Port Jackson, a dance from 1796.

Port Jackson
Thompson’s Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1796

Listen to Port Jackson as a Midi or mp3  Arr. Roland Clarke.
Download the PDF in Bb or in G.

Country dance: Duple minor longways.

A1 1-4 1st and 2nd couples right hand turn,
5-8 1st and 2nd couples right hands star.
A2 1-4 1st and 2nd couples left hand turn.
5-8 1st couple and 2nd couples left hands star,
B1 1-6 1st couple lead down the middle and back,
7-8 1st couple cast off one place WHILE 2nd couple move up into 1st place.
A3 1-4 1st and 2nd couples allemande by the right. [stand right shoulder to right shoulder with partner, link right elbows reaching behind your partner’s back to take their left hand. Dance clockwise in this position, maintaining eye contact with partner.]
5-8 1st and 2nd couples allemande by the left. [stand left shoulder to left shoulder with partner, link left elbows reaching behind your partner’s back to take their right hand. Dance anti-clockwise in this position, maintaining eye contact with partner.]


Port Jackson 1797

Each ship arriving at Port Jackson “ brought an ever-increasing array of consumer goods to ‘gratify the inhabitants’, including ‘many elegant articles of dress from Bond Street’, ribbons and bobbing to telescopes and musical instruments, from Tahitian pork to toys, jewellery and candy, and tens of thousands of gallons of rum.”1

Portrait of Sir George Jackson. National Library of Australia.

Sir George Jackson, an influential friend and patron of James Cook.
Courtesy of National Library of Australia4

In 1770 James Cook sighted Port Jackson and named it in honour of his “zealous friend and early patron”2, Sir George Jackson.  Jackson was one of the Lord Commissioners of the British Admiralty, and Judge Advocate of the Fleet.  As a young man, Cook was employed as a stable hand by Jackson’s sister. It was here he first encountered Sir George, who encouraged him to join the Royal Navy.  Cook “was so sensible of Sir George’s friendship, that he not only corresponded regularly with him, but named after him, Point Jackson in New Zealand and Port Jackson in New South Wales”3.

On arriving at Botany Bay on 21 January 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip realised that this was a poor place for the first settlement.  He then explored Port Jackson and proclaimed it to be “the finest harbour in the world” where “a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security.”5

By 1796, when this dance was published, Port Jackson was on the way to becoming a thriving port, a hub for the rapidly developing whaling and sealing industries in the region.  It supplied not only basic commodities, but also a surprisingly large variety of luxury items.  Everyone in the colony, from the elite to the emancipists and convicts, clamoured for goods to improve their social standing.

The port was the heart of the colony – exciting and populous, where every evening pubs and houses filled with people drinking, gambling, playing music and dancing.

The dance,  Port Jackson, was published in London in Thompson’s Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1796.  There were no particular events or theatre productions which might have drawn the colony into the public eye, providing an inspiration for this dance, in contrast to the dance Botany Bay.

Perhaps it was the numerous publications of accounts of the settlement which generated a fascination in England.  Amongst these was A voyage to New South Wales; with a description of the country; the manners, customs, religion, &c. of the natives, in the vicinity of Botany Bay.  This volume, first published in 1791 with reprints in 1795 and 1796, was supposedly written by the most famous gentleman pick-pocket, George Barrington, the “prince of rogues”6.

It has also been suggested7 that George Worgan, the First Fleet surgeon responsible for bringing the first piano to the colony, may have devised this dance during his sojourn in the colony (1788-91) and upon returning to England arranged for it to be published.  Although this is a very charming idea, there is no evidence to support the notion.   Dances were generally published anonymously.

Port Jackson 1796 s The original dance may have employed diverse steps to utilise the full eight bars for each turn in the A section.  For the modern dancers, we have expanded the A sections of this simple dance to include the ‘hands across’ figures.

‘Lead down the middle, up again & cast off’ followed by ‘Allemand’ were amongst the most fashionable figures at this time.

View of  Port Jackson.

View of Sydney Port Jackson, New South Wales, taken from the Rocks on the western side of the Cove, ca.1803 / drawn by John William Lancashire.
Courtesy Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales8.



*Bobbing – a spray or cluster of flowers, leaves, ribbons, etc.

1 Karskens, Grace.  The Colony.  A History of Early Sydney. p.174.  Allen & Unwin, Sydney 2006

2 Burke, Edmund.  Annual Register, 1822.  Vol 64 p 304
http://books.google.com.au/books?id=Td1y0w5VU20C accessed 4/11/2014


Bishop’s Stortford Tourist Information Centre

4Portrait of Sir George Jackson.  National Library of Australia.

5 Governor ArthurPhilip’s letter to William Petty, Marquis of Lansdowne, 3rd July, 1788.

6Barrington, George. A voyage to New South Wales; with a description of the country; the manners, customs, religion, &c. of the natives, in the vicinity of Botany Bay. By George Barrington, now Superintendant of the convicts at Paramatta. London, 1795. https://archive.org/details/accountofvoyaget00barr

7Millar, John Fitzhugh.  A handbook on the founding of Australia, 1788 : history, clothing patterns, ship plans, architecture, songs, dances. Williamsburg, Va : Thirteen Colonies Press, c1988

8View of Sydney Port Jackson, New South Wales, taken from the Rocks on the western side of the Cove, ca. 1803/drawn by John William Lancashire. Dixson Galleries, State Library of NSW.


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6 Responses to Port Jackson, a dance from 1796.

  1. Coral Eden says:

    Great work Heather.

    • Heather says:

      Thanks Coral. It’s amazing that these dances which are so relevant to our history are there to be discovered.
      I’ve just heard that the Blue Mountains (NSW) dance group tried it last night and proclaimed it ‘very popular’. We are planning to include it on the Heritage Ball programme at the National Folk Festival next year.

  2. Mona Finley says:

    A few lines of music — rather a fun thing, and would like to see some more ‘forgotten’ and traditional tunes time to time. Can’t comment on the dance instructions, but I tried out the music (on accordion) and even a pretty mediocre musician such as myself can quickly get the hang of it.

    • Heather says:

      Thanks, glad you found the music fun. I love these tunes which are so evocative of the era.
      We are always happy to supply the music in different keys or notation (ABC) if that helps.

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