Success (prison ship)

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Success prison hulk.jpg
The prison hulk, Success, at Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Name: Success
Completed: 1840
Fate: Destroyed by fire in 1946
General characteristics
Tonnage: 621
Length: 117' 3
Beam: 26' 8
Draft: 22' 5
Installed power: Sail
Sail plan: Full rigged ship

Success was an Australian prison ship, built in 1840. Between the 1890s and the 1930s, she was converted into a floating museum displaying relics of the convict era and purporting to represent the horrors of penal transportation in Great Britain and the United States of America. After extensive world tours she was destroyed by fire while berthed in Lake Erie near Cleveland, Ohio in 1946.


Success was formerly a merchant ship of 621 tons, 117 feet 3 inches x 26 feet 8 inches x 22 feet 5 inches depth of hold, built in Natmoo, Tenasserim, Burma in 1840. After initially trading around the Indian subcontinent, she was sold to London owners and made three voyages with emigrants to Australia during the 1840s, On one of these voyages, following the intervention of Caroline Chisholm, Success sailed into Sydney town just the week before Christmas 1849 with families who had survived the Great Famine.

On 31 May 1852, Success arrived at Melbourne and the crew deserted to the gold-fields, this being the height of the Victorian gold rush. Due to an increase in crime, prisons were overflowing and the Government of Victoria purchased large sailing ships to be employed as prison hulks. These included Success, Deborah, Sacramento and President. In 1857 prisoners from Success murdered the Superintendent of Prisons John Price, the inspiration for the character Maurice Frere in Marcus Clarke's novel For the Term of His Natural Life.

In 1854 the ship was converted from a convict hulk into a stores vessel and anchored on the Yarra River, where she remained for the next 36 years.[1]

Museum ship[edit]

Success as a museum ship

In 1890, Success was purchased by a group of entrepreneurs to be refitted as a museum ship to travel the world advertising the perceived horrors of the convict era. Although never a convict ship, Success was billed as one, her earlier history being amalgamated with those other ships of the same name including HMS Success, which had been used in the original European settlement of Western Australia. She was incorrectly promoted as the oldest ship afloat, ahead of the 1797 USS Constitution.[2]

A former prisoner, bushranger Harry Power, was employed as a guide for her first commercial season, in Sydney Harbour in 1891. The display was not a commercial success, and her owners promptly abandoned their business venture and scuttled the ship in Kerosene Bay.[1]

The following year the sunken Success was sold to a second group of entrepreneurs and refloated. After a thorough refit she was taken on tour to Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and back to Sydney, then headed for England, arriving at Dungeness on 12 September 1894.

In 1912 she crossed the Atlantic and was exhibited as a convict museum along the eastern seaboard of the United States of America and later in ports on the Great Lakes. On April 22, 1915 the ship was docked in San Francisco CA for the Panama–Pacific International Exposition. While there a short film made by the Keystone Film Company called “Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco.” This film can be found in the Library of Congress collection. In this film the two stars go on board and the mayor of San Francisco James “Sunny Jim” Rolph, Jr. gives an extended tour of the ship. In 1917 she was briefly returned to commercial service as a cargo carrier, but sank after being holed by ice. Refloated in 1918 she resumed her museum ship role, In 1933 was featured at the Chicago World Fair.[1]

However, despite ongoing repairs the vessel was becoming rapidly unseaworthy. She was towed to Lake Erie Cove in Cleveland, Ohio to be dismantled and sold as scrap, but was destroyed by fire set by vandals while berthed alongside the Lake Erie Pier in Sandusky Ohio, on 4 July 1946.[1]

A 1:60 full-hull model of the Success is held by the South Australian Maritime Museum.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d Gillett, Ross; Melliar-Phelps, Michael (1980). A Century of Ships in Sydney Harbour. Rigby Publishers Ltd. p. 31. ISBN 0-7270-1201-0. 
  2. ^ "The Convict Hulk "Success" and Her Kelly Gang Connections". Retrieved 2007-02-14. 
  3. ^ South Australian Maritime Museum > Success Accessed 24 September 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • The History of the Convict Ship Success, and Dramatic Story of Some of the Success Prisoners. A Vivid Fragment of Penal History. c1912. 150 pp.
  • Bateson, Charles, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Brown, Ferguson & Son, Glasgow, 1959
  • Wardle, Arthur C., Official History of the "Convict" Ship, Sea Breezes magazine, Vol. 3 (New Series, 1947), p 73–74.

External links[edit]