Dancing in Police Reports

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser was first published in 1803 and is one of the colonial papers which reported police incidents and details of dancing. Courtesy of The National Library of Australia.

This is a list of colonial Police Incidents where dancing was mentioned.  It covers the period from 1803, when the first newspaper was printed, through to 1840.

Dancing was not illegal, but the circumstances surrounding it lead to it being reported. The most common reason for this was the prevalence of dancing in unlicensed public houses. These were also known as “disorderly houses” where fighting, gambling and prostitution took place. Other reasons for it being reported arose when convicts were absent without permission, or  making an uproar after hours.

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Caroline Cochrane or Marton, free, charge with keeping a disorderly house, open for the reception of loose characters at unseasonable hours, and with encouraging fiddling and dancing therein, was brought up, and fully committed for trial. POLICE REPORT. (1825, August 25). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2184378

Sometimes the term “dancing” is a metaphor other activities, such as a drunken stagger or jumping about excitedly.  As it is not always clear that this is the case, all references to dancing have been included.

The journalists reporting these incidents often added a comic twist to the story, referring to the treadmill as the “dancing academy” where prisoners were sent to “practice their steps”.

Josiah Davidson and John Kenn … ordered to cut a few capers for three days at Murray’s dancing academy. POLICE INCIDENTS. (1833, July 11). The Sydney Herald. p. 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12847243

Similarly, the Female Factory at Parramatta under the control of Mrs Gordon, was known as “Gordon’s coercive school” , “Mrs Gordon’s dancing academy”, or “Mrs Gordon’s villa”   where women were sent “to study the graces” in “the comfortable apartments”.

Mary Macpherson … charged with being found in a genteel assembly, as busy as a bee, going down a country dance of twenty or thirty couple, with most fascinating activity …. One month Mrs. Gordon’s Dancing Academy. POLICE INCIDENTS. (1832, June 18). The Sydney Herald. p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12844717

Click on each name to link to the original source.

