Notebooks of William Dawes

Scope and Content

Notebooks of William Dawes, one dated 1790, comprising grammatical forms and vocabularies of the language spoken in the area around Sydney, New South Wales Australia; short vocabularies of the language of Indigenous peoples of Van Diemen's Land, collected by the officers of the French frigates La Recherche and L'Espérance in 1793.

The notebooks are catalogued as manuscript 41645 parts (a), (b), and (c), although they are in the physical form of just two notebooks. William Dawes wrote manuscripts (a) and (b) and they contain words, translations, snippets of conversations, descriptions and explanations of expressions and situations, and some sketchy maps. Prominently figuring in these manuscripts is a young Dharuk (Darug) woman, Patyegarang (often Dawes calls her 'Patye').

The third notebook (c) was probably not written by Dawes, and is attributed to 'Anonymous'.

Administrative / Biographical History

A British expedition which embarked in 1787 to start a penal colony in Australia settled at Port Jackson (later Sydney). The indigenous people were the Eora. William Dawes (1762-1836) was Lieutenant (Royal Marines) on HMS Sirius, the flagship of the 'First Fleet'. He was a pioneering student of the language of Sydney. His interests also included astronomy and in Australia he directed the building of an observatory under the instructions of the Board of Longitude. For further information see the entry by his friend, Zachary Macaulay, in the Australian Dictionary of National Biography, volume i: 1788-1850 (1983). See also A Currer Jones, William Dawes, RM, 1762 to 1836: a sketch of his life, work, and explorations (1787) in the first expedition to New South Wales (1930), and Arthur Phillip, The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay [with] ... plans and views ... by Lieut Dawes ... (1789).

Access Information

Manuscript is fragile. Please consult digital copy ( Requests to consult the original manuscript should be emailed to and marked for the attention of the Head of Special Collections and Archives

Restrictions Apply

Acquisition Information

Marsden's manuscripts were transferred from King's College London to SOAS shortly after its foundation in 1916.

Other Finding Aids

Described in Manuscripts in the British Isles relating to Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific, ed Phyllis Mander-Jones (1972), p 362.

Alternative Form Available

A digital copy of the Dawes manuscript is available online at the William Dawes website []. This website is the result of a collaboration between the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, SOAS and SOAS Archives and Special Collections. Funding and resources for the project were provided by the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, SOAS, and Aboriginal Affairs NSW.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Volume 1 ie MS 41645 a-b is 10cm (W) x 16.5 (L) x 1.3cm (D); and Volume 2 ie MS 41645 c & d is 12.8cm (W) x 18cm (L) x 1.2cm (D)

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Custodial History

Formerly part of the library of the Orientalist and linguist William Marsden (1754-1836), a portion of which he presented to King's College London in 1835.

Related Material

The Royal Society holds a manuscript on Port Jackson by William Dawes, 1788-1791 (Ref: MA146), among its meteorological archives. The Royal Greenwich Observatory archives, held at Cambridge University Library, includes accounts of the Board of Longitude by William Dawes, 1800 (Ref: 545 ff 202-4), and his correspondence, 1786-1792, during the establishment of an observatory at Port Jackson (Ref: 576 ff 237-308).


The manuscripts feature in the Museum of Sydney exhibition catalogue, Fleeting Encounters: Pictures and Chronicles of the First Fleet (1995), p 111.

Geographical Names