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.


  1. Very informative, great way to kick off your blog! You should send these in to history periodicals and journals.

  2. Thank you. That's a good idea, I will look into doing that.