The  Success is arguably the most famous sailing ship in history. During an extraordinary 106 years afloat she served as a merchant ship, emigrant ship, prison or penal hulk, boy’s reformatory, women’s prison, and defense store before touring the world on exhibition. When she was falsely advertised as a “convict ship” the Australian government tried unsuccessfully to have her stopped. Convict Ship Success, Prison Ship Success, Prison Hulk Success, Penal Hulk Success, Exhibition Ship Success, Floating Hell, World’s Most Hated Ship, Wax Figures, teak, teakwood, Moulmein, Burma, show ship, oldest ship afloat, Houdini, D.H. Smith, Joseph C. Harvie, E.W. Nottingham, Frederick Mangles, Cockerell & Co., Phillipps & Tiplady, emigrant ship, immigrant ship, Swan River, ship wreck, Lake Erie, Port Clinton, Sandusky

The Sailing Ship Success

The discovery of gold brought an overwhelming influx of humanity into Victoria beginning in 1851, including a sizable criminal element. The lack of available prison space forced the government to resort to unusual measures. Borrowing on the English experience with prison hulks, five vessels were purchased, including the Success. and anchorage in Hobson’s Bay at Williamstown. She was fitted out with cells that lined both decks. An additional deck was built inside her cavernous hold to accommodate so that two more rows of cells could be added. It was said that she had sufficient room for 120 convicts.
    Conditions on board were harsh in the extreme. What were considered the worst offenders were never let out of their cells on the lower deck except for one hour of exercise per day. The better behaved men were kept in larger cells on the ‘tween deck and were taken ashore each day to cut stone in the quarry at Point Gellibrand Point.
    In 1854 John Giles Price, former infamous commandant at Norfolk Island was appointed to oversee the penal department of Victoria, which included the hulks.
During an attempt to escape in 1856, a Warder named Owen Owens was murdered. Among the 10 men implicated in this incident was named Henry Johnson (photo at left), an Irishman who had been transported to Australia for stealing a pair of shoes. He would later gain notoriety as a daring bushranger under the alias Harry Power. It was claimed that his apprentice in crime was the famous Ned Kelly.
    In 1857 prisoners from the Success working in the quarry murdered John Price (sketch at right) and the use of the hulks for hardened male prisoners was discontinued.

    From about 1860 to 1869 the Success was used to incarcerate women and boys. Subsequently, the ship was used to store ammunition. In 1890 the government, finding no further use for her, sold her at auction. See what happens next...

Penal Hulk (1852 - 1890)