Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project

School of Oriental and African Studies

Aboriginal Affairs NSW

Aboriginal Affairs NSW

About the notebooks

Soon after Dawes left Australia in 1791 his notebooks came into the possession of the Orientalist and linguist William Marsden (1754–1836).[1] Marsden eventually presented his library, including the notebooks, to King’s College London in 1835. Part of the manuscript collection, including these notebooks, was then transferred from King’s College to the newly-opened School of Oriental and African Studies in 1916.

The significance of the Dawes notebooks was only recognised in 1972, when they were listed by Phyllis Mander-Jones in Manuscripts in the British Isles relating to Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific, and thus came to the attention of Australian linguists. Since then they have continued to attract the interest of linguists, historians, and Aboriginal community members. Recent popular interest in Australia’s Indigenous and colonial history has attracted mainstream attention to Dawes and his notebooks; they featured in the SBS documentary First Australians (first broadcast in 2008), and Dawes and Patyegarang are fictionalised as the main characters Rooke and Tagaran in Kate Grenville’s historical novel The Lieutenant

The notebooks are part of the Library Special Collections at SOAS and 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 woman, Patyegarang (often Dawes calls her ‘Patye’). 

The third notebook (c) was probably not written by Dawes, and is attributed to ‘Anonymous’. Jakelin Troy explains its sources:

Manuscript ‘c’ seems to have been the work of several authors as it is written in at least three different hands including both ‘rough’ and ‘fair’ scripts. [At the time] it was common for literate people to have a ‘rough’ hand for rapid notetaking and composing and a ‘fair’ or careful hand for final copy. One of the hands in the manuscript is exactly the same as Governor Arthur Phillip’s rough hand [as found in] many surviving manuscripts … [Other] evidence … suggests that two other officers, David Collins and John Hunter, also contributed to the manuscript … [So] it is very likely that [it] was composed by Phillip, Collins and Hunter (Troy 1994:5)

Although in good condition, the original manuscripts are vulnerable to damage, particularly the entries and drawings made in pencil. A microfiche copy created as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project is available in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. The National Library of Australia holds a microfilm master. A set of archival resolution digital images resulting from this project is held at the Endangered Languages Archive at SOAS, and a book also resulting from the project has been published by SOAS and the Darug Tribal Aboriginal Corporation.

For information about the arrangement of information in the notebooks and the conventions used in writing them, see the following:


[Footnote 1]. Not to be confused with the infamous Reverend Samuel Marsden.