Thomas Rogan’s death mask and other missing objects

Could this unassuming photograph of three plaster casts be the vital clue to a long-standing case of mistaken identity?
These death masks were photographed in 1975 in the police academy in Redfern. The one on the far right is Andrew George Scott (Captain Moonlite), while the one on the far left is the casting that has been attributed to his accomplice Thomas Rogan.

However, not only does the face on the attributed cast not resemble Rogan at all, the middle, unnamed, casting matches the mugshot taken of Rogan after his capture at McGlede’s farm quite closely. Furthermore, the middle death mask matches a description of Rogan’s death mask from a newspaper article published in 1913.

They have even secured plaster casts of the heads of that notorious couple Scott, alias Moonlight and Rogan, which were taken after their execution in Darlinghurst for the murder of Constable Bowen, at Wantabadgery. That of Rogan possesses all the characteristics of the criminal. The lips which are extraordinarily thick, are open, showing a set of vicious-looking teeth.

The Chamber of Horrors, Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), Monday 28 July 1913, page 4

The article quoted here is a write-up on what was then called the Sydney Police Museum. Within the article it describes, and even includes some photographs of items in the collection including Ben Hall’s Tranter, a book of poetry belonging to Frank Johns (another of Moonlite’s accomplices), and part of a pistol taken from the ruins of the Glenrowan Inn.
The collection in the museum in 1913 was taken from the 1910 New South Wales police museum, which served to educate police officers on the history of law enforcement. That same collection forms the basis of the current iteration, now called the Justice and Police Museum, housed in the former Water Police building in Sydney.

A detail from Rogan’s prison record.

It is also worth noting that the middle cast in the photograph matches the style of Moonlite’s more closely, only extending as far as the neck, while the third mask includes part of the collarbone and shoulders, which would indicate a different manufacturer had accomplished it. But if it’s not Thomas Rogan on the end there, who is it?

“Some of the artefacts, Including death masks of Captain Moonlite and Thomas Rogan, Ned Kelly’s 44 Webley Scott revolver, Captain Moonlite’s 38 Pin Fire, and the noose used on many early bush rangers. Death masks, truncheons, court records and knuckle dusters.” [Source]

It may seem like trying to correctly label the plaster cast of an executed bushranger is far from a pressing matter, but it is a symptom of the bigger problem with lost and incorrectly labelled items in archives.

It wouldn’t be the first time an object in a collection was mislabelled. In fact, it is not uncommon for items to sometimes go completely missing, as was the case with a collection of death masks from the early 19th century. Among the masks were casts of Jack Donohoe, murderer John Knatchbull and other minor bushrangers. All that remains of the collection is a single photograph taken in the 1860s. It seems unlikely that such a huge collection could simply be misplaced, but apparently that is precisely what happened as it appears to have vanished without a trace after being given to the Museum of Anatomy at Sydney University in 1897.

A detail of the 1860s photograph, showing Donohoe’s death mask (top, centre) among scores of others, some of which are duplicates. [Source]

Alas, similar stories are all too common. Many items related to the Kelly Gang, for instance, have disappeared over time, either through theft, misplacement or plain neglect. A prime example is the modified carbine that Ned was believed to have used to kill Constable Lonigan. Photographs exist of it from when it was displayed with his armour at the Royal Exhibition building, but supposedly it was consumed in the fire that destroyed the aquarium housed there.

Even Ned Kelly’s boot, which is on display in the State Library of Victoria, was missing for decades following it being misplaced in a storeroom, which was the same fate as what has been identified as one of his armoured shoulder plates. The plate was in the possession of the organisation that is now known Museums Victoria, and was hung from the bottom of what was then thought of as the backplate (since identified as Steve Hart’s breastplate). When the armour was given to the State Library, the shoulder plate was not included as it had been lost in storage. It wasn’t until many years later that it was relocated, but it still remains in the collection of Museums Victoria, which has caused issues recently. The contract between the SLV and Museums Victoria that allowed the plate to be displayed with the rest of the intact armour expired during the 2020 lockdowns. This meant that legally the SLV could not display it until a new agreement was made, forcing the library to display the incomplete suit in the new dedicated gallery space. It was only after the agitation by Ned Kelly die-hards who wrote to politicians that the negotiations were settled and the plate once again restored.

