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.