Tour news

We wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands across which the tour travels, and recognise the importance of music and dance in the First Nation’s culture.

Venue Two:

Museum at the Tasmanian Wool Centre, Ross

On 8 April, Dancing in Fetters was launched at the Tasmanian Wool Centre Museum. The Museum team discovered a wealth of local references and added these to exhibition, creating an impressive new chapter to the story.

Ross is famous for its beautiful convict built bridge, and the Female Factory which housed women convicts between 1848 and 1854. Although the Female Factory had no references to music or dance within its precinct, it was found that convict women who had fallen short of the rules, particularly if dancing in public houses in Hobart or Launceston, were sent to Ross, thus removing them from the bad influences of larger towns.

Some convict women escaped this punishment, as was the case of Mary Erskine who was fined five shillings for dancing a jig to a “Scotch air” in Launceston at 2 o’clock on a Sunday morning in May 1846.

Curator’s talk: Heather Blasdale Clarke gives a demonstration of a jig to a ‘Scotch air’, reminiscent of Scottish convict, Mary Erskine. Music by Isabel Clarke.

The arrival of the exhibition at Ross was celebrated with a day of festivities featuring the music of Drops of Brandy, a band specially created for the event drawing on the talents of Hobart musicians (John Tomlin, Trish Williams, Dave Elliston, Nanette Drielsma). Music for the performances relied heavily on collected Tasmanian tunes, and the music manuscript of the convict fiddler Alexander Laing. A copy of his manuscript is in included in the exhibition, and many of his tunes were played throughout the day including many lively jigs and reels. The band performed in the quarry, in the street outside the museum, for the maypole (drawing on a convict reference), the bush dance, and the evening concert.

Music and dancing to celebrate the arrival of Dancing in Fetters at the Tasmanian Wool Centre Museum. Collage courtesy of Trish Williams.
The day culminated with delicious meal and an evening of music, song and dance around campfires at the historical Man o’Ross Hotel.

Dancing in Fetters moves to Ross

Venue two in our national tour is the Museum at the Tasmanian Wool Centre at Ross. The official launch is on Friday 8th April 2022, followed by an action-packed day of activities.

Dancing in Fetters brings convict dancing to the Tasmanian Midlands.

‘Music and dance never failed to enliven and invigorate even those who had hungry bellies’
Hobart Street Musician, 1834

Dancing in Fetters on Saturday 9th April 2022, a day celebrating convict dance, including: live acoustic music, guided tours, convict dance demonstrations, and dinner under the stars.

To celebrate the launch of our exhibition we are hosting ‘Dancing in Fetters: a day of convict music and dance in Ross’.

48 Church Street, Ross, TAS 7209. View Map
Bookings are essential.
Adults: $49.00
Children: $29.00
Tickets available from Eventbrite here.
Tickets are limited, book early to avoid missing out.

Enquiries to:

Download the programme here or see below.

Concert at the Commissariat

The first concert of the tour was held in the Commissariat Museum in the heart of Brisbane – one of only two convict-built structures in Queensland. A perfect venue for a lively presentation of the music, songs, and dances that formed the basis of convict culture.

The feedback to last week’s @dancinginfetterstour booked out Concert at @rhs_qld was overwhelming. A premiere event launched at this first leg of the national tour, exhibition curator, Dr Heather Blasdale Clarke said “I feel we have created something quite unique and the audience realised this.” Audience comments received included ~
“Lovely to see a different side of convict life”
“Inspiring and uplifting”
“The first event of its kind in the Commissariat”
“A perfect setting – the stone walls, and ambience of the convict building”
“A wonderful combination of singing, dancing and music – it had it all”
“Where else are you staging it? We’d love to see it again”

View the gallery

Convict Concert at the Commissariat

18 February 2022
5:30 – 7:00pm
Book here

Curator’s Talk at the Commissariat

Dr Heather Blasdale Clarke and musical director, Roland Clarke. The talk included a section on the Moreton Bay convict, John Bushelle who taught music & dance to the officers and their families in the penal settlement in the 1830s. The Spanish Quadrille was in his repertoire – danced to waltz tunes.

9 February
12:30 – 1:30pm
Book here

Research from QUT

Dr Heather Clarke, Curator of @dancinginfetterstour was delighted to welcome Professor Gene Moyle, Academic Director – New Projects, Office of the Provost @qutrealworld to the launch event at @rhs_qld
Professor Moyle was a supervisor of Dr Clarke’s doctorate ‘Social dance and early Australian settlement: An historical examination of the role of social dance for convicts and the ‘lower orders’ in the period between 1788 and 1849’ which can be found at

At the Commissariat launch

Wonderful words from our tour launch venue @rhs_qld Commissariat Store Museum – thanks for such an amazing opening night last Friday, we value your support and that of @ausgov for making this @dancinginfetterstour possible, @abbeymuseum for auspicing, Bush Traditions for partnering, Phillip’s Dog @colonialdance for performing and all the six other recipient venues we are heading to