Name

Date

Location

Summary

Abbott, John 13-2-1829 Private house, Sydney Noisy fracas, saw the two escaped prisoners dancing
Appleby, Charles 7-2-1833 Sydney Dancing pas seul…”sent to play ballet master at Murray’s assembly rooms for 14 days”
Armstrong, Mrs. 23-1-1827 Disorderly house, Parramatta Fiddling and dancing at 10 o’clock last night
Ashmore, John 15-9-1834 House in Frazier’s-lane, Rocks, Sydney Dancing after hours
Baker, Dinah  24-4-1840 Mr Walton’s Tavern, Hobart Dancing in tavern last night
Ball, William  10-6-1833 In the street, Sydney Dancing seraband [sic] to mouth organ late overnight
Biggs, Willam 11-4-1837 George Street, Sydney Glee singing and dancing round a constable
Boyle, Catharine  24-2-1827 Disorderly house, Sydney Fuddling, fiddling, dancing and capering at the hour of 12 last night
Bradshaw, Thomas  23-5-1827 Unlicensed house There was no dancing, nor yet any music in the house that night, it  was quiet place.
Brown, Mrs. 9-7-1840 Disorderly House, Castlereagh Street, Sydney Midnight revels & elegantly furnished upstairs ballroom
Buckley, James  25-4-1827 Sydney Fiddling and dancing on the night of Good Friday
Bull, Thomas  5-3-1833 Cambridge Street, Sydney Harbouring a  runaway, dancing at  2 o’clock in the morning
Burn, Sarah  10-11-1835 Her master’s house, Hobart Dancing a reel in the kitchen
Burns, Frances 2-7-1838 George Street, Sydney Dancing and singing in the street
Cairns, Margaret 2-8-1832 Sydney Exhibiting the Irish fling at a soirée
Cochrone, Caroline  25-8-1825 Disorderly house, Sydney Encouraging fiddling and dancing
Cole, William 15-5-1840 Public house, Hobart Amusing themselves on the light fantastic toe
Coust, Thomas  11-4-1837 George Street, Sydney Glee singing and dancing round a constable
Cox, Ellen 28-5-1835 Disorderly house, Sydney A great noise of fiddling and dancing
Crankey, Jam’s 2-9-1830 In a certain disorderly house, in Castlereagh Street, Sydney Found at ” the midnight hour” …in the enjoyment of sundry of the good things of this life… the amusements of the evening being accompanied with fiddling, dancing
Crowd dancing to itinerant musicians 2-5-1834 Street in Hobart Kicked off their brogues and began to dance. Shuffling and shaking their dirty duds
Dancing Master strikes pupil  5-7-1832 Sydney Dancing master, struck pupil’s toes violently with his fiddlestick, because they had not a sufficiently angular inclination
Davidson, Josiah 11-7-1833  Sydney Ordered to cut capers for three days at Murray’s dancing academy [aka punishment on the treadmill]
Denham, Thomas  14-4-1840 Mr. Walton’s  public-house, Hobart Misconduct, dancing with a favorite lady
Disorderly Dancing House  14-1-1832  Sydney One of those public pests, and enemies to all good order: disorderly dancing houses
Disorderly Public Houses  24-4-1840  Hobart A low haunt … where a system of dancing is kept up, and where what is not already depraved must become vitiated by contamination
Dixon, Ann 24-4-1840 Mr Walton’s Tavern, Hobart Dancing in tavern last night
John, Dixon 16-5-1833 Kent Street, Sydney Practising the last set of quadrilles with great vivacity
Dodman, Mrs  16-2-1837 Neighbour’s house Dancing to pipe and tabor
Duffey, Michael 12-9-1833 Sly grog shops He invariably visited a sly grog shop, and returned home in a state of supreme felicity. Three days to Bell’s dancing academy
Duggan, Johannah  25-5-1837  Sydney Absconding from their service to go to a hop … to trip it on the light fantastic toe
Emanuel, Elizabeth  24-6-1833 Police Office Yard, Sydney Dancing a pas seul 
Erskine, Harriet  20-6-1833 In her master’s house, Sydney Dancing a Highland fling
Fay, Mary  15-11-1832 The Sydney St. Giles [the riotous area] Waltzing and showing off
Fight  18-8-1832  Parramatta Said he could dance a hornpipe
Fisher, Elizabeth & Matthew  2-9-1833 On the King’s Wharf Dancing a reel at the hour of eleven overnight, to the music of a black fiddler
Fitzgerald, Mary  2-5-1832 A bad house in George Street, Sydney Tripping on the light fantastic toe to St Patricks day in the morning
