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The Prison Hulk on the Great Lakes

During the early and mid nineteenth century, some decommissioned British warships and merchantman had a much more sinister duty to perform. At first, the ships were used as part of the "felony fleet", transporting prisoners from England to Australia. Men, women and children were herded like animals into the holds of the old ships to be crated off like cattle into exile "down under".

After a time, the ships saw and even nastier and renewed service as "prison hulks". Ships, permanently moored and used like storage containers for prisoners who they couldn't squeeze into the overcrowded gaols.

Life for both these sets of prisoners in these vessels could only be described as a complete and total living hell. The ships were barely seaworthy and were damp. Overcrowding and poor ventilation added to the misery as infestations and disease claimed victim after victim. sentencing to a "prison hulk" was more or less, the death penalty and in most texts you can read about prisons and gaols, the "prison hulks" were considered by most authorities about as bad as it got.

Proving that we, in the enlightened new millinium do not have the market cornered in the "bad taste in public entertainment" (sorry, day time television talk shows and Fox!) sector, one such ship, the Success, a 1790's merchantman that saw "action" as part of the "felony fleet" AND as a "prison hulk" from 1851 - 1872 was scuttled but re-floated and made up as a "travelling museum" for the five years later (her original history is apparently in dispute as some feel she only served briefly as a temporary prison and not as a long-serving ship-of-crime). Complete with wax "prisoners", torture devices and a slew of other "black museum" artifacts, the Success plied her way into the harbours and hosted a myriad of the curious causing her to be a great Success.

Her trip to the Great Lakes started (oddly enough) at the same time of departure in 1912 as another infamous ship, RMS Titanic but the Success made it to the lakes and became as popular, gruesome tourist attraction here as it had in Britain and Australia.

The Success had MORE than it's fair share of ghostly reports about her from the sounds of moaning and groaning of her long-since-departed prisoners to odd shadows passing by her portal windows when she was supposed to be devoid of "human" life aboard at nights. The American side promoter even offered his "tourites" the knowledge that indeed, the vessel was haunted and they may bump into a ghost or two.

The Success met her end on Lake Erie while being towed into an port at Clinton, Ohio. She "grounded" herself about a half-mile out and was stuck fast in 1943. In 1946, she was set ablaze by vandals.

The ghost(s) of the ship have not been seen since but this travelling "haunt" made for one of the more interesting articles in Fredrick Stonehouse's Haunted Lakes. An entry about her is available at The Schooner Man website accessible by clicking here.

Also check out... Ship Success Project.

We are ALWAYS looking for reports of hauntings within the Great Lakes and although the Success is not a "ghost ship" in the traditional sense of the word, she was still occasionally in Canada and was, by all accounts, haunted.

Do you have a report to share about a ghost ship or other Great Lake haunting in Ontario? Please, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. us with the information at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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