There are many kinds of great wreck dives in the Great Lakes.  Some are ships sitting just beautifully preserved on the bottom waiting for a diver to explore, some are shallow habitats and spawning grounds for sea life.  The Success is another type of great shipwreck…a vessel whose remains might lack luster but with such a great story that a diver wants the chance to touch her at least once.  This story is the perhaps best on the Inland Seas.
She has the longest and most colorful history of any ship that sailed and sank in the Great Lakes.  This unique vessel was built as an armed merchantman, but had many incarnations serving as an immigrant ship, prison, ammunition storehouse, freighter, and museum and exhibit vessel.  In the course of her long life she sank 5 times, visited 6 continents, and had her history written and rewritten with many fictitious events included.
  • Schooner
  • 15ffw
  • 120ft Length
  • Port Clinton OH, Lake Erie
  • 41 31.321    82 54.705

Chronological History

  • 1840 Built for silk & Immigrant trade
  • 1857 Converted to prison ship, stationed at Sydney, Australia
  • 1885 Abandoned & scuttled
  • 1891 Raised, toured world as a “convict ship” museum
  • 1912 Came to United States
  • 1939 Retired at Port Clinton, Ohio;
  • 1946 burned by vandals

C. Patrick Labadie Great Lakes Ship Info

  • SUCCESS (1840, Barkentine)
  • Built at: Tenasserim, BURMA
  • Vessel Type: Barkentine Hull Materials: Wood
  • Number of Decks: 1 Builder Name: Natmoo Shipyard
  • Number of Masts:3
  • Length:117′ Beam: 27′ Depth: 23′
  • Final Location: Port Clinton, Ohio, Lake Erie How: Fire

Selection of News Articles for more #

Inland Seas 
      October 1946 p. 276  #

THE convict ship SUCCESS exhibited at many lake and ocean ports within the last thirty years and known to thousands of Americans was destroyed by fire on July 4, as she lay in Lake Erie Cove, off Port Clinton, Ohio. 
Built-in 1790 at Moulmein, Burma, the town familiar through Kipling’s “Mandalay,” she was entirely constructed of Burmese teak, one of the hardest woods known. She was 135 feet long, 29 beam, copper fastened, and treenail throughout. 
Initially an East India merchantman, she differed from most in having her own guns. Shot marks of an encounter with a French armed vessel in the Bay of Bengal were still visible on her hull close to the water line. Likewise, the teakwood mainmast contained a dent left by a pirate’s cannonball. Once she was captured by pirates but soon recaptured by a fleet sent out by the East India Company. 
In 1802 she was converted into transport for prisoners bound for Australia, remaining in this work for fifty years. Those days were when stealing was punished in England by transportation to Australia for a term never less than seven years, often much more. The cruelties perpetrated upon the unhappy prisoners below far surpassed those visited upon the cargo of the slave trading ships, for slaves had economic value if delivered in good condition, and convicts had none. Visitors to the SUCCESS in her latter days on display shuddered at the heavy chains, the black holes, and the instruments of punishment used at the Officers’ whims. 
      In 1852, when transportation was abolished, the SUCCESS became a prison hulk, anchored in Sydney Bay. The better to isolate her and discourage attempts at escape, a cordon of buoys was moored around the yellow-painted hulk, seventy-five yards away. Anyone passing the circle without proper authority was liable to be instantly shot. 
In 1868 she was abandoned as a prison hulk. For a time she was used in a women’s prison. Later she became a storage ship for powder. 
In 85 the SUCCESS was prepared for exhibit in Sydney but maliciously scuttled, and went to the bottom, where she remained for nearly five years. Then she was raised and began the tours that carried her worldwide and on thousands of miles. For some years during the Cleveland Exposition of 1935 36 and after, she lay off East Ninth Street, in curious company with the flagship that carried Admiral Byrd to the Antarctic. Later she was to be seen off Sandusky, apparently abandoned by her owners. Finally taken in hand, she was being stripped of valuable parts when her unexplained ending came on July 4, the Day of Freedom witnessing the last of a vessel that had lived more than half her life as a prison.  

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