Monday, November 21, 2011

Another 'Success'-ful work of art

Another work of art depicting the ship Success has surfaced in the National Maritime Collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum. And this one bears similarities - at least superficially - to one that I have discussed previously.

If you follow this blog you know that in March I wrote a story about the maritime artist Frederick Garling and the a wonderful watercolor he painted of the Success in 1849. Well the newly discovered work you see above is also a watercolor and is also by an artist named Frederick. This one was Frederick Elliot.

Here's what is posted on the National Maritime Collection site about Elliot:
Fred Elliot was a marine painter active in Brisbane and later in Sydney, working primarily in watercolour. He was born in England in 1865 and came to Queensland with his family in 1876. He worked as a lithographic artist at the Queensland Government Printing Office from 1896 to about 1903, and later moved to Sydney. A prolific artist, he painted sailing ships, liners, merchant and naval ships, often depicted with dramatic atmospheric effects. His watercolours are high keyed and often echo the romantic effects of soft light and mist popularised by J J Hilder. He rarely painted in oil, but was commissioned in 1910 to paint a large portrait of shipowner partners Andrew McIlwraith and Malcolm Donald McEacharn.
What I find interesting about this work is that Elliot has placed the ship in Sydney harbor. You will note that here she is rigged as a barkentine. She didn't receive a barkentine rig until early 1912 in preparation for her voyage from England to the U.S. Additionally, the white trim on her hull extends down to midway on her quarter gallery. Again, this paint trim was a characteristic of her appearance during her tour of the U.S. I conclude from this that Elliot based this work on photographs of the ship taken in the U.S., or from sketches after seeing the ship in person somewhere in the U.S., and yet he chose Sydney as a backdrop. Most interesting.

The work is undated (as was most of Elliot's work) but I conclude it must have been done after 1912.

The old Success has inspired many fine artists over the years. This watercolor by Fred Elliot is a fine addition to that body of work.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Herbert Croker Model of the 'Success' - A better view

Photo courtesy the South Australia Maritime Museum
Back in May, I told the story of the Herbert Croker model. I reported at that time I believed it was located at the South Australia Maritime Museum (SAMM). Just recently someone with that museum contacted me and confirmed that, indeed, the Croker model is located at the SAMM. At my request they also provided the above image, for which I am extremely grateful. It is a much clearer than the one I had previously posted. I urge you to take a few moments to browse their fine website and, by all means, if you make it to Adelaide allot some time to visit their many fine exhibits, in addition to the Croker model, of course!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New "Success" article appears in northwest Ohio publication

The Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette, a monthly regional newspaper distributed free throughout northwest Ohio, has a feature article about me in its just-released September issue. As the paper is not available outside this area, I took the liberty of scanning the article. Julie Hohman, the author, did a good job of getting the facts correct. Click on the images to make them more readable.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pics from "Last Days of the Success" at the Ottawa County Museum

Attendees sitting in rapt attention during my presentation

Showing the crowd a piece of teak from the Success

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Convict Ship in Sandusky, Ohio

A sign at the Cedar Point dock directs visitors to the Convict Ship. (Author's collection)

Of the many cities on the Great Lakes where the Success docked over a span of 17 years, her roots to the modest-sized city of Sandusky on Lake Erie are as strong as any. A quick review of history will demonstrate why.

The famed "convict ship" entered the Great Lakes in 1923, with Cleveland having the distinction of being her first port of call. It was a prosperous time for the ship and her owners. The economic engine of the U.S. was just hitting its stride after the Great War and the "roaring twenties" were kicking into high gear. The Success embarked on a successful tour of our inland seas that took her from Lake Erie to Lake Huron and, finally, Lake Michigan, culminating in a triumphant and wildly successful showing in Chicago during 1925. She started back down the lakes and, after a showing at Oswego, New York, in Lake Ontario in August of 1928, departed for the eastern seaboard.

When she returned to the lakes five years later with a showing at Chicago for the Century of Progress International Exposition, it was a profoundly different country, having plunged into the throws of the Great Depression. With 25 percent unemployment across the country, people struggled to put food on their tables, let alone spend money on entertainment.

After Chicago, the Success was not shown for two years. Once back in operation she had several years of marginal success. She arrived in Sandusky for the first time in September 1938, at the tail end of the exhibition season. She wintered there, and in the spring received a new, badly-needed main deck. In May she was towed to Lorain, Ohio for caulking and other repairs, and in June she was taken to Cleveland and berthed at the East Ninth Street Pier. This was to be her home for the next three years. Then in late 1942, pressure for dock space at the height of World War II forced her out of Cleveland.