Ned Kelly’s armour, missing a shoulder plate, on display in Melbourne.

There are also written accounts testifying to the existence of other death masks that have seemingly vanished, including casts of Ogden and Sutherland, Robert Burke and Johnny Gilbert. The fact that these items were often described but have never been photographed or identified in any collections has occasionally put doubt in their existence.

Even more macabre souvenirs that are known to have existed have gone absent, such as Dan Morgan’s flayed beard, which was to have been pegged out like a possum skin to dry, ostensibly to make it into a pouch. It was also rumoured that Morgan’s scrotum had been made into a tobacco pouch, which cannot be verified as no such object has ever been recorded.

Michael Howe’s journal of dreams, bound in kangaroo skin and rumoured to have been written in blood, was in private hands following its seizure after Big McGill and Musquito ambushed Howe, but it too has seemingly vanished. Howe’s earlier journal – a gardening book he had stolen, bound in kangaroo skin and annotated by the outlaw – was also in a private collection, where it was viewed by James Erskine Calder who wrote of Howe in the 1870s after in-depth research, wherein he consulted contemporary records and interviewed people linked to the story. This earlier relic has also long gone.

Researchers and historians often tear their hair out when going through archival material only to find what they were looking for has been misplaced, damaged, or stolen. In fact, where the Kelly story is concerned, documents, or parts thereof, purloined from archives is a big problem, and a major contributor to dead ends in research, allowing myths and falsehoods to occasionally run rampant.

Add onto this the sheer number of firearms, clothing items, letters, photographs, and so on, that have either gone missing, remain in private collections or have simply had their identity lost to the sands of time, and you have a lot of potential to find very important items in all sorts of places.

If indeed the newly identified death mask is Rogan, it begs the questions of where this mask is, why it was so easily mislabelled without correction, and who the death mask claimed to be Rogan is actually of? It seems possible that with a bit more probing and detective work we could see one of the few artefacts of the Moonlite saga brought back to light; and if we can do that for Thomas Rogan, the possibilities for other historical items seems endless.


Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), Sunday 13 July 1913, page 22


Some of the Grim Mementoes of Australia’s Criminal History Contained in the Sydney Police Museum.


The first impression one gains of the interior of the musuem, attached to the New South Wales Police Department, in Hunterstreet, Sydney, is that of a second-hand shop. It contains everything to convey this idea— but there is a difference — goods are not for sale. No amount of money could purchase even the smallest article in that closely-guarded room. It is safe to say, that there is no other room in the whole of the Commonwealth that is calculated to rouse the feelings of the visitor than the Police Museum. For gruesome associations it stands unrivalled. Almost everything appertaining to the darker side of life is represented among the grim relics. The museum is essentially an institution where one has no need to fall back on the imagination in order to make it interesting. Its very atmosphere abounds in reminiscences, and as one gazes at the neatly-arranged ‘exhibits,’ to which are attached tabs, giving particulars for identification purposes, memories of the most diabolical crimes that have in their day shocked people in all parts of the Continent, float before the mind. Blood-stained, as is the history of each of the relics, this is not all. They are even more than ghastly mementos of a country’s record of crime. They are, so to speak, representitive of all that is brutish, ferocious, avaricious, callous, and cold-blooded in man. They are the last reminders of misspent lives— of conflicting emotions — inasmuch as love, tragedy, pathos, and despair are centred around them.

Cat and nine tails used at Woolloomooloo many years ago; spring dagger found on a Chinese; bunch of keys carried by one burglar; remains of Ned Kelly’s pistol found at Glenrowan (Vic.) when the gang were captured; burglar’s ‘masterpiece’ for troublesome locks; knife used to stab two aboriginals and a white man at Shellharbor in 1901; brush hook used in the murder of Daniel and Margaret O’Keefe and Patrick Gillich at Germain Creek, near Ballina, on July 15, 1906.


