On the hill behind the slaughter-house, Lieutenant Dawes erected his observatory in 1788, and the point was called “Maskelyne” in honour of the Astronomer-Royal, but a later generation justly altered this to Dawes in honour of that officer, who has never received a full appreciation of his arduous services to the infant colony.
In September 1788, the first fortification of Port Jackson was erected on the point by Lieutenant Dawes. It consisted of eight guns taken from H.M.S. Sirius, in front of which a small breastwork was thrown up. Our forefathers were very proud of their harbour defences—at least they were until 1839.
In the November of that year (I am indebted to an interesting paper by Captain J. H. Watson for the incident) the Legislative Council had debated the question of improving the defences. The majority of members ridiculed the idea that these were not adequate, but when they woke on the morning of December 1st they saw a sight that banished sleep and a few of their ideas of defence.
Anchored off Dawes Point and Fort Macquarie were two vessels of the United States navy which were not there when Sydney went to sleep the night before. The commander of the squadron, having a fair wind and good charts, had boldly sailed in during the night, and, as he said, “Had war existed we might, after firing the shipping and reducing a greater part of the town to ashes, have effected a retreat before day-break in perfect safety.”
Standing at Dawes Point and facing the city one has at one’s feet the wharfs and stores of various companies. Until quite recent times one could have seen the shed of the Mercantile Rowing Club opposite these wharfs, but the club itself is now only a memory, although its shed is still in being in Mosman Bay.