Gaol Breakers  13-2-1828 The Rocks, Sydney Trapped whilst carousing and tripping on the light fantastic toe
Giles, Jonas  22-8-1833  Sydney Cut his stick from his master’s domicile three days previous … found twirling round in the soft mazes of the waltz
Goodberry, Sarah 30-7-1832 The Rocks, Sydney Tastefully dressed for a hop
Gorman, Ellen 8-11-1836 In George Street, Sydney Charged with bolting and becoming remarkably funny, which caused them to dance a three-handed reel
Gould, John  7-3-1812  Sydney Songs and dancing before a murder
Hackett, Thomas 11-4-1837 George Street, Sydney Glee singing and dancing round a constable
Hathaway, John and Hannah 26-5-1825 A private house in Sydney Dancing, singing, and fiddle playing .. between the hours of 8 and 9
Hathaway, John 17-1-1833 Sly grog shops, Sydney As he could tell a good yarn, play the fiddle like a Paga-nini, and dance a good stick, he was always welcome
Hely, Maria 8-11-1836 In George Street, Sydney Charged with bolting and becoming remarkably funny, which caused them to dance a three-handed reel
Horden, William 10-6-1833 In the street, Sydney Dancing seraband [sic] to mouth organ late overnight
Hoy, Kate 8-11-1836 In George Street, Sydney harged with bolting and becoming remarkably funny, which caused them to dance a three-handed reel
Hicks (a woman)  6-3-1834 In the public streets, Sydney Dancing a highland reel in a state of nudity
Hill, Mic  25-2-1833  Sydney Sent to trip it on the light fantastic toe at Murray’s dancing rooms [aka punishment on the treadmill]
Hop shops,
Byrne, Jeremiah
 6-12-1832 Two-penny hop shops on The Rocks, Sydney An itinerant, who is in the habit of spliting the ears of the groundlings … taken out of one of those public nuisances at a very late hour of the night
Howell, John  19-3-1832 Sydney John was sent to trip-it on the light fantastic toe for seven days [aka punishment on the treadmill]
Hunt, Sarah 21-1-1839 Loft in the rear of a house Elizabeth Street, Sydney A motley crowd at a fancy ball
Irish Dancing Master  8-8-1829 Kent-street, Sydney Sent to the tread-mill for ten days for getting drunk, and keeping a disorderly house.
Jackson, Ellen  8-11-1832 A house in Kent Street, Sydney As merry as a crow in a gutter,… dancing, singing, eating, and drinking
Jackson, Mary  13-5-1837 In the vicinity of the theatre Shouting, laughing, dancing, &c.
Johnstone, Ann 4-2-1837 George Street, Sydney Practising the Highland fling, and whooping in true Gallic, at the witching hour.
Kenn, John 11-7-1833 Sydney Ordered to cut capers for three days at Murray’s dancing academy [aka punishment on the treadmill]
Kingshaws  30-8-1826 Convict wedding, Sydney Wedding feast celebrated by dancing and drinking, and eating and singing
Kirby, Mrs 31-12-1835 Picnic near Woolloomooloo Bay, Sydney I do so like to dance on the green, green sward
Lacey, Timothy 26-11-1826 Mr Nash’s hop, Parramatta Footing it away on the ” light fantastic toe”… dancing away until midnight
Lambert, Ann 17-10-1834 A house in Goulburn Street, Sydney In the act of dancing an Irish jig.
Leary and Sweeny 12-9-1831 Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney Singing, dancing and cutting capers after attending a wake
Leary, John 12-5-1840 In a public-house, Hobart Misconduct with a number of disorderly characters, singing and dancing
Lindsay, Eleanor  3-6-1826 Disorderly house, Sydney Shuffling the brogue to the humming drone of a bag-pipe
Littleworth, Harry 21-2-1833 Sydney Dancing, singing and smoking with a variety of other pleasant and genteel accomplishments, but as to work … that was quite out of his way
Lochraine, Catherine  15-12-1832 In her master’s house, Sydney Dancing a hornpipe on the tea-table
M’Cormack, Patrick 5-9-1833 In one of the Sheban houses on the Rocks For absconding ..sent to dance on the spring board for seven days
M’Cormack, Catherine 7-2-1833 In the grog metropolis Quitting a very picturesque little farm on the Parramatta road, and tripping it on the light fantastic