The first sound that comes to the ears of the visitor after the key has been turned in the lock is that of a clanking of chains. Almost immediately the guide brings forth from one of the corners a number of convict mementoes. The most interesting of those is a pair of legirons found at Parramatta many years ago. Their exact age is not known, but it is believed that fully a century has gone by since they were manufactured. Of course, they are covered with rust, but, nevertheless, their weight serves to remind one of the awful agony they must have caused the wearer, as he toiled laboriously on the roads through many weary months until the termination of his sentence brought a thankful release from these cruel shackles. Their weight alone would seem to preclude the slightest possibility of escape, and yet what a number succeeded in getting rid of them and taking to the bush — probably to meet a worse fate at the hands of the blacks! Close by nestled a pair of handcuffs. There is not a great deal of difference between them and those in present use, excepting, perhaps, in weight. Who knows what history lies behind these convict relics? No one ; nor does there seem any possibility of such being given publicity.


The stock of information at hand concerning of the ‘kings of the road’ in a museum extremely valuable ; and in this connection the authorities have been singularly fortunate in coming into possession of the most comprehensive collection in the Commonwealth. They have even secured plaster casts of the heads of that notorious couple Scott, alias Moonlight, and Rogan, which were taken after their execution in Darlinghurst for the murder of Constable Bowen, at Wantabadgery. That of Rogan possesses all the characteristics of the criminal. The lips which are extraordinarily thick, are open, showing a set of vicious looking teeth.


Quite in contrast is the head of ‘Moonlight.’ It seems incomprehensible that a man with such fine, bold features should have degenerated into an outlaw, for, apart from the hideous circumstances under which the cast was obtained, one can easily distinguish the faintest trace of a smile. Benevolence, too, is written all over it. That the notorious outlaw must have had some respect for his Creator before he gave up his position as a Sunday-school teacher, and followed the more sensational and profitable life of terrorising his fellow-humans, is shown by the fact that Inspector Childs, chief of the Finger Print Department, has in his possession, a small Bible, which was presented to Scott by ‘his affectionate brother.’ Round the necks of each of the pair is a deep indentation — the mark of the hangman’s rope.


Of similar importance are the relics of Ned Kelly. They are but two, but one can well imagine the use to which they were put. The first is the butt-end of the bushranger’s revolver, which was found in the ruins at Glenrowan, Victoria. The other, about which there is some doubt, is the more murderous, and is in the form of a dagger. Though it is only about a foot in length; it is remarkably heavy, and is made of solid steel. The handle is of the same material, and about it are wrapped several layers of cloth of various hues. The blade is curved — a desperate weapon, indeed. Compared with the remains of Ned Kelly’s firearm, Ben Hall’s revolver is far superior. It has five chambers, and has to be pulled by two fingers before an explosion results. Although it is almost half a century since it was used, it still retains the same highly finished appearance as when it left the hands of the makers. The inscription reads: ‘Tranter revolver, found on Ben Hall, who was shot at Billabong Creek; Forbes, May 5, 1865, by Sub-Inspector Davidson and Sergeant Condell and party. Revolver was subsequently given to the Inspector-General of Police by Sub-Inspector Davidson, and has been in the possession of the Inspector-General for over 45 years.’


Mention of infernal machines suggests the presence of anarchists and bombs of suffragettes, by whom these miniature engines of destruction have been used successfully, and in the case of the former with a horrible toll of life. Sydney is the last place one would expect their diabolical contents to be brought to light. Yet there are three such dangerous machines in the Police Museum. The bomb is rather a crude affair, and was placed under the residence of Mr. Ernest George Alfred Rich, in Mosman, about six years ago. It is cylindrical in shape, standing about a foot high with a loose lid, through which fuses were threaded. The interior of the bomb was filled with gunpowder, but, fortunately for the inmates, it missed fire. The two infernal machines are ingeniously constructed. In 1909 Mr. A. Challinor, of the fruit markets, received through the post a neat packet, about the size of a cigar case. It was intended that as soon as the recipient raised the lid he would be blown to pieces, but as in the case of the bomb something went wrong. The box is divided into two compartments. The larger contains the mechanism operating the machine, while through a hole in the dividing wall was inserted a cap. In order to cause an explosion, however, a piece of ironwork was fitted to the inside of the lid. As soon as the latter was raised the ‘hammer’ was released, and, striking the cap, was intended to hurry the victim into Eternity. Fate intervened.