The Success on show at Sandusky

Thus she returned to Sandusky, lashed to the Hunt Coal Company dock, her future at that point uncertain. Before her owner could decide, nature intervened and did it for him when, in March of 1943 a spring storm pounded the ship's hull so hard against the bottom that she took in more water than her already overworked pumps could handle and she sank at her dock. For the next two and a half years various attempts were made to float her, with little success. She proved to be a worrisome problem for city fathers and for the owners of the popular excursion steamer Put-in-Bay which now had to share its dock with the old prison ship. Something had to be done.

In the meantime, with no one at the dock watching out for her, the darker side of human nature took over. Anything that wasn't tied down was carried away. Exhibits such as the Iron Maiden, dozens of chains and shackles, and numerous wax figures disappeared. Fittings such as the red and green running lights - gone.

The ice shrouded hull of the Success at Sandusky (author's collection)

Had it not been for Harry Van Stack, there would be nothing left. Harry, a naturalized citizen born in South Africa, who for the last 18 years had been a trusted, lecturer, caretaker, and general hand on board the Success. Seeing that the end was near, Stack salvaged what he could from the ship and took it to his new home in Sandusky. Years later, after his death, his wife saw to it the documents and artifacts Harry saved found a permanent home at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library in nearby Fremont. In addition to advertising posters, teakwood, and a ship model, there were scrapbooks, photographs, and other rare documents that tell the fascinating story of the Success.

The Berkley Salvage Company of Detroit finally succeeded in raising the Success in September, 1945. They turned the ship over to an eccentric salvage operator from Port Clinton. I will tell the story of the ship's journey from Sandusky to Port Clinton in a future blog. But history records that the old prison ship Success has a strong connection to Sandusky - one that will be long remembered.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Another Success Ship Model

In a previous post I related the history of two models of the ship Success that had been created by professional modelers. I pointed out that these were but two of many models created memorializing this remarkable. It's time to continue that discussion.

Of all the models of the Success to surface over the years, perhaps the most unique--and by far the biggest--has to be one fashioned in the late 1930's by a Swedish immigrant. Here is his story.

John Hallen left his home in Warberg, Sweden, in 1906 at the age of 26 to begin a new life in America. After false starts, first in New York and then in Pennsylvania, the blue-eyed Swede, aw woodworker by trade, settled in  the tiny lumber town of Manistique on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In 1917, shortly after arriving, he and his wife, Elizabeth, purchased one of the town's oldest buildings for the nominal sum of $1. The building had served as a boarding house and the office for the Chicago Lumber Company. (The Consolidated Lumber Company maintained an office there until 1925.) John and Elizabeth converted the building into a hotel, naming it the Park Hotel.

To relieve the boredom of manning the desk at the hotel, Hallen would occupy his time with projects that showcased his skill as a woodworker. Where is first saw or read about the Success is not clear. The ship never visited Manistique, which was too small and off the beaten path to make a showing there financially viable. Perhaps he saw the ship while visiting Green Bay or one of the other ports on Lake Michigan where the Success made an appearance. (She had spent the entire year at Chicago in 1925, that city standing as one of its most successful show venues.) In any event, in the late 1930s Hallen began working on a ship model. A big one.

There is only one known photograph of Hallen with the finished model. In it, Hallen stands at the stern, smiling proudly. The photo was made into postcards. At nine feet in length and some six feet tall, it's the biggest ship model of the Success I have ever seen. The appears to be plenty of detail in the model, although the depth is wrong. (Hallen obviously never saw her in dry dock.)

It may not be the most finally crafted or detailed of Success ship models, but the one crafted by Swedish immigrant John Hallen is by far the the most unique.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Rare poster - The Success at Pittsburgh, 1919

One of the benefits of giving talks on the Success is the many wonderful people you meet and the stories they have to tell. After my talk for the Port Clinton Museum here a week ago today, Dave, one of the folks who came to watch approached me holding a large framed picture. When I saw it I almost did a back flip! (Which would be practically a physical impossibility at my age, but I digress.) The picture in the frame was actually an original posted on thick poster board adverting the appearance of the Success in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when the ship was there in 1919. Dave had bought it off an antique dealer friend of his some 25 years ago here in northern Ohio. Dave was kind enough to let me come out to his house this past week and photograph it.

