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.

Babes in the Nursery. (1794) Richard Newton.
A satire with a gaoler looking through bars at two groups of women and men in the lock-up.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

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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

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Name

Date

Location

Summary

Abbott, John 13-2-1829 Private house, Sydney Saw the prisoners dancing
Appleby, Charles 7-2-1833 Sydney Dancing pas seul…sent to play ballet master
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
Biggs, William 11-4-1837 George Street, Sydney singing and dancing round a constable
Boyle, Catharine 24-2-1827 Disorderly house, Sydney Fuddling, fiddling, dancing and capering
Bradshaw, Thomas 23-5-1827 Unlicensed house There was no dancing, nor yet any music in the house that night
Brown, Mrs. 9-7-1840 Disorderly House, Castlereagh Street, Sydney Midnight revels in elegantly furnished upstairs ballroom
Buckley, James 25-4-1827 Sydney Fiddling and dancing
Bull, Thomas 5-3-1833 Cambridge Street, Sydney Harbouring a runaway, dancing
Burn, Sarah 10-11-1835 Her master’s house, Hobart Dancing a reel in the kitchen
Burns, Francis 2-7-1838 George Street, Sydney Dancing and singing in the street
Byrne, Jeremiah 6-12-1832 Two-penny hop shops on The Rocks, Sydney In the habit of spliting the ears of the groundlings.
Cains, Margaret 2-8-1832 Sydney 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
Constables 16-4-1836 Sydney Streets Dancing reels
Convict women 1850s Hobart Dancing in the tap rooms
Coust, Thomas 11-4-1837 George Street, Sydney Singing and dancing round a constable
Cox, Ellen 28-5-1835 Disorderly house, Sydney A great noise of fiddling and dancing
Crankey, James 2-9-1830 Disorderly house, in Castlereagh Street, Sydney 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
Davidson, Josiah 11-7-1833 Sydney Ordered to cut capers for three days at Murray’s dancing academy
Denham, Thomas 14-4-1840 Mr. Walton’s public-house, Hobart Misconduct, dancing with a favorite lady
Disorderly Public Houses 17-4-1840 & 24-4-1840 Sydney where a system of dancing is kept up
DISORDERLY houses 18th century England A definition
Dixon, Ann 24-4-1840 Mr Walton’s Tavern, Hobart Dancing in tavern last night
Dixon, John 16-5-1833 Kent Street, Sydney Practising the last set of quadrilles
Dodman, Mrs 16-2-1837 Neighbour’s house Dancing to pipe and tabor
Duggan, Johannah 25-5-1837 Sydney Absconding … 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 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
Foley, Mary 30-12-1837 York Street, Sydney Dancing a Fandango
Gaol Breakers 13-2-1828 The Rocks, Sydney Carousing and tripping on the light fantastic toe
Giles, Jonas 22-8-1833 Sydney 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 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
Hathaway, John 17-1-1833 Sly grog shops, Sydney Play the fiddle like a Paganini, and dance a good stick
Hely, Maria 8-11-1836 In George Street, Sydney 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
Horden, William 10-6-1833 In the street, Sydney Dancing seraband [sic] to mouth organ
Hoy, Kate 8-11-1836 In George Street, Sydney Dance a three-handed reel
Howell, John 19-3-1832 Sydney Sent to trip-it on the light fantastic toe ..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 To the tread-mill for getting drunk, and keeping a disorderly house.
Jackson, Ellen 8-11-1832 A house in Kent Street, Sydney Dancing, singing, eating, and drinking
Jackson, Mary 13-5-1837 In the vicinity of the theatre Shouting, laughing, dancing.
Johnstone, Ann 4-2-1837 George Street, Sydney Practising the Highland fling
Kenn, John 11-7-1833 Sydney Ordered to cut capers for three days at Murray’s dancing academy
Kingshaws 30-8-1826 Convict wedding, Sydney Wedding feast celebrated by dancing and drinking, and eating and singing
Lacey, Timothy 26-11-1826 Mr Nash’s hop, Parramatta Footing it away on the light fantastic toe
