Ross, Tasmania: April – June 2022

Venue Two:

Museum at the Tasmanian Wool Centre, Ross

8 April – 26 June 2022
48 Church Street, Ross, TAS 7209. View Map

Dancing in Fetters brings convict dancing to the Tasmanian Midlands.

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

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

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.

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.

Ross is famous for its beautiful convict built bridge, and the Female Factory which housed convict women between 1848 and 1854. Dancing, music and singing were not allowed in the Female Factory as the inmates were expected to be quiet and subservient, however, 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 brought before the court for dancing a jig to a “Scotch air” in Launceston at 2 o’clock on a Sunday morning in May 1846. Mary was not sent to the Factory, but instead was fined five shillings. Other women were not so fortunate.

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

Music and dancing to celebrate the arrival of Dancing in Fetters at the Tasmanian Wool Centre Museum. Collage courtesy of Trish Williams.

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 featured collected Tasmanian tunes, and the music manuscript of the Tasmanian 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 (from an early a convict reference), the bush dance, and the evening concert.

The day culminated with delicious meal and an evening of music, song and dance around campfires at the historical Man o’Ross Hotel.

Programme of activities

We want to create an engaging arts and heritage experience, enhance the heritage assets of the Female Factory and Bridge sites, attract visitors to the village from the district and from Greater Launceston and Hobart, and give locals a reason to have some fun as well. We want to support and encourage musicians through live music performance. We want to interpret the colonial history of the Northern Midlands and Tasmania as a whole using music and performance.
Elizabeth Bondfield, Museum Officer

The next venue: Woolmers Estate >>

A world heritage listed convict site

Woolmers Estate
658 Woolmers Lane,
Longford, Tasmania 7301
21 July – October 2022

<<Previous venue: Commissariat Store Museum

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