The Recruiting Officer

The Recruiting Officer mp3 Arr. Roland Clarke

Download the pdf

Longways Country Dance: duple minor
32 bars AABB

A1 1-4 1st man, followed by his partner, casts off below 2nd couple. Finish in the middle of the set, facing up. 2nd couple leads up and casts out to face down on bars 3 & 4.
5-8 Turn on the sides (1st lady & 2nd man left; 1st man & 2nd lady right).
A2 1-8 1st couple with the 2nd couple below, dance a double figure of eight (1s cross down while the 2nd couple dances up the outside to begin).  Finish with 1st couple dancing up the outside to original 1st place improper.
B1 1-4 1st couple cross and cast one place, as the 2nd couple moves up.
5-8 1st and 2nd couples right hand star.
B2 1-4 Turn single away by the left, all set.
5-8 1st and 2nd couples left hand star.

 Twenty Four New Country Dances for the year 1710 by Mr. Kynaston


The play remained a popular choice as demonstrated by this playbill of the 1800 performance. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

The aims of this first company of players were modest. They professed no higher aim than humbly to excite a smile, and their efforts to please were not unattended with applause. Colonel David Collins, Deputy-Judge Advocate of the colony.

On 4 June 1789, little over a year after settlement, a “party of convicts” presented the lively comedy, The Recruiting Officer, to celebrate the birthday of King George III. The play, a favourite of the time, was performed in “a convict-built hut” and honoured by the presence of his excellency the Governor, Captain Arthur Phillip and an invited audience of 60 officers and dignitaries.  Some forethought must have been required to bring the two scripts of the play to the infant colony: it is possible Captain Hunter (later Governor) supplied the scripts as he had contemplated a career in music before joining the Navy and received tuition from Charles Burney, well known for his Drury Lane Theatre productions.  Another candidate for supplying the script is Lieutenant Ralph Clark who spent much time reading while on the voyage out and is known to have a copy of the play Lady Jane Grey by Nicolas Rowe, (1715) in his possession.

Written by George Farquhar, The Recruiting Officer was first performed in Drury Lane in 1706 and enjoyed long term success. The plot, based on observations during his service as a recruiting officer in Shrewsbury, is the story of a recruiting officer’s visit to a country town, and the machinations involved: Captain makes love to the women in order to secure their followers as recruits and outdo his rival, Captain Brazen, while Sergeant Kite poses as an astrologer for the same purpose.  It “involves witty repartee, cross-dressing, music, dance, swordplay, sexual double entendre, a fortune-telling scam and a biting critique of army recruiting practices in the reign of Queen Anne”.

Thomas Keneally’s adaptation in the novel The Playmaker presents the marine officer Ralph Clark initiating and directing the play, however, Robert Jordan in The Convict Theatres of Early Australia states “the humbler sections of British society contained plenty of men and women with the cultural capital and the self-confidence to undertake such a project, and the form of words used by Colonel Collins – some of the convicts were permitted to perform Farquhar’s comedy – suggests a convict initiative, and not something conceived and guided from above (p.30).” Recent historical research on the backgrounds of convicts shows that, far from being wholly unskilled, illiterate and unhealthy, many brought useful skill with them and three-quarters could read and/or write, a higher proportion than among English workers.

Governor Phillip both permitted and attended this performance, yet he made no mention of it in his report to Lord Sydney the following day. A.J. Gray is probably right when he suggests that Phillip most likely considered it wiser not to mention the convicts’ play-acting: he knew it was not quite what the British Government had in mind for the convict colony. (Karskens, 2009, p. 70)

Performed in contemporary dress, the few military costumes would have been borrowed from the garrison with the convicts themselves providing the costumes for the ladies and civilian gentlemen. Most convicts had brought clothes with them, some fashionable – convict women parading in their finery were a subject of early comment.  Scenes in the play where an actress assumed a male costume were tantalising for the audience with the opportunity of viewing the female calf, and as breeches became tighter, the thigh.

Dances were commonly performed both within plays and at the finale, though were rarely described or included in the text. The script for The Recruiting Officer does include an explicit slot for a dance. The associated dance published in Kynaston’s Twenty Four New Country Dances could well have been included in the performance or devised to capitalise on it’s considerable popularity.



Australian Drama Studies; accessed 14/12/2011

Collins, David. An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, ed. By B. Fletcher, Sydney, A.H. & A. W. Reed, 1975.

Hall and Cripps, Romance of the Sydney Stage (1996), p.4

Jordan, Robert. Convict Theatres of Early Australia 1788-1840. Currency House, Sydney. 2002.

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

Parker, Derek.  Arthur Phillip.  Australia’s First Governor.  Woodslane Press, Sydney, 2009.

Tench, Watkin. Sydney’s First Four Years.  A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson in New South Wales, 1793. Edited by L.F. Fitzhardinge, 1961.


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 Dr Heather Blasdale-Clarke

This entry was posted in Dance. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *