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Watercolour depicting the ship SUCCESS in Sydney Harbour.

Date: 1890-1920
Overall: 580 x 485 mm
Medium: Watercolour on paper, timber frame.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Watercolour
Object No: 00039042

User Terms

    This watercolour by Fred Elliott titled 'The Convict Ship SUCCESS', depicts the convict hulk anchored in Sydney Harbour, with Fort Denison and other vessels in the background.
    SignificanceIn a career spanning 106 years (1840-1946), the SUCCESS made history on four continents performing a wide variety of roles: trader, emigrant ship, coolie transport, prison hulk and exhibition ship. The vessel achieved great fame in the twentieth century as a floating museum, based partly on the erroneous claim that it had transported convicts to Australia.
    HistoryConvict transportation to Australia began in 1787 when the First Fleet set sail. It was seen as a solution to the overcrowding of British prisons and the temporary measure in England of stowing convicts on prison hulks. Transportation reached a peak in the 1830s and continued until 1857, by which time new prisons were opening, many of which are still in use today. The practice of transportation wasn't formally abolished until 1868.

    Between 1788 and 1868 over 168,000 men, women and children were transported from Britain to Australia as convicts on board more than 1,000 modified merchant ships which had been converted into convict transports.

    The SUCCESS was a barque of 622 tons built at Moulemain, India in 1840. Employed as a 'country ship' in the UK to East Indies trade the owners then transferred the vessel to the Australian immigrant service in 1847. On one run in 1853 upon arriving at Geelong, Victoria, the crew deserted to join the gold rush, leaving the vessel stranded. It was purchased later that year by the Victorian Government and turned into a prison hulk for convicts. In March 1857 the Inspector-General of Penal Establishments in Victoria, Captain John Price, visited Williamstown to investigate conditions on the hulks. During this visit, he was surrounded and attacked by a party of convicts, dying from his injuries the next day. A group of SUCCESS prisoners were hanged for the murder, and the incident initiated an inquiry into the use of prison hulks, ultimately bringing an end to this system of incarceration.

    SUCCESS was next transferred to Sydney owners before being sold to entrepreneurs in 1890. The ship departed Australia and surreptitiously arrived in England as an 'exhibition ship', fitted out as a floating museum and falsely billed as having a history of transporting convicts to Australia- 'the last of England's infamous felon fleet'. SUCCESS remained on exhibition there until 1912 when the vessel was sold to American owners for the same purpose, going on to tour the east and west coasts of the United States. The greatly exaggerated and often fabricated stories of SUCCESS' dreadful convict history drew multitudes of curious visitors, and in the 1920s and 1930s the Australian government unsuccessfully attempted to have the enterprise shut down. In addition to inaccurately claiming a convict transport past, SUCCESS' operators also declared her to be the oldest ship afloat, advertising 1790 as the year the vessel was built rather than 1840. Despite this, the ship continued on display in the US for many years and was a star attraction at the 1933 Chicago World Fair. However in 1946, after more than 50 years of exhibition, SUCCESS was destroyed by fire and sunk in Lake Erie, USA.

    Frederick Elliott was active in Sydney from around the 1880s to 1930. He also worked in Brisbane. Despite a prolific output of watercolours on marine subjects, little is known about him. He is said to have sold his paintings around waterfront pubs for the price of a few drinks. His style combines a romantic use of soft light, mist and reflections, with a realism arising from an accurate knowledge of ships and associated maritime elements. His works were almost never dated and were usually untitled or given very general titles. He also participated in the Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition in 1891-92 as a photographer.

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