Mr. H. C. Russell, Government Astronomer, was the intended victim of the remaining infernal machine. Thirty-six years ago, when quartered at the Sydney Observatory, he received a long oblong box, filled with a deadly explosive. The manner in which it was opened probably saved the life of thc recipient. At cne end of thc box a large number of wax and wooden matches were arranged vertically, and almost touching the lid. Securely attached to the covering was a strip of sandpaper. Immediately the lid was drawn out the matches, scraping along the sandpaper, would ignite, the sparks would fall on the explosive, and the victim’s existence would be cut short. Fortunately it didn’t ; but its grim intent was there all the same.

Oriental knife used by Nicholls and Lester the Parramatta murderers, in 1872; old-time Knuckle-duster; policeman’s baton, showing bullet mark, worn by Constable Bell of Newtown, in 1893, when he was shot at by a notorious burglar. Life-preserver, with lump of lead at the end; tomahawk by which Margaret McGee was murdered in the Sydney Domain in 1862; Ben Hall’s revolver. Ingeniously constructed double-ended burglar’s key.


As in other countries, there is a crimson vein running throughout the criminal history of New South Wales. Time and again acts have occurred which rival those which Scotland Yard has been called upon to sheet home. In this respect almost every weapon one could think of has been used, and they form a striking collection. The famous murders of Butler, the Blue Mountains criminal, and those of Nicholls and Lester, perpetrated in the Parramatta district, stand out above all the others in ferocity. In addition to being of murderous instinct, Butler possessed devilish cunning, which forced the police to send two officers — Detectives (now Superintendent) Roche and Conroy to America before he was laid by the heels, and executed at Darlinghurst on July 16, 1897. Butler relied to a large extent on the Press to assist him in carrying his crimes into effect. His plan was to advertise for a partner with capital to develop some golden territory known only to himself. In three cases he decoyed his unsuspecting victims into lonely bush places, where they were quickly dispatched. It is even on record that the victims practically dug their own graves, as the bodies of Lee Weller, Preston, and Burgess were found in excavations supposed to have been their own handiwork. The law’s arm, though long, was certain, however, and grave suspicions grew rife as to the mysterious disappearance of certain individuals. In the end Butler boarded the barque Swanhilda at Newcastle as an able seaman, bound for San Francisco. He succeeded in reaching that port, only to be arrested, brought back to Sydney, and hanged. A rifle and revolver are the solo relics of an infamous career. The Oriental knife with which the victims of Nicholls and Lester met their doom over 40 years ago are in a good state of preservation. As shown by the accompanying photograph, it is a deadly instrument. It is quite ornate, too, the blade and handle being covered with scroll-work. There was a great similarity in the methods of Butler and Nicholls and Lester. The latter also resorted to advertising, offering lucrative employment for a small sum; or a business for sale cheap. Applicants were not wanting, and as soon as the would-be purchasers got into communication with the pair, they were taken for a day’s outing on the Parramatta River. While in the boat they were murdered and robbed. The bodies were then weighted and thrown into the river. As the width of the blade is fully three inches, one stroke would be sufficient to execute the fell design.

On account of its handy size, the common tomahawk has on more than one occasion been an instrument of destruction. In the museum are to be seen several, all of which have histories. The oldest of the collection was found in the Sydney Domain in 1862, close to the spot where the body of a woman named Margaret McGee was found. The murderer was never traced. The tomahawk today bears evidence of rough handling. Its edge, besides being blunt, is decidedly jagged, and its surface is brown with rust and in the light, with something that once more precious. Then there is the tomahawk which accomplished such deadly work in the hands of Charles John Tye, a demented Chinese at Thornleigh in 1906. Tye, it will be remembered, seized the instrument and ran amok. Horace Henry Aiker and Albert Gordon Pettit were the first to be attacked by the insane Celestial, who hacked them to death. The weapon tells the story.

It is only a few years ago since Mrs. Mercy Gregory was found stabbed to death in a leading Sydney hotel, in connection with which a youth named Quinlan, the lift-boy, was condemned to death, a sentence which was subsequently commuted to imprisonment for life on account of the prisoner’s age. The weapon with which the deed was committed is an ordinary butcher’s knife, but very keen. After the outrage a penny dreadful was found in Quinlan’s possession, on the cover of which was an illustration which, it is believed, suggested the crime, as there was a distinct similarity between the two.

