Colonial Dance

A collection of dances from the early Australian colonial era 1770-1850. This site reveals the history of dance in the first half of the colonial period exploring portsmouth fiddlersignificant social and historical links.
In the modern age of intense electronic social networking, these dances shine as genuine, warm, social pleasures.  Words are unnecessary while dancing, other skills are required – a smile, a glance, a touch.  Could it be more different to social media on your smart phone?
In an evening of country dance one may have a dozen partners and dance with every person in the room; a group of individuals synchronised in the pattern of the dance.

Dance rates as one of the most beneficial forms of recreation:  it involves so many different aspects in such an enjoyable way.  The exercise of moving through the dance, remembering the figures, listening and responding to the music, and above all, the myriad of friendly  interactions.

Visit the latest updates:

Portrait of Lady Franklin.  Publisher: Hobart : J.W. Beattie, ca. 1889.   W. L. Crowther Library, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.Lady Franklin’s Reel.

“…the assemblage was brilliant, the punch superlative, and the dancing extremely active, if not elegant.”  Discover the musical legacy of Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin in Tasmania.


1788 Collage – Dance, social life, fashion, celebrities and events. 

A collage for Australia Day, 26th January, 2015.Collage with numbers 1

'The Last Jig or Adieu to Old England' Courtesy of National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

‘The Last Jig or Adieu to Old England’.

Dance dates for 2015

The Farmers’ Hall, Samford, QLD.
Sundays 2.00-4.00pm
22 February, 26 April, 28 June, 23 August, 25 October

Check the events page for more details.


View of  Port Jackson Port Jackson, a dance from 1796.
It is extraordinary that within eight years of the founding of the colony, a fashionable dance was devised in London to celebrate such an obscure place on the other side of the world.



Jane Austen RicePortraitGovernor Phillip meets Jane Austen.
Did Arthur Phillip meet Jane Austen?
They both lived in the elegant city of Bath, joined the circulating library and attended balls and concerts. Could they have met? This article explores the possibilties.

Our August dance falls on the 200th anniversary of Governor Phillip’s death.  See the events page.




Matthew Flinders and the Glorious First of June.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of Matthew Flinders’ death.
Scene in a Portsmouth tavern at after one or more ships have been paid off. Thought to be a painting of a celebration of the Battle of the Glorious First of June 1794. The room is crowded with sailors and men and women carousing. Sailors, several with their arms around women, sit on low benches around a table to the right. This bears a china punch bowl and drinking mugs, with a sailor boy dancing on it. To the left, a group are dancing to the music of the two fiddlers on the far left. Some of the dancers are in couples and others are groups of men carousing (including a sailor dancing with a Jewish pedlar, a class well-known as purveyors of frippery to seamen).
A highly significant event in Flinders’ life was the battle known as The Glorious First of June.  Three dances were devised to celebrate the great naval battle.  Here is one of them, along with the fascinating history of Matthew Flinders’ flute.


Hon. Edward Boscawen

Captain Cook’s early life – Boscawen’s Frolick, the first in a series featuring music and dance associated with Captain James Cook.


1787 fencing academy

Francis Girard,
the French convict who became Australia’s first dancing master.



portsmouth fiddler

Lasses of Portsmouth, a dance from 1780.

Happy dancing!

Heather Clarke. 28 October 2013.


John Benham’s piano, 1835.
Possibly the earliest surviving Australian made piano.  Photo: Sotha Bourn.   
Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.


history – dances – music

Colonial Dance Manuals
list of manuals in Australian libraries

Coming events





The information on this website may be copied for personal use only, and must be acknowledged as from this website. It may not be reproduced for publication without prior permission from Heather Clarke.

