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
Tons burthen: 621 (bm)
Length: 117 ft 3 in (35.7 m)
Beam: 26 ft 6 in (8.1 m)
Draft: 22 ft 5 in (6.8 m)
Installed power: Sail
Sail plan: Full rigged ship

Success was an Australian prison ship, built in 1840 at Natmoo, Burma, for Cockerell & Co. of Calcutta. 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 in 1946 by fire while berthed in Lake Erie near Cleveland, Ohio.[1]


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.[2]

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 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.[3]

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.[2]

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.[2]

However, despite ongoing repairs Success was becoming rapidly unseaworthy. She was towed to Sandusky Ohio on Lake Erie Ohio to be dismantled and sold as scrap. A strong storm sank her at her moorings at Sandusky. A salvage operator named Walter Kolbe acquired the rights to her and in the summer of 1945 he had Success towed to nearby Port Clinton. Unable to enter the shallow port she grounded just East of Port Clinton. On 4 July1946 a fire broke out aboard Success and in the course of the afternoon she burned to the waterline. Hundreds watched the blaze from the shoreline. The fire is generally attributed to unknown vandals. Remains of the ship remain in 16 feet of water just east of Port Clinton harbor.[4][2]

The South Australian Maritime Museum holds a 1:60 full-hull model of Success.[5]


  1. ^ "View of Circular Quay about 1890, (with) the old convict ship Success moored to the wharf (Sydney) (picture)". National Library of Australia Catalogue. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "The Convict Hulk "Success" and Her Kelly Gang Connections". Retrieved 14 February 2007.
  4. ^ Richard Norgard
  5. ^ "South Australian Maritime Museum Success". Retrieved 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]