Part of what makes the poster so unique is that it shows how the manager of the ship cleverly adapted the ship's exhibition to the current place and time. As the poster indicates, the ship was also doing duty at that time as a 'U.S. Marine Recruiting Station' and that the showing of the ship was a 'Benefit for the Fatherless Children of France.' This was a brilliant strategy, meant to dispel any suggestion that the exhibition was intended to exploit the people in time of war. This strategy was employed to good effect during the war years, 1917 through 1919, while the ship was touring the inland rivers.

Dave and I spent a most pleasant afternoon talking about the Success, but also (and mostly) about the Civil War. His personal collection of Civil War memorabilia was most impressive. Mostly, though, I felt as though I'd found a friend, and that's worth far more than any musket, or poster.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Success: From prison ship to tourist trap, fiery end on Lake Erie

The Port Clinton News-Herald ran a front page story about my talk on the Success at the local museum. There is a nice brief summary of the ship's history. There was one error that I will note here. The owner who was from Cleveland was Frank Jontzen, not Johnson, as stated in the News-Herald article. Otherwise the story was accurate. Click on the title above to read the story online.

Monday, July 4, 2011

65 years ago today - Port Clinton's unforgettable fireworks display

Thursday, July 4th, 1946. It was a near-perfect day on Lake Erie, much like it is today. On this post-war holiday, vacationers filled the beaches and roads around Port Clinton, Ohio, the center of one of the midwest's premier vacation spots. The Convict Ship Success, which had been a local topic of conversation - and gossip - since being brought here the previous August, lay almost unnoticed offshore as the holiday revelers focused on swimming, picnics, fishing, and other activities. Holiday vehicle traffic was heavy.

Sometime in the late afternoon (no one knows exactly when), someone glanced out from shore and noticed a column of dark smoke rising up from somewhere near the center of the grounded ship. As more and more onlookers took notice, the beginnings of a fire took hold and began to lick at the dry wood and in a fairly short time the read third of the vessel was fully ablaze. Like moths to a flame, boat large and small were pulled to the scene and began circling. A number of people on shore who had boats rushed to them so they could witness the fire up close. Some grabbed still or movie cameras to document what was was happening. And not only boats: At least one airplane did a flyover to check out the scene.

On shore, meanwhile, traffic was jammed along nearby roads as motorists stopped to watch the blaze, finding any place they could to pull over. And what a show it was, as the conflagration gradually consumed the entire vessel. The heat was intense, fanned by a stiff evening breeze. As Port Clinton had no fire boats, no attempt was made to put out the blaze.

The fire continued on into the night. No one knows exactly how long it took but, before it ended, the famous old ship had burned to the waterline, nothing rising above the lake's surface more than a foot or so save for a blackened section of the middle mast.

The water was sprinkled with debris from the ship, which washed ashore for days afterward. Local residents, eager for a souvenir, scoured the beaches for anything they could find, and many a local garage, attic, or curio box still contains a charred piece of wood from the ship. It was well known that the ship had been built of teak, so even a small chunk of the prized wood was considered a lucky find. Many of these pieces were cut or carved into souvenirs. (I own a letter opener that someone had whittled from a piece of teak.)

After the fire there were many rumors circulating about the cause of the fire. There was no question that it had been arson. The only question was, who had done it? The most obvious theory was that it had been local youths acting on a dare or as a holiday prank. But others suggested a more sinister motive; that the ship's owner, Walter Kolbe, had had someone destroy the ship, supposedly because he was catching heat from the local coast guard. Some years ago I attempted to verify this but was informed by the coast guard that records from that era were no longer kept. So unless someone steps forward to reveal some personal knowledge of what happened that day, we will likely never know. I for one would like to have a conversation with that person.

Of course, it would be just between us.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Success: A "Bucket List" Dive

Ellsworth Boyd, who blogs for Sport Diver, has posted on their Wreck Chat Forum that the the prison ship Success will be added to his "bucket list" of must-do dives. His post features a nice (and, thankfully, accurate) history of the ship and its current condition in the lake.
Scuba divers who wreck dive in Lake Erie will tell you that the Success is Lake Erie's most famous shipwreck, though admittedly not the best wreck dive. While easily accessible, the visibility there is poor due to the muddy bottom, making for a spooky experience. Nonetheless, its a dive worth making, if only because of the rich history of the ship.
I recall that some years back, Ellsworth wrote an article on the ship for Skin Diver Magazine.
Clicking on the title above will take you to his blog post.
This is a good time for a last-minute reminder about my talk at the Port Clinton Museum this Saturday at 2pm. For full details, see my last post.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Last Days of the Success

Success sunk in the ice at Sandusky, Ohio, about 1944.

