The Convict Hulk "Success" and Her Kelly Gang Connections
Written by Sharon Hollingsworth
North American Correspondent Glenrowan1880.com
If anyone ever thought that the history of the Kelly Gang was fraught with conflicting facts and reports, perhaps they should take a look at the history of the convict hulk "Success." The "Success" not only shares the Kelly Gang's predilection for controversy, but has several reputed ties to the gang, too. The "Success," which later became a floating "convict ship" museum, was built in 1840 in Burma. It had been widely, yet erroneously, reported by her promoters that she had been built in 1790 and that she had actually been used to transport convicts. While she had been a stationary convict hulk, she never was a "convict ship." A difference there! It seems these claims were made to perhaps fuel the imaginations and loosen the purse-strings of a public who were not far removed from, yet intrigued with the convict era.* But more on that aspect of the ship's history in a bit.
The "Success" was built for trade in the Orient and was later used as an emigrant ship between the UK and Australia. In 1843 she made a voyage to the Swan River Colony (what is now Perth) with emigrant families. As an interesting side note, Glenrowan1880's West Australian correspondent Dave Brown relates that some of his wife's ancestors arrived on the "Success" on that 1843 voyage, and that one of them, Thomas Reynolds, was born on board three days out from shore!
Speaking of the Swan River Colony, another famous
ship named "HMS Success" is associated
From 1860 to around 1868, the "Success"
was used as a women's prison and in 1869 as
The "Success" sank at her moorings in 1892. She was refloated in 1893 and under new owners (her ownership changed hands many times before he fateful end decades later) toured around Australia for a time. From 1895 to around 1911 the "Success" toured ports around Great Britain and was a rousing success! Again the ship was sold, this time to an American concern and she left Liverpool headed to the United States on April 10, 1912, the same day that another ship left Southampton headed the same way. Only one of the two arrived at their destination, the other ship was named the "Titanic." The "Success" was shown around US ports from 1912 up until around the early 1940s. It was 1946 when she was ultimately run aground and was then allegedly burnt by vandals. Tens of millions of visitors (one 1924 exhibition catalogue says over 20 million!) had thronged to see her in her heyday and purchased many of the exhibition catalogues and souvenir books about the history of the ship which were printed on board. (One of her later owners was a Mr. Jontzen who owned a publishing firm.) Countless postcards were also sold. Many of them turn up on ebay and in auction houses throughout the world today.
Some depict "staged" torture scenes and others have the ship afloat and in dry dock and there were others that were pretty astonishing. In reference to those astonishing cards and as concerns a Kelly Gang connection, we will go to the passenger list for the "Success's" 1849 arrival in Australia. It was in that year that Patrick Byrne, aged 18, and his three brothers arrived as free emigrants aboard her. In a few short years Patrick would marry and the union would produce a son, a son he named after his own father, Joseph.*** Joe Byrne, as we all know would grow to young adulthood and become Ned Kelly's righthand man in the Kelly Gang. It is very ironic, that when the ship was made into a floating museum that in one of the cells there would be wax dummies, touted as having been "described by the world's experts as the most perfect ever made," and Joe Byrne's would be one of them!**** (Though one old lag/wag visited the museum in his declining years and upon seeing a wax figure of himself declared that he had been much better looking back then than he was depicted!) The "Success" had a featured exhibit called "The Notorious Kelly Gang" and had wax dummies of the four gang members along with Kate Kelly(!) all behind bars. The exhibition catalogue has the gang listed and gives a brief, albeit error filled synopsis of their career, and says "...The Kellys were never aboard. They are shown here as examples of modern Australian outlaws..." There is a postcard of the scene of the Kellys in the cell and I only wish I had a copy to show here. I have seen it before and it was an odd site to behold indeed!
There are postcards (see pic above) of Ned's armour which was reported as being on board, too. Oddly, the Ogden Cigarette Company which put out trade cards in the early 20th Century, used the image of the armour from the "Success" on one of them!
