Lady Sydney’s Fancy

This romantic portrayal of the establishment of the colony shows a neatly attired woman with a slight tear in her dress, either a convict or the wife of a non-commissioned officer. Courtesy of National Library of Australia.

One notion which has prevented researchers from believing dancing was possible in early Sydney, was the misconception of there being no ladies present.  No genteel ladies arrived in the First Fleet, as the officers were not permitted to bring their wives, however, those ranked as sergeant, corporal and private were permitted to bring family and approximately 28 wives accompanied the marines to establish stable family relationships in the fledgling colony.

“as it is usual when any regiments are sent upon service to his Majesty’s colonies or plantations to allow them to take with them a certain number of women, we beg leave to propose that the wives of the marines going to Botany Bay… may be allowed to embark with them.”

Orphans of History. The Forgotten children of the First Fleet.
Robert Holden. 1999.

The 180 convict women who arrived with the First Fleet were not the depraved creatures so often depicted in popular history and far from being wholly unskilled, illiterate and unhealthy, many brought useful skills with them ….

“Women in particular expressed self-respect and confidence, if not defiance, in their care for personal appearance and love of dress”

The main leisure activities for convicts were dancing, singing and drinking. Some women convicts were reported to spend their time “in total idleness”, dancing, playing and dressing up for acting. Recent historical research indicates that the lower orders who settled in Sydney Town were often well dressed,interested in fashion and learning new things – this would certainly extend to the world of fashionable dance.

This light and cheerful dance honours Lady Sydney: Elizabeth Powys (b.1736 d.1826) married Thomas Townshend, in May 1760, becoming elevated to Viscountess Sydney and serving as Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte.

Lady Sydney’s Fancy

Listen to Lady Sydney’s Fancy Arr. Roland Clarke

Country dance: longways duple minor

A1 1-4 1st couple cast off two places,
A2 1-4 1st couple cast back to the top.
B1 1-4 1st couple lead down the middle,
B2 1-4 1st couple lead back to the top and cast off.
C 1 & 2 1-8 1st and 2nd couples dance rights and lefts.

Also known as Lady Townshend’s Fancy.
 Thompson’s Compleat Collection of 200 Fashionable Country Dances. Vol. 5. London.

Boyce, James. Van Diemen’s Land. Black Inc., 2008

Holden, Robert. Orphans of History. The Forgotten Children of the First Fleet. The Text Publishing Company. 1999

Karskens, Grace The Rocks. Life in early Sydney. Melbourne University Press, 1997.

National Library of Australia.  Picture: Founding of the Settlement of Port Jackson. Thomas Gosse (1765-1844)

Sargent, Clem. The British Garrison in Australia 1788-1841:conditons of service – wives and children. Sabretache, Vol XLII, December 2002


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 Heather Clarke.

This entry was posted in Dance. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

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