Dancing on convict ships
Jeffery Hart Bent travelled to the colony to become the first Supreme Court Judge of Australia and kept a diary of his journey on the Broxbornebury.
On board was Captain Thomas Pitcher Jnr, Surgeon Colin McLachlan, Sir John Jamison and several other wealthy passengers, 70 crewmen, 28 free families – mainly women with children who were joining transported husbands, and 120 female convicts (some with children).
Throughout the voyage Bent noted that dancing was a regular activity for the convict women and settlers and also mentioned their singing and playing games on deck. His attitude to the convict women reveals a kind and compassionate nature.
Monday 14 March
This evening I went to see how the convicts were; I found them pretty comfortable.
Thursday 24th March.
The weather was so delightful upon the Deck, that while we were at tea, many of the convicts began dancing on the deck. The Captain ordered the Fifer to play for them and they amused themselves till near nine. We kept it up till a late hour, walking the deck and listening to the songs of the Convicts and Settlers, many of them had fine voices, at Eleven we went to Bed.
Friday 25th March
The women entertained themselves with dancing as before; it was warm this day, But the evening was delightful.
Monday 28th March
This evening the convicts danced to the piper.
Wednesday 30th March
The convicts amused themselves this Evening with singing.
Thursday 31st March
The convicts amused themselves with dancing as usual.
Friday 1st April
This evening the convicts danced and played forfeits; amongst other amusements, one was building a ship, one lay down for the Keel others for the Ribs and even till the Wind[word?] was given to her launch and name her, when upon a wink being given, some one threw a bucket of water over them to the amusement of those who knew the Joke. They kept it up till a late hour; It was pleasant to see them so merry; on the whole they are tolerably quiet and easily managed. Captain Pitcher says he would rather have them than soldiers whom he had last voyage, by a great deal.
Monday 4th April
In the evening as usual we had dancing among the convicts.
Tuesday 5th April p 33
This Evening the convicts danced to a Drum and Fife. – One of the Crew plays very well.
Wednesday 6th April
This Evening the women danced.
Wednesday 4th May p 46
[A Portugese ship was spotted and the Broxbornbury’s crew made a show of being active and armed]
This continued till dark when we went to tea and the Drummer and Fife played for the convicts to dance to.
Friday 24th May p 56
We had a really fine day, but the wind headed us little and after Dinner we had the drum and fife as usual; but while they were dancing in the Waist, a Sea broke over them and gave some of the dancers wet Jackets.
The last night, the convicts and Settlers were all battered down on account of the Sea breaking over the ship, and from the tremendous rolling, they fancied they were going down every roll. This night they were thoughtlessly dancing, and had quite forgot that had been their situation the night before.
Thursday 26th May
This Evening and last evening we had dancing on the Deck. The Drum and Fife played for an hour.
Bent, Jeffery Hart & Lotocki, Suzanne & Lotocki, Waldemar (2011). A stormy passage : journal of a voyage performed on board the ship Broxbornebury from England to New South Wales. Suzanne & Waldemar Lotocki, [Hope Island, Qld.]
Hook, Elizabeth (2000). Journey to a new life : the story of the ships Emu in 1812 and Broxbornebury in 1814, including crew, female convicts and free passengers on board. E. Hook, Minto, N.S.W
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