If you are in the Port Clinton, Ohio, area next Saturday, July 2nd, drop by the Ottawa County Museum and hear my talk on the last days of the ship. Here's the press release out by the museum:
On the afternoon of July 4th, 1946, Port Clinton residents and visiting tourists alike witnessed a most unusual  fireworks display when the old convict ship Success, which had grounded offshore the previous summer, went up in flames. On July 2nd, Rich Norgard, a Port Clinton writer and historian who has spent the last 40 years researching the history of the legendary ship, will present “Last Days of the Success” at the Ottawa County Museum, 126 West 3rd Street, Port Clinton.
The presentation will cover the prison ship’s fascinating and controversial career, with emphasis on the months and days leading up to the ship’s final demise. Mr. Norgard’s fascinating talk will be accompanied by a lively slide presentation featuring dozens of rare photographs and videos, as well as artifacts from the ship itself. The talk will be followed by a question and answer session and time to view the photographs and artifacts.
The presentation will begin at 2pm on Saturday, July 2nd, at the museum, located at 126 West 3rd Street, Port Clinton. Ample parking is available across the street at the Ida Rupp Public Library.
Mr. Norgard, who is the world’s authority on this historic vessel, is completing a book on her history. He maintains a website about the Success at and blogs about the ship at He has also written an Alaskan mystery novel.
The Ottawa County Museum will be open on July 2 from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.  Admission is free.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Some nice 'Success' ship models

Given the high profile the ship Success enjoyed during the 50 years that she toured the world, it comes as no surprise that a number practitioners of the modeler's art have memorialized this historic vessel.

There have been many models crafted of the Success but I want to focus on a few that I think are of particular significance, both in terms of the craftsmanship used to construct them and for the unique history surrounding the creation of the models themselves.

Of the models I wish to highlight, two are located in Australia and one in the U.S. Let's starts with what I will call the "Croker Model." This is a museum quality model crafted by a well-known and respected South Australia modeler, the late Herbert Croker. It is a finely crafted piece of work and a clear reflection not only of Croker's skill as a modeler but also his meticulous research of his subject. I believe it is currently located at the South Australia Maritime Museum as part of the Herbert Croker Collection of models there, but I have not been able to verify this.

In describing the construction process in an article he wrote about his work (printed in Issue 118 of the Radio Officers Club (ROC) News), Croker said the model "was designed from pictures and records collected by the author during years of research and it was built entirely from raw materials." In keeping with the original construction, Croker used teakwood for the planking of the hull, the elaborately carved stern. The rails and decks were done in cedar-wood in order to give it an age-worn appearance. All the ironwork, trusses, bands, anchors and chains were fabricated in either brass or copper. Croker crafted every link of chain by hand. Croker noted that, "The rigging is authentic in every detail and all is workable, including the steering tackle." His meticulous craftsmanship is evident in the photo above.

The next model can be found to the east, in the state of Victoria, at the Williamstown Historical Society Museum (WHSM) at Williamstown, near the grand city of Melbourne, Australia. This is fitting because the Williamstown prison hulks, of which the Success was the most famous, figure so prominently in local history there. The hulks were moored in Hobson's Bay north of the Point Gellibrand lighthouse (later call Timeball Tower) and traces of the bluestone quarry where the prisoner were brought ashore each day to cut stone can still be seen today. You can read more about when the Success was a prison hulk on my website.

This history of this model (or what is known of it) is most interesting. In 1980 a member of the historical society happened to be on holiday in California, vising the San Diego Maritime Museum (SDMM). To his utter amazement, there in the museum office, lying on a bench, was a large model of the Ship Success. Here is how she appeared then:

The story behind the model, as related by museum personnel in San Diego, was that the model had been constructed by an American prisoner of the Success and had been taken back to America by him. (No mention of when.) The model had supposedly been in the builder's family for over a century, and the maritime museum had acquired it from them. There was a clue in the form of a card, found secreted in the after deckhouse stating that the model had been repaired (built?) by Charles W. Meyer, ship modeler and repairer, in New York in 1921. (I will note at this point that the Success was in fact on exhibition at New York in 1921.) I did some internet searching and found this small ad in the May 1919 issue of Art & Decoration magazine:

The visitor from Australia excitedly phoned his colleagues back in Williamstown and told them of his find. Negotiations were entered into with the SDMM and, as a result, the model was purchased from the family through the museum. Once the model was safely back in Australia, closer inspection revealed that the model was in poor shape, so they asked an experienced modeler and museum assistant, Allan Moorin, to take on the task of restoration. Moorin spent many hours on the model. More than just a repair job, the model was painstakingly restored from top to bottom. The resulting model, hardly recognizable from the original, was nonetheless impressive.

