Aboard the Convict Ship – Success

Above is a reproduction of a double-page illustration in the official guide-book prepared for American visitors to the Success in 1930. The crude drawings are supposed to show the sort of horrors that were practised on the Success in the convict days, and include an absurd impression of the murder of Captain Price.

The true history of the Success, before she was Americanised in 1912, is comparatively honourable, and only sensational because of her penchant for nautical mishaps. After her launching in 1840 she spent eight or nine years in the British East Indian trade, and then turned up with emigrants at Port Adelaide, celebrating the occasion by being stranded in eight feet of water. More emigrants came out in her in 1852. In this year the Victorian authorities, being overstocked with desperadoes, who had flocked to the goldfields, bought and converted the Success into a prison hulk to accommodate the surplus from the gaols. For six years she harboured prisoners, and to that extent alone might be styled a ‘convict ship.’ At a later date she was pressed into service as a women’s prison, and then a dormitory for boys from a neighbouring reformatory ship.

NOT until 1884 did the Success acquire status as a museum piece, and then it was the enterprise of Melbourne speculators which fitted her out to pose as a convict ship. They did their job well. Harry Power, the ex-bushranger, was engaged as showman, delivering lectures on board at various Australian ports on “waxen wickedness and leg-ironed lawlessness.” Things went so well that it was decided to dress her up for a trip to England. But here the people of Sydney appear to have taken a firm stand. They did not mind the Success starring in their own waters, where the facts of her history were fully recognised; but they did object to public exhibitions abroad. And so it happened that the Success suffered a mysterious outbreak of fire at Woolloomooloo, and later actually vanished, in the most sinister manner, beneath the waters of Kerosene Bay. Her owners, however, were obdurate. She was fished out of her decent submarine grave and, though the Customs refused her clearance, was surreptitiously despatched to London.

From that date the Success went through many vicissitudes, but never showed her nose again in Australian waters. Once she was mistaken for the Flying Dutchman by the superstitious skipper of a barquentine off the Cape of Good Hope. She managed to run ashore two or three times on Scottish coasts, and was wrecked at Carollton, Kentucky, only to suffer a further resurrection. On no account was she to end her shame by means of suicide. Again her ill-starred frame appeared in the Thames, where she was billed to appear near the Tower Bridge with her nasty freight, and the further inducement of “gentlemanly ushers always in attendance.” Yet still reports are coming to hand of her miserable voyaging round the shores of the North American Continent. Surely it is time to put her out of her misery and end the base exploitation of a theme that does a gross injury to Australia and Australians wherever this old hulk touches land.

Sources:

  1. Aboard the Convict Ship (1930, October 22). Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), p. 24. 
  2. Amazing Career of the Success (1930, October 22). Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), p. 24.
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