Dawes was an engineer and surveyor in Australia from March 1788. Dawes built his observatory on what is now Dawes Point, under the southern approach to Sydney Harbour Bridge. Dawes was the first to make astronomical observations in Australia, he constructed the first battery on the points at the entrance to Sydney Cove, and laid out the government farm and first streets. Dawes took part in several explorations to the mountains west of Sydney, including the first attempt to cross the Blue Mountains.
Dawes was interested in studying the local Aboriginal Eora people and developed a close relationship with a fifteen-year-old native girl, Patyegarang (Grey Kangaroo). Dawes became an authority on Aboriginal language.
Dawes fell foul of Governor Arthur Phillip who required that Dawes apologise for two incidents. First for purchasing flour from a convict during a food shortage as it was illegal to trade a man’s rations. Dawes argued that the flour was the man’s personal property and eligible for trade. The second, in Dec 1790 Dawes resisted participating in a punitive expedition against the Aboriginals ordered by Governor Phillip because an Aboriginal named Pemulwuy, killed the British game-keeper John MacIntyre as retribution, as MacIntyre was believed to be hunting Aboriginals. Dawes later stated publically that he regretted taking part in the expedition.
Dawes refused to apologise and was shipped back to England in December 1791. Despite making a number of requests, Dawes never returned to Australia.
He was the first man to realise that punitive expeditions against the aborigines would only make the position worse. It was said of him "Dawes is one of the excellent of the earth. With great sweetness of disposition and self-command he possesses the most unbending principles".
For more on Lt Dawes use these Links:
- The Australian Dictionary of Bibliography – William Dawes (1762 – 1836)
- The notebooks of William Dawes on the Aboriginal language of Sydney.