What can be concluded about the history of this model? The fact that the model was bark rigged suggests it was constructed pre-1912, before the ship was re-rigged as barkentine. And we have good reason to believe that someone went to the trouble of having the model repaired by a Brooklyn ship model artisan at a time when the real Success was on display there. It's possible, of course, Mr. Meyer was hired to construct a model of the ship from scratch, but it's more likely he was paid to repair an older model that had fallen into disrepair. Unfortunately, when I made inquiry with the WHSM folks as to the name of the family that had sold the model, they didn't know because the SDMM had acted as go-between. The name of the family in whose possession the model had resided for all those years, if it could be learned, is probably the best clue to tracking down the history of the Williamstown model.

I'll tell you about some more interesting Success ship models in my next blog.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Major update to the website posted today

I spent a good part of the day updating the website at This is the most significant update since I first created the website. There are double the number of pages and dozens of new photos. As you check it out you will notice the look and feel is totally different, but as you drill down into the site you will notice even more profound changes. You can now take a "tour" of the historyof the ship. As you are guided from page to page you will see made explanatory images, as well as links that will open new pages to explore things more in depth if you choose to do so.

Other goodies you will find include a page of common myths about the Success. This was fun to do, as it gave me a chance to finally lay rest so some of the goofy information that is out there about this ship.

I am proud of this update. Please take a moment to give it a look see. I will be posting again here soon as well, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here's a pic to hold you over. Actually, it's a clipping talking about a couple had who been married on the Success. Okay, this is a not-so-subtle lead in to my upcoming blog about marriages aboard the Success. Admit it, wouldn't you like be married aboard an old former floating prison?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Frederick Garling and a Tale of Two Ships Named 'Success'

The wonderful painting shown above is of the ship Success when she was an emigrant ship, and was created in 1849 by the noted marine artist Frederick Garling. Behind this wonderful work lies a fascinating tale of artistry and coincidence.

Frederick Garling, Jr. (see portrait below and to the right) was born in London 1806, the son of Frederick Garling, a solicitor. The Garling family arrived at Sydney in the ship Francis and Eliza in 1815. His father had the distinction of being the second solicitor admitted to the practice of law in Sydney.

From an early age Frederick's passion was painting. He showed such promise as a landscape artist that in the 20-year-old was chosen to accompany Captain James Stirling on an expedition to the Swan River on the west coast of Australia. Its purpose was to explore the region and assess its suitability as a site for a new British settlement. Garling was brought along to serve as the expedition's official artist.

Stirling had entered the british navy in August 1803, and made lieutenant in August 1809. In January 1826 he was given command of HMS Success, a brand spanking new 28-gun frigate. The following December he suggested that taking possession of the land on the west of Australia near the Swan River would provide England a trading advantage. The mission was approved and in January 1827, HMS Success sailed from Sydney for the Swan River. Among her passengers were the Colonial Botanist Charles Frazer and the surgeon, Frederick Clause. The expedition explored the area in detail and at one point Garling accompanied Stirling and Fraser as they climbed Mount Eliza, becoming the first Europeans to do so. Garling recorded it all with his wonderfully detailed landscapes.

In December 1828 Stirling was made Lieutenant-Governor of the new colony and formally founded the city of Perth. HMS Success returned to Western Australia under a different captain in 1829 and wrecked on Carnac Island. She was refloated, repaired, and returned to England.

Following his adventures in Western Australia, Garling returned to Sydney and was appointed to a position in the Customs Office, in which he performed ably while continuing to paint. He married Elizabeth Ward in 1829 and they had seven sons and four daughters. But he was even more prolific as a painter than he was as a father. It was said that during his lifetime he painted most of the ships that arrived at Sydney over a period of 40 years. He lived in a large two-story house on Market Lane in Sydney and, according to one old timer, "could always be seen in the early morning sitting near an open window engaged on his work."

In 1847, Frederick was promoted to acting landing surveyor at Sydney while in the meantime working steadily as a port artist. One of his chosen subjects happened to be a 9-year-old, full-rigged emigrant ship that arrived at Sydney from Plymouth by way of Hobart, Tasmania, on December 17, 1849. She had on board 182 government emigrants, the bulk of whom were the family members of convicts who had been transported to New South Wales for various crimes.