11 Responses to Colonial Dance

  1. Heather says:

    What people are saying:

    • Heather, the importance of what you are doing can scarcely be quantified. What a jewel for coming generations, and what unique insights into Australia’s spectacular history! May you and your Team be guided every step of the way!
    Denise Puttock, Director of Studies at School of Dance Therapy. Torquay, United Kingdom

    Thankyou for such diligent dedication to sourcing this material and sharing it. It is beautifully presented and engaging from start to finish. Congratulations Heather!
    Magaret Winnett

    Excellent work, Heather! Thanks so much for your inspired sleuthery!
    Kate Van Winkle Keller

    It looks fantastic – as always, you’ve done a very beautiful job of putting together interesting and informative resources.
    Millie Weber

  2. Ruth Maittlen says:

    Hi Heather,
    I am in the process of creating an authentic Georgian style parlour which is located in an historic building located in the grounds of the Hawkesbury Regional Museum in Windsor NSW.
    We have a piano insitu and would like to have authentic sheet music of the period to go with this display. It has been reported that Windsor was the location of the first ever polka to be danced in the colony and it would be wonderful if you could assist me with finding sheet music from the 1820-1840 period.
    Any advice or assistance would be greatly appreciated such as where to purchase or gain copies of sheet music from this particular time in Australian history.
    Thanks very much,

    • Heather says:

      Hello Ruth,

      I visited your museum last year and was impressed by the lovely displays – particularly the beautiful pub sign of the running horse from the very early 1800s, and Dr Arndell’s set of china.
      Yes, there is certainly sheet music available for this era. The best place to start would be Graeme Skinner’s Austral Harmony site
      I would be interested to read the full account of the polka being first danced in Windsor. The polka came to Australia in the early 1840s – the latest dance craze and made popular by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.


  3. Allen Davis says:

    I enjoyed your teaching of colonial dancing at Pennant Hills on Monday night for the Bush Music Club Heritage Ball …I am the bloke who answered you question regarding Lord Castlereagh

    Best wishes and thanks
    ( Treasurer, Bush Music Club)

    • Heather says:

      Thanks Allen, it was a great night and I thoroughly enjoyed teaching your dancers something new. Have a lovely time at the ball.

  4. Maryrose says:

    This is a fantastic site, really informative and interesting. It has a very broad range in this area, and covers a lot of different dances in lots of detail. It is really brilliant.
    Well done, I appreciate having such a reliable source.

  5. Mark St Leon says:

    Well done, Heather. A simple, accessible and entertaining site. Keep it that way!

    From my perspective as a circus historian, the importance of “dance” to circus cannot be overlooked. In the 18th and 19th centuries, young apprentice circus performers were taught to dance in order to “secure gracefulness”. Thus did the best bareback riders “dance” upon the backs of their horses, and the best tightrope and tightwire walkers “danced” on their ropes/wires.

    Exhibitions of dancing had a legitimate place in early circus programs. My great-great-grandfather performed in Australia’s first circus, Radford’s Royal Circus, in Tasmania during 1847-48 as an equestrian, acrobat and tightrope walker, but he also gave solo exhibitions of dance: A Highland Fling and A Sailor’s Hornpipe.

    To see how a wire walker “danced” on a tight wire, you can see my clips on You Tube of the great Con Colleano, at account “stleonm”.

    All the best, Heather!

    Mark St Leon
    Circus: The Australian Story (Melbourne Books, 2011)
    The Wizard of the Wire: The Story of Con Colleano (Aboriginal Studies Press, 1993)

  6. Hamish Darby says:

    I am delighted to meet Australians interested in musical heritage. I have synthesized a few works, like your quadrilles, posted on soundcloud and youtube in case they are of interest.

    • Heather says:

      Hello Hamish, thanks for you interest. I would like to know more about your synthesized works – could you send the links?

  7. Tatum says:

    I need find info on dance for a HPE assessment but there is none her the genres are Early European 1770-1850
    Gold Rush 1850-1860
    Pastoral period 1860-1950
    Revival 1950-1960
    Recent popularity 1970-1980
    Can anyone help me with this?

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