Lambert, Ann 17-10-1834 A house in Goulburn Street, Sydney In the act of dancing an Irish jig.
Leary 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 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
Lochraine, Catherine 15-12-1832 In her master’s house, Sydney Dancing a hornpipe on the tea-table
M’Cormack, Catherine 7-2-1833 In the metropolis Tripping it on the light fantastic
M’Cormack, Patrick 3-9-1833 & 5-9-1833 Sheban house on the Rocks Tripping it on the light fantastic toe to the tune of Paddy Carey. Sent to dance on the spring board
M’Carroll, Margaret 1-1-1827 Sydney 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
McKenna, Patrick 28-10-1833 Kent Street, Sydney Dancing in a Public House
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 A country dance of twenty or thirty couple. Sent to Mrs. Gordon’s Dancing Academy
Marshall, Jane 28-10-1833 The Rocks, Sydney Genteel hops on the Rocks … frolic rewarded by six weeks at Gordon’s dancing academy
Martin, Mary 5-5-1829 Harrington Street, Sydney 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
Moss, George 30-9-1833 Disorderly house in Harrington Street Fiddling and dancing
Muir, James 19-9-1833 Sydney Dancing to tune of Paddy Carey
Mulhony, Sarah 28-10-1833 The Rocks, Sydney Genteel hops on the Rocks … frolic rewarded by six weeks at Gordon’s dancing academy
Murray, Hamilton 2-9-1833 On the King’s Wharf Dancing a reel 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 Danced round the room, snapping her fingers for castanets
O’Brien, Mr. 5-1-1832 Private house, Sydney Dancing a hornpipe
O’Brien, Mary 29-10-1836 At a fancy ball, The Rocks, Sydney Dancing a pas suel to music of a barrel organ
O’Brien, Mary 25-5-1837 Sydney Absconding to go to a hop
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
Pamington, John 16-5-1833 Kent Street, Sydney Practising the last set of quadrilles
Parr, Arthur 10-6-1833 In the street, Sydney Dancing seraband [sic] to mouth organ
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 Dancing and shouting to the amusement of a rather numerous mob
Pike, John 24-9-1829 Disorderly house, The Rocks, Sydney A fiddle in the house; dancing in the tap room
Powell 14-1-1832 Disorderly Dancing House, Sydney One of those public pests, and enemies to all good order
Quigley, Catherine 18-10-1833 Mistress’ bedroom, Sydney First set of quadrilles and waltz
Quin, Esther and Patrick 18-7-1833 At the head of the 4th Regiment Dancing to The British Grenadiers, a Spanish fandango
Rice, Kate 28-3-1835 Sydney Determined to have a dance
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 to the tune of ” Off she goes “
Rogers, Mary Ann 26-8-1833 Sydney Forty-eight hours 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 howing off on the light fantastic toe
Savage, Ellen 6-11-1826 Windsor, NSW Begs leave to go to dance
Scott, Ellen     Dancing in a public house after hours
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
Smith, Ann 1-12-1836 Sydney Her master kept a fiddler who taught her to dance
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” 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 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
Thompson, Julietta 8-9-1834 Harrington Street, Sydney Sailors Hornpipe and Quadrilles,
Tompkins, Mary 1-3-1834 Sydney Duck-legged spouse…could foot a dance with anybody
Turley, James 5-4-1826 Sydney “shuffle the brogue”, in the proper jig style to half blind fiddler
Turner, John 12-7-1823 House of ill-fame in O’Connell Street, Sydney Music and dancing, 16 people arrested
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 heads
Wheeley, Henry 26-9-1833 George Street, Sydney Rehearsing the farce ” Devil to Pay,” by dancing, singing, and breaking heads
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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Header credit: Lowest life in London. Tom, Jerry, and Logic among the unsophisticated sons and daughters of Nature at ‘All Max’ in the East. Illustration by George Cruikshank (1792 – 1878). ©Trustees of the British Museum

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