Perhaps a smile creased Garling's lips when he saw her. This new Success was not that unlike HMS Success that Garling knew so well from his exploits 22 years earlier. Similar in rig and size, the false gun ports of the emigrant ship mimicked the real ones sported by Stirling's frigate. What Garling likely did not know was that six years earlier, in 1843, the emigrant ship Success had sailed to the Swan River colony, as as HMS Success had done. Odds are he also did not know that the ship Success had grounded on a sandbar, suffering a fate similar to that which had befallen HMS Success. Nor is it likely he was aware that when the emigrant ship voyaged to Swan River, she was then owned by Frederick Mangles, Captain Stirling's brother-in-law!

With watercolor as his chosen medium, Garling produced a beautifully rendered, high detailed portrait of the emigrant ship Success. In the foreground, one of the ship's long boats can be seen ferrying passengers to the ship, which appears to be getting ready to make way. A well-known villa at Eliza Point (now Point Piper) is visible in the background. The work is entitled: "The barque SUCCESS off Point Piper." This is interesting because the ship is clearly rigged as a ship, not a barque (or bark), which makes me wonder Garling if titled this work, or whether it was assigned later. Is is possible that Garling, whose passion it was to paint sailing vessels, and who as a customs official, must have spent a significant amount of time in and around ships, did not know the difference between a ship and a bark?

At this point I shouls explain, for the benefit of the landlubber, the difference. A bark, or barque, typically has three masts, with the fore mast (the one at the front of the ship) and main mast (the middle mast) being rigged with square sails, and the rear most, or mizzen mast, rigged with fore-and-aft sails. A ship also has three masts but differs from the bark in that all three masts are rigged with square sails. The 'ship' will also typically have an additional fore-and-aft sail on the mizzen behind the square sails, called a 'spanker.' Here is a graphic showing what I mean. Example 1 is a ship rig, 2 is a barque or bark, and 3 is a barkentine.
To an untrained eye, the presence of a spanker on the mizzen might result in a ship rigged vessel being confused with a bark. In the Garling painting, the square sails are clearly visible on the mizzen of the Success, telling us that without doubt she is a ship, not a bark.

Interestingly enough, not long after the Victorian government sold the Success in 1890 and she became an exhibition ship, she was rigged as a bark to allow her to sail again. Years later, in 1911, she was re-rigged yet again, this time as a barkentine, which mounts square sails on the fore mast only. So at one time or another, the Success sported all three rigs. But I digress...

One person who greatly admired Garling's painting was his boss, Colonel John Gibbes, the Collector of Customs for New South Wales. Gibbes bought a number of Frederick's paintings, including his portrait of the Success and left it, along with three others, in his will to his daughter, Frances Minto Ludlam of Newry, New Zealand.

Because Garling had a habit of not signing his paintings, many of them sat for years in various libraries and museums, either unidentified or misidentified, eventually to be "discovered" once they were properly examined by experts. Today Garling's works are highly sought after and exhibitions of his art are very popular. A few years Christie's auction house offered one of Garling's ship paintings for 39,341.28 British pounds, or almost $64,000, although others have gone for quite a bit less.

Frederick Garling died in Sydney in 1873, leaving behind a wonderful legacy of marine art, and our only glimpse of what the Success looked like as a full rigged ship, before her conversion to a penal hulk. His wonderful painting of the Success is a permanent part of the National Maritime Collection at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, Australia.

Over the years, the marked similarities between the two ships named Success caused endless confusion, so much so that when the Success went on exhibition, the first history written about her mis-reported the ex penal hulk as being Stirling's warship. Penned by Joseph Harvie in 1895, the book, which was sold on board, asserted that "In the month of June 1829 the Success was chartered by the British Admiralty to sail to Australia." Harvie was castigated by some Australians for the mistake, implying that he was intentionally misleading, but he wasn't the only one to make the error. The Western Australian Year Book for 1902-4 contained an illustration of the the exhibition ship incorrectly labeled "H.M.S. Success," and a photograph of the Ship Success, rigged out for her voyage to England in 1895, was hung up in the Perth Public Library .

I for one don't believe Harvie's confusion was intentional. Rather, it highlights the pitfalls facing those who study history.