The cold-blooded murder of Daniel and Margaret O’Keefe and Patrick Gillion at Germain Creek, near Ballina, in 1906, is recalled by the instrument used by John Raymond Brown. It is a brush-hook, such as is used by settlers for clearing purposes, and ranks among the most formidable weapons in the museum.

Lying on another shelf is a wicked-looking revolver, which has a toll of three lives to its credit. It was used by Mory Mase, a Japanese, at Lismore, some years ago, when he shot Lilian Frohm and Jack Day, a Chinese, and turned the weapon on himself.

A large cardboard placard and an iron shield occupy a prominent position on another shelf. Both were worn by a man at Leichhardt before he shot one of the members of a firm whom he believed had defrauded him. The shield is of iron, and was held in position by several pieces of stout string.


There is a sensational story attached to an ordinary police baton in the collection. At first sight one wonders what it is there for. On closer inspection, however, the marks of a bullet are visible on its side. The baton was the property of Constable Bell, of Newtown, who was shot at by a notorious burglar in that suburb twenty years ago. Had it not been for the baton the nickel messenger of death would have pierced the constable’s heart, as the baton was immediately over that organ at the time of the outrage. It’s force, however, was spent as soon as it reached the steel wire. The crumpled bullet occupies a position next to the gaping hole in the baton.


It is not such a long time since SeniorConstable Gates, a North Sydney member of the force, was frightfully battered about the bead by a burglar named Crooks. The latter also shot and seriously wounded Mr. Sinclair, a resident of the same suburb, and then attacked the senior-constable with the revolver. Gates, however, succeeded in effecting his arrest, and for his plucky action was presented with a purse of sovereigns by. the residents. He was also the first man in Australia to receive the King’s police medal, which Lord Chelmsford pinned on his breast at a special police parade.


There are a couple of complete coining plants in this strange collection. Everything is there from the raw material — silver teapots, spoons and other household articles — to the finished products. The latter are mostly half-sovereigns, of which there are many remarkable. imitations. The ‘faces’ are there, though the weight of the coins is deceptive. For all that, the makers succeeded in circulating quite a large number, which would deceive any but those well acquainted with the coin of the realm.

Convict leg-irons found, near Parramatta; burglar’s adjustable keys; infernal machine posted to a man in the Municipal Markets; life “preserver”; bulldog revolver found on Frank Butler, alias Harwood, when arrested on the barque Swanhilda at San Francisco in 1896.


The thieving fraternity is largely represented. On almost every shelf are to be seen skeleton keys and pliers of all conceivable shapes. The bunch which we reproduce was found on one man, and the variety is so great as to render almost any lock a plaything in the hands of their owner. There are others which completely upset the plans of the most ingenious locksmith who claims his make to be absolutely immune from the gentlemen of the night. One, in particular, has been constructed in such a manner as to obviate the necessity of using key after key, thus trying the patience or the burglar and wasting his valuable time. By means of a screw at the end the key can be adjusted to fit any lock. If this should fail, other skeletons can be inserted in the ‘stock’ of the key which has been specially mortised for that purpose. The long pincers shown in the illustration are used by thieves when the key remains in the lock. They are so fine that they can be pushed through the keyhole on the outside, and the lock turned.


No collection will be complete without a few so-called life-preservers. The museum possesses a great number, some of which are as crude as they could possibly be, while others have been carefully, ever, elaborately, prepared. One — an iron instrument about nine inches long — served the dual purpose, of a sledge hammer and a jemmy. It is shown in the photograph. It fractured a constable’s skull, and broke another man’s arm. It is so heavy that one blow was sufficient to put its victim down and out for good.

Perhaps the most deadly of all, as far as appearance is concerned, is one which consists of a lump of lead stuck on to a wooden handle. Others have been more mercifully designed, being covered with leather or plaited cord; but all are on the same principle; with a weight at the end.

The knuckle-duster is a weapon that fortunately the modern burglar appears to have omitted from his tool chest. Nevertheless, one occasionally comes in and helps to augment the already comprehensive collection. The one which we show in the photograph easily stands by itself for cruelty. It is made of solid iron, and is so heavy that one punch in the face, besides facilitating its owner’s task, would leave marks on the victim that he would carry to the grave.