Launch at the Commissariat Store

Wonderful full capacity gathering last night at The Queensland Commissariat Store Museum for the launch of @dancinginfetterstour by @rhs_qld President Denver Beanland, a speech by curator Dr Heather Clarke and entertainment from Phillip’s Dog (Australia’s only early colonial period dance band who have performed at the National Folk Festival in Canberra and regularly hold dances and balls in the Brisbane area, one of which they headed off to after the event). Pictured (bottom right, left to right) are Edith Cuffe OAM Director @abbeymuseum which is auspicing the @ausgov funded tour; Dr Heather Clarke (Curator), Joan Kelly (Tour Manager)

Our lovely and lively dance team

Our lively and lovely @dancinginfetterstour dance and music team are performing at this evening’s launch (26 November 2021) at @rhs_qld @dancinginfetterstour has a terrific education pack with programming already being taken up by many of the seven tour venues.

The launch approaches

What’s in store? The national launch of the @dancinginfetterstour is set for @rhs_qld The Commissariat Store Museum this Friday evening as a taste of what’s in store for seven recipient venues. Curator Dr Clarke will speak at the opening and there will be performances of music and dance from the convict period. The exhibition runs through to 9 March 2022 and is available to view Tuesdays to Fridays, 10am – 4pm.

All set for tonight’s opening with a neat and tight display of @dancinginfetterstour at @rhs_qld
Glad to see full quota of attendees have booked in. Stay tuned for more happenings while it’s here in @queensland Last display date is March 9 before it trots off to Tasmania for @tas_wool_centre @tasmanian_wool_centre_museum and

Dust off your diaries

As Australia opens up, it’s time to dust off your diaries and dance shoes for the various venues taking in the national @dancinginfetterstour Tour agreements are signed, sealed and delivered with dates determined for you to diarise and decide where you will take in ‘Dancing in Fetters – the culture of convict dance’ display. Running 2021 through 2024, the exhibition sets sail at the Commissariat Store Museum Brisbane @rhs_qld @queensland followed by venues at @norfolk.island @tasmania @visitnsw and @westernaustralia This project has been assisted by the @ausgov Visions of Australia funding. Thanks is extended to partners @abbeymuseum and #bushtraditions and receiving venues in the following tour order (check venues closer to months for exact opening and closing dates) :
@rhs_qld Nov 2021 – March 2022
@tas_wool_centre April – June, 2022
@woolmers_estate June – Oct 2022
@hawkesburyregionalmuseum Oct 2022 – Jan 2023
#5parramattasquare Jan – April 2023
@norfolk_island_museum April – Aug 2023
@fremantleprison Sept 2023 – Aug 2024

Past times & Pastimes

This Covid-19 contemporary world has seen a reassessment of priorities, what matters most to people and how they live their lives, with some picking up interests they’ve not before considered such as music, dance and historical engagement. In the convict world that went before, people lived for the chance to do a jig and meet up to make music, to sing and to dance. ‘Dancing in Fetters’ delivers that experience and you can be part of the convict past by visiting the exhibition on its national tour to seven venues, including the Commissariat Store Museum in Brisbane, Tasmanian Wool Centre and Woolmers Estate in Tasmania, Hawkesbury Regional Museum and the new 5 Parramatta Square (Parramatta) in New South Wales, Norfolk Island Museum, and Fremantle Prison in Western Australia. So stay tuned for the venues that interest you the most as the exhibition sets to jig across five Australian states and territories. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program.

Down at the Abbey

Collaboration and partnerships abound with the recent federally funded ‘Dancing in Fetters – the culture of convict dance’ national tour, 2021-2024. ‘Dancing in Fetters’ is about democratising culture and was originally conceived between Cultural Historian Dr Heather Blasdale Clarke and Tour Manager Joan Kelly to ensure acknowledgement on a national scale. Other contributors to the tour include Roland Clarke, undertaking the musical direction and Bush Traditions, who are on board as Partners to deliver programming to venues. Edith Cuffe, Manager, The Abbey Museum recently stated, “The Abbey Museum is pleased to have the opportunity to support this great project. This exhibition explores part of Australia’s convict history and highlights that dance and music can lift the human heart even in our most challenging times. This is an important story to tell.” This project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program. {Images ~ Terry Young MP and Dr Heather Clarke, Curator and Cultural Historan, announce the exhibition to our with Edith Cuffe Manager @abbeymuseum and tour music director Roland Clarke. Photos courtesy the office of Terry Young MP}

Major Federal Funding for a National Tour

Such exciting news to share – we have received Major Federal Funding for a National Tour of the exhibition ‘Dancing in Fetters: the culture of convict dance’, based on doctoral research undertaken by Dr Heather Blasdale Clarke. Funding of $129,465 by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia programme enables the exhibition to tour nationally from late 2021 through to 2024 to seven museums!  There will be a mix of public programming including concerts, workshops, and education pack and interactive videos.

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