(Picture credits: Frederick Garling's painting of the Success is reproduced here courtesy of theAustralian National Maritime Museum, from the collection of the Museum's USA Gallery. The portrait of Frederick Garling is reproduced here courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Figures in Wax

One of the key attractions to the "convict ship" Success from her very first days of exhibition was the prominent use of wax figures to represent prisoners who had done time on board the ship, as well as others who were a part of the ship's history in some way. As I noted in an earlier blog, wax representations of members of the Kelly Gang of bushrangers, shown in the photo below, were included because of the immense popularity of Ned Kelly in Australia at the end of the 19th century, not because of any connection with the ship Success.

At the time that the Success first went on exhibition at Port Melbourne in early 1890, the art of wax modeling was immensely popular. And the most popular subject for the wax artisan? Criminals! Then, as now, the public had a morbid fascination with the criminals of the day, especially bushrangers, who were considered dashing, larger-than-life figures. So it was hardly surprising when someone from a local waxworks in Melbourne approached the new Success management with an offer to sell them a set of these figures. Judging from these images, the quality of the work was exceptionally high. Police photographs of these criminal subjects allowed the wax artist to render an exceptionally lifelike product.

Alexander Phillips, who bought the ship at auction from the Victorian government, purchased wax figures for a number of well-known Success convicts, as well as the Kelly Gang. Individual figures were placed in cells on the 'tween and lower decks. Groups of figures, such as that of the Kelly Gang and a scene depicting the murder of John Price, were placed in larger spaces located at the aft end of the ship on both decks. Over the years the figures changed, added, or had to be redone. In 1892 when the ship was on show in Sydney, there was a faction of citizenry opposed to the exhibit. One night a group of individuals skulked aboard and smashed most of the wax figures, causing considerable damage. Then, a few weeks later, the ship sank. (Whether the sinking was accidental or deliberate was never fully resolved.) After the ship was raised six months later, a new company was formed from the ashes of the old and one of the things that was done was to replace all of the original wax figures. They continued to be popular during the ship's half century of exhibition. It is worth noting that many of the early wax figures featured on the ship were immortalized by the renowned photographer, John Watt Beattie, who came aboard and was allowed access to these exhibits when the ship was on exhibition at Hobart, Tasmania, in 1894. Among others, he is responsible for the images on the right and immediately below.

The wax figures were always popular, in part because they served a valuable purpose. Instead of staring at an empty cell, the visitor got to see what looked like an actual person, dressed in prison garb. Being able to visualize the convicts in this way surely made for a more rewarding and meaningful experience. By the way, to support the weight of these full-size figures they were fitted with special iron 'feet,' like the one shown below.

There are many stories that have been told about the life-like nature of these figures. Some years ago the head from one of the wax figures sat at the end of the bar at the famous Roundhouse Bar at Put-in-Bay village on South Bass Island in Lake Erie. Periodically, one of the bartenders would place a cigarette between the wax lips, light it, and wait for the stunned reactions of the bar's patrons that were sure to follow. A lecturer on the ship told of how he would stand deathly still among the wax figures as a tour group came through, suddenly coming to life and scaring the bejesus out of group members.

While some of the wax figures were destroyed in the 1946 fire, there is no doubt that many of them ended up in private hands in the years prior when the ship was left unprotected and vulnerable to looting. Fortunately, though, a few of these fine pieces are available for public viewing. You can see several fine pieces on display at the Sandusky Maritime Museum in Sandusky, Ohio. They have a fine collection of these and other pieces, on permanent loan from the Rutherford B. Hayes Library in Fremont, Ohio. I will close this blog with a pic of one of the wax heads and other Success artifacts on display in Sandusky. It's well worth a visit.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Houdini vs. the Success

When the ship Success arrived in the U.S. for a long-running tour of exhibition as the "Convict Ship Success," she had the good fortune to be under the management of Dave Smith.

By the time Smith first laid eyes on the old ship at Douglas, Isle of Man, in the summer of 1911, the 32-year-old Hoosier was already a veteran salesman, card sharp, and raconteur. And he had some definite ideas about how to advertise and promote the ship when she entered U.S. waters a year later. His was a multi-pronged approach: run large display ads in all the local newspapers before the ship reached port, invite the press and prominent public officials to exclusive showings of the vessel before opening her to public view, and stage publicity stunts.