Ever since the camera appeared upon the market it has worked wonders in the detection of crime. Enclosed in a glass case in the centre of the museum are a number of photographs of the scenes of crimes that have in their day tried the mettle of the Police Department. Prominent among these is a photo of Joe Governor, the aboriginal murderer, taken after death. The record of this fiendish outlaw and his brother are too well known to need further comment. A few inches away rests a portrait of Trevaskus, who was done to death in Glebe a couple of years ago. Other Trevaskus relics include the blood-stained deck chair in which his body was found.

In the same case as the photographs is a copy of Pope’s poetical works. The book was the property of Frank Johns, who was executed at Darlinghurst in July, 1885. On the flyleaf arc the words, “Frank Johns, from F. G. White.” On the morning of his execution Johns wrote the following message on one of the leaves of the volume: “Jack Thompson or Jamerson. I made a mistake in writing a few words to Bill, poor Bill, in one of Moore’s poems. But you can fix it up between you. Be good, Jack, be good. Nothing else is worth, living for. F. Johns. In haste, 8 o’clock.” An hour later Johns paid the penalty, for his misdeeds.

Hell on High Water: Victoria’s Floating Prisons

No examination of Victoria’s penal system is complete without mention of the prison ships that were on use at Point Gellibrand in Williamstown through the 1850s and 1860s. The most renowned of these craft was Success, which toured the world as a floating museum until fire destroyed it in the 1940s.


In the fledgling colony of Victoria crime was hardly worth a mention until the gold rush of the 1850s saw an influx of immigrants – honest and nefarious – in pursuit of the elusive metal. Naturally crime exploded and very quickly the prisons were full to capacity. The government was desperate for a solution and taking note of the increasing number of abandoned sea vessels in the ports around the colony an idea struck: by converting passenger craft into prisons the overpopulation problem would be immediately eased.

Deborah and Sacramento moored at Williamstown before they were scrapped

The Victorian government began acquisitions in 1852 and the first crafts purchased by the government were the Deborah, the Sacramento and the Success. Their middle decks were fitted out with cell partitions of a much smaller dimension than would be found in terrestrial prisons and a far cry from the communal spaces favoured by the prison hulks that had brought convicts to Australian shores. These ships had their masts removed and were anchored off Gellibrand Point and convicts were rowed to shore in work parties, each group allocated a different job. Work parties from the Deborah, for example, were tasked with clearing land for the roads while the Sacramento prisoners were rock breakers. Initially Success was the maximum security vessel but this soon changed. Each craft housed specific groups of prisoners – Deborah was for insubordinate seamen and deserters, Lysander for Aboriginal inmates, Sacramento for less troublesome inmates and Success for harder edged offenders.


The next acquisitions were the Lysander and the President. The Inspector-General Samuel Barrow had made the decision to make President the maximum security craft where the worst of the worst were sent to live out their sentences in cruel and vindictive conditions. Cells on President were even smaller than on the other vessels and the solitary cells were in the bottom of the ship below the water line. A small window in the cell was covered with mesh and on a calm day was fine but when the water was agitated by tides or storms the cells were flooded. All prisoners on President were made to serve the entire sentence in irons that were riveted to their ankles and on occasion would be chained in their cells such that they were incapable of laying down, sometimes only held up by their thumbs. Upon admission their clothes were destroyed and they were given prison uniforms, and their faces and heads were shaved. Floggings were frequent, in many cases all inmates in a cell block being flogged for the misdemeanour of one or a small few in their number. This was in addition to punishments like having a rod jammed into the prisoner’s mouth and secured with a gag or having their hands chained to the ringbolts on the upper deck. When concerns were raised about the beatings men received the then Inspector-General John Price failed to see the problem. Reading was prohibited and Barrow himself stated categorically that the purpose of a prisoner’s time on President was to suffer.

On the rest of the ships food was frequently inedible and hygiene was a huge problem. While punishment on Deborah, Sacramento, Lysander and Success was not as horrific as on President the prisoners were just as subject to abuse and being punished severely over trivial infractions. Prisoners in the solitary cells were kept in silence and complete darkness for days, even weeks at a time.

