Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Multinational Ship

One of the remarkable things about the ‘Success’ is that she was a genuinely “multinational’ ship. Built in present-day Myanmar (then British India, later Burma), she held British registry for 12 years, until sold to the government of the newly formed state of Victoria, Australia. She remained government property for 38 years, until sold at auction to private interests in 1890.

She was presumably registered in Australia until she departed those waters permanently in 1895, returning ‘home,’ as it were, to England. In the course of the next 16 years she rounded Great Britain three times. The issue of nationality did not arise until she sailed to the United States in 1912. In order to avoid paying local taxes and fees, David Smith, who managed the vessel during her tour of exhibition in America, argued to local authorities that she was a ‘foreign vessel’ and therefore not subject to local taxation. In support of his contention he produced a letter from the British Board of Trade stating that they classified her as a ‘British yacht.’ It was a rather tenuous argument, and yet Smith succeeded in getting a few U.S. attorneys to write letters supporting his contention, and for years managed to avoid those higher fees. As the years passed and her U.S. ownership became more clearly evident, it became harder for Smith and his successors to avoid the higher fees.

During her long, remarkable career, the ‘Success’ transported British goods, carried indentured servants from India to the West Indies and English, Irish and Scottish emigrants from England to Australia, and housed convicts from many countries. ‘Born’ in British India and launched into salt water, she met her end in fresh water half a world away.

The ‘Success’ was indeed a multinational ship.

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