Clearly it was a replica suit but was never mentioned as being such in all the literature. In the book "The History of the Convict Ship 'Success' and Dramatic Story of Some of the 'Success' Prisoners" it says the following about the armour: "...Among the numerous relics of lawless life in Australia now shown on board the "Success," none is more interesting than the ingenious suit of shot-resisting steel which formed the impenetrable armour of Ned Kelly, the leader of this notorious "Kelly Gang." This rusty relic of the hunted outlaw swings to and fro on the deck, suspended by a rope, a position which is strongly suggestive of the after-fate of the original wearer. The suit consists of breastplate, shoulder-guards, back-plate and vizour, complete. Indentions made by well-aimed bullets may be seen in clusters, showing that the bushranger was at one time subjected to a hot fire, and that if not for this protection he must have met with instant death..."
This same book is one that Brian McDonald had made mention of in his excellent resource publication "What They Said About Ned!": "Another work, which ran into numerous editions, was Joseph C. Harvie's 'The Convict Hulk "Success." The Story of her life, and the lives of those who filled her cells,' Spectator Publishing Co. Ltd., Melbourne, 1891.....While the "Success" was touring America a revamped edition of Harvie's work appeared as 'The History of the Convict Ship "Success". And Dramatic Story of Some of the "Success" Prisoners, which was 'published on board the convict ship "Success."...These American editions carry additional, and in some cases outlandish, information particularly in the bushranging sections. One example is the statement that "Red" Kelly, Ned's father, arrived in Van Diemen's Land on the "Success."...' [end of McDonald quote] Yes, you read that right, the later editions of the book (the one I have has a 1929 copyright) states that "Red" Kelly arrived on the Success and that he was present when Inspector-General of Convict Establishments John Price (he was not Captain of the "Success" as the exhibition catalogue states) arrived to hear some of the prisoner's grievances. The book says (all a fabrication to be sure!) that: "..."Red" Kelly, the father of the bushrangers of later years, asked whether a sentence of three days' solitary, which he received a week before, would affect his ticket-of-leave.
Mr. Price and Mr. Hallis [Superintendent of the ship] agreed that he would have to wait six months, whereupon Kelly shook his fist defiantly, and said, "You –––– tyrant, your race will soon be run." For this display of insolence he was taken back to the "Success" in charge of two overseers.." This is supposed to be a historical record! What happened very soon after was that Mr. Price was set upon and murdered by some of the convicts! (in another book it says the convict was "James" Kelly, still assumedly not a James Kelly related to Ned, and that he helped in the murder!)
There is even a "cartoon-type" pull-out in the exhibition catalogue showing the assault on the "captain" in progress and other such equally lurid scenes as well as Ned's armour with a strangely hinged helmet faceplate and no shoulder caps. Who do you think the book says presided at the trial of the convicts accused of Price's murder? It was Judge Redmond Barry, who also presided over the trials of Ellen and Ned Kelly. This was in 1857 that Price was murdered. Captain Melville whom Barry had sentenced to prison in 1853 had a prominent role in the Price affair. How preposterous to have "Red" Kelly even associated with all this! One wonders where the "facts" came from! We know that "Red" Kelly was not ever onboard the "Success"! He had arrived Down Under in 1841 on the "Prince Regent" and got his ticket-of-leave in 1845. By 1857 he was married to Ellen and had fathered several children by then, among them Ned.
Strange to read of such contrived accounts as above about "Red" Kelly being on the ship and yet how many would believe them since they were in print! No telling how many of the tens of millions who saw the ship brought the book! Another murder involving the "Success" and a warder or constable or two (depending on what you read) was in the previous year to Price's murder, 1856. This time it involved a gaol break with Harry Power and Captain Melville (he seemed to always be the ringleader) and others. During the trial, Melville was found guilty but Power and others were acquited. The book also mentions about Captain Melville, previous to the attack on Price, having appeared to have converted to religion and the chaplain was happy to have a dedicated convert and supplied him with books and thus through his piety was able to escape harsh punishment and to go to work ashore in the quarry, and that is where the murder occurred. The book goes on to say that Dr. John Singleton was a one time chaplain aboard the "Success" and I have yet to confirm that. I have read that he had visited Melville before and after the attack. There is a Kelly connection with Dr. Singleton. He was a medical doctor and Christian philanthropist who first exposed the cruel treatment prisoners on the hulks received and started the "Citizen's Committee" to seek reform.