M’Cormick, Patrick  3-9-1833 In one of the Sheban houses on the Rocks Tripping it on the light fantastic toe to the tune of Paddy Carey
M’Carroll, Margaret 1-1-1827 Sydney She had been taken to a dance by her husband
M’Guigan, James 25-2-1833 Kent Street, Sydney Footing it most merrily at a hop
M’Guire, James 1-11-1832 In his master’s house, Sydney Holding a dance for a dozen guests without permission
M’Mahon, Mary 14-7-1838 Charged with not finding her way home At wakes, fairs, and dances at home
M’Shea, Mary  8-8-1833 In a house of very questionable repute, Sydney Tripping it on the light fantastic toe
McMahon, John 16-5-1833 Kent Street, Sydney Practising the last set of quadrilles with great vivacity
Macpherson, Mary 18-6-1832 In a genteel assembly, Sydney Going down a country dance of twenty or thirty couple. Sent to Mrs. Gordon’s Dancing Academy
Marshall, Jane 28-10-1833 The Rocks, Sydney Betaken themselves to one of the genteel hops that are frequently held on the Rocks, where they were found turning round in the soft mazes of the waltz… their frolic rewarded by six weeks each to Gordon’s dancing academy
Martin, Mary  5-5-1829 Harrington Street, Sydney A fomenter of mirth and merrymaking, as she willingly allowed dancing and fiddling in her house every night
Miller 23-1-1843 Disorderly house in St. John-street, Hobart Fined £50, for allowing dancing, &c., without a license
Muir, James 19-9-1833 Sydney Dancing to tune of Paddy Carey
Mulhony, Sarah 28-10-1833 The Rocks, Sydney Betaken themselves to one of the genteel hops that are frequently held on the Rocks, where they were found turning round in the soft mazes of the waltz… their frolic rewarded by six weeks each to Gordon’s dancing academy
Murray, Hamilton 2-9-1833 On the King’s Wharf Dancing a reel at the hour of eleven overnight, to the music of a black fiddler
Murphy, Sarah  1-11-1832  In her master’s house, Sydney The maizy waltz
Nixon, Margaret  8-8-1833 Sly grog shop Trowled glibly off her tongue  Paddy Carey oh! and danced round the room, snapping her fingers for castanets
O’Brien, Mr.  5-1-1832 Private house, Sydney He very gallantly knocked her down also, and wound up the amusements of the evening by dancing a hornpipe on her person
O’Brien, Mary  29-10-1836 At a fancy ball, The Rocks, Sydney Dancing a pas suel to music ground out of a barrel organ
O’Brien, Mary 25-5-1837 Sydney Absconding from their service to go to a hop … to trip it on the light fantastic toe
O’Connel, Daniel 7-10-1833 George Street, Sydney Shouting, singing, dancing in the street
Oldfield, John 16-5-1833 Kent Street, Sydney Practising the last set of quadrilles with great vivacity
Pamington, John 16-5-1833 Kent Street, Sydney Practising the last set of quadrilles with great vivacity
Parr, Arthur 10-6-1833 In the street, Sydney Dancing seraband [sic] to mouth organ late overnight
Peppermill, John 4-7-1838 George Street, Sydney Dancing a hornpipe in the street
Perkin, Jeremiah 25-2-1833 Kent Street, Sydney Footing it most merrily at a hop
Phoir, Henry 20-7-1837 George Street, Sydney Minus hat, and shoes, dancing and shouting to the amusement of a rather numerous mob
Pike, John 24-9-1829 Disorderly house, The Rocks, Sydney Went in from having heard a fiddle in the house; stood in the tap room looking on at the dancing
Quigley, Catherine  18-10-1833 Mistress’ bedroom, Sydney First set of quadrilles and waltz
Quinn, Ester  18-7-1833 In all parts of Sydney Keeping it up for two days..Dancing and singing
Quin, Esther and Patrick   18-7-1833 At the head of the 4th Regiment Dancing to The British Grenadiers
Quinn, Patrick  18-7-1833 At the head of the 4th Regiment Dancing a Spanish fandango
Reardy, Edward  6-7-1831 Sydney Sentenced to dance the mazy round of Mr. Murray’s spiritual rectifier [aka the treadmill]
Riley, Hugh  29-12-1831 A peccadillo warehouse [aka disorderly house] Footing it on the light fantastic toe