An early example of the latter was staged in 1913, not long after the Success arrived in the U.S. The old craft arrived in New York City on April 25th, docking at West 79th Street and Riverside Drive in the North River. While the Success was thrilling crowds in the Big Apple, Harry Houdini, who had become world famous as an escape artist and illusionist, was returning to New York from Bucharest aboard the steamer Kronprinz Wilhelm to open at Willliam Hammerstein’s popular Rooftop Theater for a second season of performances there. Sensing an opportunity, Hammerstein’s press agent suggested to Smith that he challenge Houdini to escape from one of the cells below deck. Smith wrote to Hammerstein, "If you allow me to manacle him [Houdini], lock him into one of the cells, I am ready to wager he will not escape." When Hammerstein suggested he and Houdini they communicate directly, Smith sent a cable to the famous escape artist extending the challenge. Like Smith every bit the showman, Houdini wired back, “Accept challenge any time mutually agreed upon to undergo test. Want no favors, but demand fair play.”

The stunt was scheduled for Wednesday, June 4, at 1:30 pm. With a large crowd watching from the dock, Houdini was placed in irons and locked in a cell on the lower deck, where he was further secured to a ringbolt attached to the hull. Within the space of an hour, Houdini released himself, dove through an upper porthole and swam to shore. The crowd roared – the stunt was a success.

Smith was famous for using press agents to help cook up creative - and sometimes outlandish - publicity stunts. One of his most famous was the "discovery" of a so-called Burmese "pigeon blood ruby" deep down in the hold of the ship when it was docked in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1923. Smith garnered enormous press as a result of the stunt, even after a journalist exposed the charade.

More tame publicity stunts involved various challenges in which the public was enticed to compete for money; for example, by getting married in Cell 13 on Friday the 13th. Over the years the Success served as the setting for more than a few nuptuals!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bushrangers and the Success

The ship Success continues to elicit a tremendous amount of interest around the world, as evidenced by the number of different websites that have shown interest in her story. One particularly fine website discusses the Success and her connection to a well known Australian outlaw. This site, called glenrowan1880, is owned and operated by Dave White. As many of you no doubt know, Ned was a famous Australian "bushranger" - a particular brand outlaw who roamed the hinterlands of Australia during the mid to late 19th century. A number of the more colorful among them attained the status of folk hero, their stories memorialized in poems, books, and on film. The names of a few of them become associated with the Success during her tenure as a penal hulk in the colony of Victoria and later as an exhibition ship. According to Wikipedia, these bushrangers were roughly analogous to British "highwaymen" and American "Old West outlaws," and their crimes often included robbing small-town banks or coach services. And some of them ended up incarcerated on board the various penal hulks, including the Success.

The bushranger perhaps most closely associated with the Success is Henry Johnson, alias Harry Power.
Power, an expert horseman and bush survivalist, is credited with tutoring the most celebrated bushranger in Australian, Ned Kelly. He served time on board the Success and was involved in one of the deadlier incidents involving the famous hulk, but his connection to the vessel does not end there. I will talk about Power and his close affiliation with the Success in more detail in a future blog, but for now let's return to the Ned Kelly story.

Sharon's excellent website provides a fascinating study of Ned and his kind. Part of what makes her site fun for me is the way she departs from the main path to explore aspects of the Kelly legend not usually discussed by Ned's biographers, such as the Success. Interestingly enough, Ned's connection with the Success (except for his association with Power) did not begin until the ship was put on exhibition in 1890 after being auctioned off to private interests. Part of her transformation into a show ship involved fitting her out as a waxworks. Lifelike representations of former Success convicts were accompanied by depictions the Kelly Gang and of the murder of John Price. What made the inclusion of the former of interest was that no member of Ned's gang had ever been incarcerated on the ship, which, by time Ned was out roaming the outlaw trail, was no longer being used to house prisoners. And as Hollingsworth correctly points out, the Exhibition Catalogue was quick to mention that the Kelly Gang figures were on display merely as examples of "modern Australian outlaws."

However, another Kelly related exhibit on display by the Success showmen created a bit more controversy. The Kelly Armour purported to be protective armor actually worn by Ned at the time of his arrest. However, this suit of armor is widely regarded as being a fake. Indeed, faked Kelly armor was not uncommon. Here is a photo of the armor on display on the Success:

I have attempted to determine where this armor came from, with little success. I have been even less successful in determining where it ended up. It was one of the many relics that disappeared from the ship during her fateful stay in Sandusky, Ohio (1943-45) when she was left unprotected. Thieves and vandals roamed at will over the sunken vessel, removing anything not bolted down. No doubt many of these items are sitting packed away in boxes, hiding in garages and basements, their "owners" too embarrassed to display them.

There are two other bushrangers who served time on board the hulk Success who are worthy of mention. They are Frank McCallum, alias Captain Melville, and Owen Suffolk. I will discuss each of these fascinating figures in future blog postings.