The Mission to Seafarers Collection explores the early provision of welfare to sailors in Sydney ports and the surprising role of charitable religious organisations in maritime history. ANMM Collection.
The Mission to Seafarers Collection
The museum has acquired an evocative collection of maritime heritage from the Mission to Seafarers, Sydney, which has a history dating back to the early port in 1822. We can now explore the stories of the early provision of welfare to sailors and the surprising role of charitable religious organisations in maritime history.
By the 1820s, the Sydney waterfront was bustling with ships from around the world. Tens of thousands of sailors were temporary residents of the thriving maritime township. While the sailors thronged the many pubs and inns of The Rocks area, near the port, they were not known for their attendance at religious services. In 1822 the rector of St Philip’s Church of England, the Reverend William Cowper, instigated the establishment of an interdenominational society that could minister to sailors from different churches. Lacking a place of worship, Cowper and other volunteer clergymen conducted their early services on board the ships in port.
Warning: This article contains some words and terms used in the past by non-Aboriginal people that would be considered inappropriate today.
In the 19th century, Aboriginal people in the Sydney region used rivers, creeks and waterways as places of refuge and survival after the devastation of colonisation. In the first decade of the British colony, waterways were also important in resistance warfare. From 1788 to 1810 there were numerous raids conducted in canoes, as well as attacks by Aboriginal warriors on British vessels. The role of nawi – the Sydney tied-bark canoe – in this conflict has been overlooked by historians.
Part of AE1‘s hull, showing extensive corrosion. After 103 years since her loss, AE1 was located in waters off the Duke of York Island group in Papua New Guinea in December 2017. Image: Find the Men of AE1 Ltd.
Australia’s greatest naval mystery is solved at last
It is more than a century since Australia’s first submarine, HMAS AE1, disappeared without trace in the waters off Papua New Guinea. Its fate remained a mystery until late last year, when the most recent of many searches finally found its wreck.
Wyatt Earp moored on the edge of Antarctic pack ice, February 1948. The little wooden ship – with a very unlikely name – pioneered Australia’s expeditions into the Antarctic as part of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE). ANMM Collection ANMS1445.
Remembering the ‘Twerp‘
On 26 December 1947, a small, nondescript wooden-hulled motor vessel set off from Hobart, bound for Antarctica. Its silhouette resembled that of an ageing offshore fishing craft, but its weather deck was packed from stem to stern with supplies and equipment – including a single-engine Vought-Sikorsky Kingfisher floatplane. At the helm was Commander Karl E Oom, an officer in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). He was supported by five naval officers, 22 ratings, a Royal Australian Air Force pilot and air fitter mechanic, and an Australian Department of Information photographer. The complement was rounded out by four civilian scientists who were responsible for conducting a series of experiments, and observing meteorological and other natural phenomena in the Antarctic. Their voyage would be the first to operate under the banner of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE), a series of post-war initiatives to establish Australian scientific research stations in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic territories of Heard Island and Macquarie Island. ANARE laid the foundation for the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Division, and in later years Australia’s polar research ships could trace their lineage back to the little timber craft then making its way towards the world’s southernmost continent: HMAS Wyatt Earp.
Lesueur made detailed sketches of Sydney. This view was made looking across Sydney Cove from where the Sydney Opera House now stands. Museum d’histoire naturelle, Le Havre.
In April 1802 when the lookout station situated on the southern headland at the entrance to Port Jackson reported the sighting of a French naval vessel approaching, the news spread quickly through the streets of Sydney. Isolated on the far side of the world from England, it was normal for news of the arrival of a ship to cause excitement at the prospect of news from Europe and the hope of fresh supplies. The armed corvette Le Naturaliste however, was an unusual arrival and unlikely to bring much comfort to the town.
Signals quarterly magazine is now available via the App store. Image: ANMM.
Signals on the iPad offers the same quality editorial and sumptuous pictures as the print magazine, combined with the convenience of digital delivery – ensuring you can access it almost anywhere on the planet.
The September edition is out now. It includes features describing our maritime archaeology team’s search for the relics of an India-trade horse transport on the Barrier Reef, how Dirk Hartog’s accidental landing 400 years ago put the west coast of Australia on the map and how a 100-year-old fragment of film inspired a contemporary artist from Arnhem Land to create spirit figures embodying Yolngu culture.