Riley, Kate 5-12-1831  Sydney Footing it away at all hours of the night, to the tune of ” Off she goes, ” was sent off accordingly for two months to the factory.
Rogers, Mary Ann 26-8-1833 Sydney Taking forty-eight hours to herself, spent in boozing and dancing
Saulter  18-8-1830 Under the New Custom House Regular Subscription Balls
Saunders, Martha  26-1-1837 A hop upon the Rocks, Sydney The star of the evening showing off on the light fantastic toe
Savage, Ellen  6-11-1826 Windsor, NSW Begs leave to go to dance
Sheridan, Patrick 14-1-1828 Kent Street, Sydney Dancing at  midnight
Smith, Ann  9-8-1832 In the Market-place, Sydney Jigging a Dutch hornpipe in the middle of a score of men
Smith, Ann 1-12-1836  Sydney Her master kept a fiddler, who was instructing her in the positions, but the fiddlestick and her toes were in constant contact in consequence of their not being duly pointed
Smith, Sydney 30-5-1831 In the street, Sydney Dancing to Drops of Brandy
Snacks, John 2-9-1830 In a certain disorderly house, in Castlereagh Street, Sydney Found at ” the midnight hour” …in the enjoyment of sundry of the good things of this life… the amusements of the evening being accompanied with fiddling, dancing
Snipe, Lavina 17-5-1832  Sydney Waltzing at a ball
Stewart, Mary 9-5-1833 Mistress’ bedroom, Sydney Danced a pas seul before the looking glass
Stolen dancing shoes 16-2-1826 Sydney Nice, neat, satin shoes  for mincing it down the middle in a country dance, or shuffling heel to point in a solitary hornpipe
Sweeny and Leary 12-9-1831 Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney Singing, dancing and cutting capers after attending a wake
Sweeney, Charles 11-11-1834 The Calcutta Tap, Hobart Enjoying himself on the light fantastic toe after hours
Thomas, Isabella 22-11-1836 Sydney Tripped off to the stocks with an air, as though leading down a country dance
Thomas, Mary 16-12-1837 George Street, Sydney Curvetting and dancing a pas seul
Thomas, Sarah 20-2-1832  Sydney Tripping it on the light fantastic toe at a secluded hop
Tompkins, Mary 1-3-1834 Sydney Duck-legged spouse…could foot a dance, with anybody
Thompson, Julietta 8-9-1834 Harrington Street, Sydney Sailors Hornpipe and Quadrilles, half-past one in the morning
Turley, James 5-4-1826 Sydney  Prepared to “shuffle the brogue”, in the proper jig style, half blind fiddler scraped away at some discordant measure, ‘”in concert and rude harmony”
Turner, John 12-7-1823 House of ill-fame in O’Connell Street, Sydney Music and dancing, outcries and confusion, at the hour of 11 at night
Vaughan, Emily  8-9-1834 Harrington Street, Sydney Sailors Hornpipe and Quadrilles, half-past one in the morning
Wainwright, Sarah  13-7-1827 Fuddling  houses, Sydney Skipping, dancing
Wainwright, Sarah  6-1-1838 In Market street, Sydney  Dancing a pas de zephyr to the infinite amusement of a crowd
Walsh, David 9-7-1840 Disorderly House, Castlereagh Street, Sydney Midnight revels & elegantly furnished upstairs ballroom
Ward, James 26-9-1833 George Street, Sydney Rehearsing the farce  ” Devil to Pay,” by dancing, singing, and breaking the heads of those who thought fit to desire them to be quiet
Wheeley, Henry 26-9-1833 George Street, Sydney Rehearsing the farce ” Devil to Pay,” by dancing, singing, and breaking the heads of those who thought fit to desire them to be quiet
Whittaker, Mary  11-3-1833  Sydney  Liked to figure at a hop, fight or masquerade
Wilson, John  15-5-1840 Public house, Hobart Amusing themselves on the light fantastic toe
Woodhouse, Mary 7-2-1833  Sussex Street, Sydney At an evening dancing academy…let’s have a ball
Wright, George 13-2-1829 Private house, Sydney Noisy fracas, saw the two escaped prisoners dancing

Research conducted at Queensland University of Technology.

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One Response to Dancing in Police Reports

  1. Christine Keast-Fuller says:

    Very good Information. Thank You.

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