second fleet – ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’. See: Dead and Dying – Britain’s Grim Armada

Major Francis Grose their commander remained in England to recruit sufficient numbers to satisfy establishment requirements. Lieutenant John Macarthur, a clever ambitious but unscrupulous junior Corps Officer, 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’. Historical Records of New South Wales, Anon.

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

1790 – 13  December, Sydney: ‘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 was precarious in the extreme. See: Missing In Action – HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

Previously –  27th February 1788 – just one (1) month after landing in Sydney Cove, Governor Phillip had confronted a similar situation.

‘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

Then Phillip, faced with a disgruntled military led by hostile Major Robert Ross their commanding officer and restive, fearful convicts, felt compelled to assert his authority, he chose ‘terror’. See: A Vicious Circle – The Hangman’s Noose

1790 – December: ‘In reality it [the Botany Bay raid] was an extravagant charade’. 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 strategy that exposed a tethered goat to harm. See: A Tethered Goat – John Mc Entire – 10 December 1790

‘But 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, keeper of the ‘pocket-watch’, was well aware Governor Phillip had been down this road before – the sacrifice of another convict, Thomas Barrett on 27 February 1788.

Dawes had supplied Barrett, maker of the Botany Bay Medallion, with the wealth of technical information shown on the obverse of the exquisitely engraved medallion. See: From Here to Eternity

1790 –  Now at the end of December 1790 Dawes laid his moral dilemma before Rev. Richard Johnson, Chaplain of the ‘First Fleet’ who counselled Dawes on his military obligation.

Subsequently Dawes wrote, via Adjutant Lieutenant Lowe; ‘inform[ing] 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 and three (3) days later Tench’s exhausted troops returned empty-handed with no prisoners and no heads. See: A Hatchet Job on the Bidgigal of Botany Bay

1790 – 19 December: Dawes wrote to Governor Phillip; 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’.

Tench wrote that Dawes; ‘informed 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’.

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

Correspondence between Lieutenant Dawes, Governor Phillip and Lord Grenville , who replaced  Lord Sydney as Home Secretary, reveal Phillip denied Dawes request to be allowed to remain in Sydney and felt, in England he would be, ‘amenable’ to court-martial.

Governor Phillip to Lord Grenville: ‘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. Historical Records of New South Wales 

Three (3) months later (15 March 1791) HMS Gorgan, a converted warship of 911 tons packed to the gunnels with relief supplies and more infantry 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 and almost the entire marine battalion, including twenty-one (21) marine wives and forty-six (46) children, many of these did not survive the extremely challenging voyage home.

Captain Parker set a course for the Cape of Good Hope by way of Cape Horn. On the long passage, Parker above all else, appreciated K-I and relied on Lieutenant Dawes’ ability to provide him Gorgan’s precise longitude location. See: HMS Gorgan and the Botany Bay Escapees  

1792 – 18 June, Portsmouth:  Almost immediately HMS Gorgan docked at his home town – Portsmouth – Dawes hired a carriage and set off for Greenwich Observatory to return K-I and other astronomical instruments supplied him by Astronomer Royal Rev. Nevil Maskelyne. See: Lotto and Longitude

EPILOGUE

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. 

 2018 – 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 a ‘war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’.

 

 

 

 

 

                                        

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