Some of Australia’s most infamous bushrangers did time on the prison ships. Captain Melville, Owen Suffolk, Dan Morgan and Harry Power did time on Success while Ned Kelly was imprisoned on Sacramento for a time building seawalls. Captain Melville spent nearly a month in solitary on Success for attempting to bite off a guard’s nose. He later ended up in Melbourne Gaol for murdering ship warden Owen Owens while being rowed to shore with his work party. Harry Power, then known as Henry Johnstone, was one of the suspected accomplices in the murder. Dan Morgan was imprisoned on Success in 1855 as “John Smith” and was present when a gang of 36 disgruntled prisoners murdered Inspector-General John Price with rocks, shovels and pickaxes in 1857. Morgan also lost the tip of a finger in an accident during his time on the ship though details have been lost to time.

price murder
An artist’s depiction of the attack on John Giles Price at Point Gellibrand.

By the 1860s the demand for the prison ships was dramatically decreased. With Pentridge Prison being completed the ships were adapted to be merely extensions of the prison with convicts being sent from Pentridge, Melbourne and other prisons to do time on Sacramento and Deborah as part of their sentence. Success was converted into a boys’ reformatory during this time but this was soon scuppered as sexual misconduct was rife on board, instead becoming a women’s prison. Deborah and President also housed boys and women before the prison ships were phased out entirely and the vessels once more repurposed as storehouses for the military.

In the 1890s Success was converted into a museum full of relics of the convict era (the vast majority of which were hoaxes such as the iron maiden) as well as very convincing waxworks of convicts to help illustrate the prisoner’s experience. Harry Power even went back to Success as a tour guide during this time but lack of profit resulted in a change of plans. Matters weren’t improved when Success partially sunk and was once more sold off. It toured the world as the world’s oldest ship still in operation (promoters claimed it was built around the time of the American revolution, it was actually built in Burma in 1840) and as a relic of convict transportation (it never transported convicts, though it was a passenger vessel originally). It ended up in America where fascination with the craft fizzled and a mysterious fire destroyed it in the 40s. Some of the relics and wax dummies were salvaged and can be found in museums.

The Success meets her fiery end at Lake Erie

The remaining prison ships were ordered to be scrapped in 1885, their usefulness to the government having passed. Yet, the evidence of the era is readily visible in the timeball tower, roads, pier and seawalls at Williamstown that were all the product of convict labour. Some may say that these inhumane places deserve to be forgotten, yet they are a big part of the history of Victoria and of crime and punishment. As unpleasant and unpalatable as many parts of history are now to our modern sensibilities, they are still invaluable in mapping out our story as a society and understanding our human nature.

The famous timeball tower was used to signal to the work parties at Point Gellibrand when to stop work and return to the ships.

Selected Sources:

The history of the convict hulk Success and Success prisoners: a vivid fragment of colonial history by Joseph C. Harvie

Spotlight: Outlawed! Rebels, Revolutionaries and Bushrangers

In 2004, right on the tail end of the last bout of Ned Kelly mania, the National Museum of Australia put together an exhibition looking at outlaws from around the world. Jo Duke, curator, did an amazing job of assembling a formidable collection of items that covered everything from Robin Hood to Pancho Villa. The exhibition was fascinating and had an enormous amount of unique historical items, many of which I would love to see again in a similar showcase. In all the exhibitions that I’ve been to at the museum this is by far one of my favourites and not just for the obvious reasons. I had the good fortune to attend when it was housed at Melbourne Museum and below are some of the photographs I still have from my visit.

Ben Hall’s pocket colt revolver with initials carved into the grip (National Library of Australia)
At top is the Tranter revolving rifle used by Johnny Gilbert when he was shot dead at Binalong (John Pickup); at bottom is Constable Bright’s Calisher and Terry carbine used to shoot Gilbert (National Museum of Australia)
Sam Neill’s Captain Starlight costume from Robbery Under Arms (Performing Arts Collection of South Australia)
Joe Byrne’s armour (Private Collection)
Ned Kelly’s colt revolving carbine (Private Collection)
Death mask of Andrew George Scott alias Captain Moonlite (Historic Houses Trust of NSW)
Death mask of Thomas Rogan (Historic Houses Trust of NSW)
Death mask of Ned Kelly (School of Anatomy, University of Melbourne)
Death mask of Dan Morgan (School of Anatomy, University of Melbourne)
An iconic silhouette