Monday, March 21, 2011
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
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
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
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.