When Ned Kelly was in Old Melbourne Gaol he allegedly asked to see Dr. Singleton. According to a review for a book about the doctor's life called "Pioneer Doctor" it states that he visited Kelly many times and witnessed to him about Jesus Christ. It goes on to say "His visits were stopped prior to Kelly's hanging in November 1880, by the Dean of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral, who objected to Singleton's visits to Kelly and his efforts to "convert him to the Protestant faith"..." There was even one article I recall reading where it was said that Dr. Singleton was the one to have heard Ned's final immortal words! Doubtful in the extreme! So after all that meandering, let's review the Kelly Gang connections to the "Success": we have bushranger Harry Power and his myriad adventures onboard, we have Joe Byrne's free emigrant father arriving on her, we have an erroneous account of Ned's father having been sent out to Australia and serving time as a prisoner on her, we have the Gang as educational wax dummy exhibits along with Ned's armour hanging on deck swinging in the breeze, we have Judge Barry who sat on trials related to the ship's prisoners and we have Dr. Singleton who visited Ned in his last days at the Old Melbourne Gaol.
There were sure enough connections to make me sit up and take notice and to delve deeper. I have learned a lot during the course of this research. I have tried to compare and verify facts as best as I could with my limited resources. Amazing to see what has been in print and possibly taken as gospel for many years, isn't it? I am still struck by the fact that the book "The History of the Convict Ship 'Success'.." has parts in it that sound so convincing, yet have been proven to be fabrications. It is hard to know just what the real story was. I guess like with all else, we should take anything we read with a grain of salt, or maybe where it concerns ships, it should be taken with a bit of saltwater? ..............................................
*In Ferguson's Bibliography of Australia, he gives this quote confirming the evidence of the "convict ship" museum being a hoax: "Year after year the "Success" was hawked about the sea ports, rivers and lakes of America, and year after year her notoriety and the stories about her grew and spread until 1934, when the Commonwealth Government thought the joke had gone too far and instructed the Investigation Branch of the Attorney-General's Department to make a thorough research into the real history of the "Success".
The Australian Government representatives in America-armed with the official history of the ship, made a public statement that the showman's history of the ship was untrue, and gravely resented in Australia. "The official representatives of Australia in the U.S.A, asked the Commonwealth Government in 1925, and again in 1931, to explore the history of this vessel. A thorough investigation of official and other records has clearly established the fact that the ship now being exhibited in the United States was never used as a convict transport........." (it went on in some detail debunking much of what was in the "Success" book and exhibition catalog).
**As far as there being other "Success" named ships, the best known one was the "HMS Success" commanded by Capt. James Stirling which was associated with the early exploration of the Swan River area in 1827.
***In Corfield's 'Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia' it has under the Joe Byrne entry that his grandfather in Australia in 1848 had sent for his sons to come join him, thus seemingly confirming the 1849 arrival, it goes on to say about the 1855 wedding of Patrick and Margret, BUT a couple of pages later in the Margret Byrne entry it says about her 1855 wedding to Patrick and says Patrick was a digger who had arrived in Australia "eleven" years earlier! That would have been 1844!
****Of course, this would not be Joe Byrne's first time becoming a "man of wax." The Ovens Murray Advertiser of July 3, 1880 had this: "Byrne in Effigy–An addition has been made to the Chamber of Horrors at the Melbourne Waxworks. The figure of the outlaw Joe Byrne, a cast of whose head was taken by Mr. Kreitmeyer, the proprietor of the Waxworks, has been added to the collection of notorious outlaws." (One wonders about the casting of the head by Kreitmeyer! Hmmm...)
Also on the "More" page here at
Glenrowan1880 is this newspaper tidbit:
Various webpages and internet databases
Books/Publications: The History of the Convict Ship
"Success" And Dramatic Story of Some of the "Success"
Prisoners, 1929, 150 pp.
Thanks to...... Brian McDonald for providing the Ferguson text and for sending me the closeup image of the armour that was on the ship. His help and enthusiasm are always welcome!
Once again thanks to Dave White for all the usual reasons and then some!
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