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Joseph Lepaute Dagelet - Letter to William Dawes, 3 March 1788

William Dawes (1762-1836) volunteered for service with the First Fleet and was attached to the Marines on board the Sirius.
A competent astronomer, he was supplied with astronomical books and instruments at the recommendation of Astronomer Royal, Rev. Dr Nevil Maskelyne. In Sydney Cove he was employed on shore from March 1788 and built an observatory at Dawes Point. He also worked as engineer and surveyor.
He was part of Philip Gidley King's party sent to welcome the French expedition of La Perouse after their arrival in Botany Bay when he would have met Joseph Lepaute Dagelet (1751-1788?), the astronomer with the French expedition. This letter is written to Dawes from Botany Bay shortly before the departure and disappearance of La Perouse's entire expedition. Dagelet probably perished at the Vanikoro Islands in 1788. Dagelet writes of his regret at not being able to visit the site of Dawes' observatory before he leaves, and comments extensively on Dawes' plans for his observatory.


I take advantage of the offer you made to me and I would be obliged to you if you would forward or have sent to England the packet which I addressed to M. de la Lande [Director, Paris Observatory] and a letter to the Royal Military School. The latter can be entrusted to the Post but I would ask you to be so kind as to forward that of M. de la Lande to Mr de Maskeline [Nevil Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal] for him to pass it on to him, or, if you would prefer, to Doctor Sepherd, [probably Anthony Shepherd, Professor of Astronomy, Cambridge] putting a second envelope over the other, and addressing it either to the Minister in Paris or to the Minister of War.

You see, Sir, that I somewhat abuse your kindness. I have presented your compliments to Mr de la Perouse and to our gentlemen, and I am charged with expressing their general gratitude.

P.S. This morning we sent back a seaman who was almost the victim of the natives. Without the help of our chasseurs who went to his rescue it is probable that he would have been overcome by numbers. Please be so kind, Sir, in your travels to think that they, these natives, merit only a very limited measure of trust, their good faith is suspect, and I urge you not to venture too far without your weapons.

Dagelet sends his regards to Mr Donis [Dawes]. He would be flattered to go and get his errands for him in Europe, and he will do it if he can be relieved of some of his duties before his departure; he has not forgotten which topics of research hold the greatest interest for scientists at the present time. He also intends to send him the results of his observations on longitude and latitude at Botany Bay. Latitude will diverge little from 33o 59´0" and longitude from 149o 2 or. Paris, but he will send them to him and will take the liberty of sending a dispatch for his journal before his departure ? In any eventuality he presents his compliments to Mr Donis and is jealous that he will go without having the honour of presenting his respects and without admiring the foundations of the Maskeline Observatory. We have drunk your collective health.

Translated by Professor Ivan Barko, 2005