This set of seventeen church pews was originally used in St. Nicholas Seamen’s Church, 139 Nelson Place, Williamstown, Victoria, during religious services there. The Church was operated by the Mission to Seamen organisation.
The pews were donated to the St Nicholas Seamen’s Church by the Williamstown Lightkeepers’ Auxiliary, founded by Ethel Margaret Musther, M.B.E..
THE MISSIONS TO SEAMEN
The Missions to Seamen is an Anglican (Church of England) charity that has been serving the seafarers of the world since 1856. It was inspired by the work of Rev. John Ashley who, 20 years earlier, had pioneered a ministry to seafarers in the Bristol Channel in Great Britain. When Ashley retired others continued the work, founding the Missions to Seamen. It adopted a Flying Angel as its symbol, inspired by a verse from the Bible in Revelation 14. Today over 200 ports in the world have Missions to Seamen centres and chaplains.
A Missions to Seamen’s club offers a warm welcome to sailors of all colours, creeds and races and provides a wide range of facilities. The Missions to Seamen organisation changed its name to the Mission to Seafarers in the year 2000 and continues on, including Missions to Seamen clubs in Victoria’s cities of Melbourne, Portland, Geelong and Hastings.
Flagstaff Hill’s St Nicholas’ Seamen’s Church is named after its namesake from Williamstown, Victoria, which began in 1857. Bishop Perry opened the first Sailors’ Church there, known as ‘Bethel’, on an old hulk floating in Hobson’s Bay, Port of Melbourne.
In 1860 a Sailors’ Rest began operating from various rented premises at Williamstown. In 1878 the Sailors’ Church moved into an old Wesleyan chapel in Ann Street. By the end of that year they were able to purchase the building, which they had already refurbished. In 1883 they affiliated with the Victorian Seamen’s Mission. A few years later, in 1906, the building had to be demolished as it was no longer safe. While they were raising funds for a new building, the Sailors’ Rest temporarily moved to a building in front of Customs House in Nelson Place.
Around this time, in 1906, the Ladies Harbour Lights Guild was formed in Australia to support and raise funds for the Mission to Seamen organisation in Melbourne. Two of the most significant ladies of the Guild were founding members Ethel Godfrey and Alice Sibthorpe. During the Mission's time at Siddeley Street, Melbourne, the activities of the Guild raised funds for the Mission to Seamen's Chapel at their new, and still current, premises in Flinders Street, Melbourne, opened in 1917. The Guild continued its important work until the 1960s.
In 1908 the Williamstown Mission had enough money to purchase the former Mascotte skating rink on Thompson Street, Williamstown. In August that year they were inaugurated into the Victorian Missions to Seamen. They continued at that venue for a few decades.
In 1943 the former ES&A Bank building at 139 Nelson Place, Williamstown, was purchased to become the new Mission to Seaman’s Club. On May 6th, 1944, it was officially opened, described as a ‘distinctive little building’. Funds had previously been raised for the building and furnishing of the chapel at the rear. The chapel was named St Nicholas’ Seamen’s Church, after St Nicholas, fourth century bishop and patron saint of sailors. Services were held on Wednesdays and Sundays. The church was supported by the Williamstown Lightkeepers’ Auxiliary, newly founded by Mrs Ethel Margaret Musther in 1943, as well as the Harbour Lights Guild and the League of Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Friends.
The Williamstown Mission to Seamen’s Church operated until 1966, when the Port of Williamstown was no longer used by large international ships. The Commonwealth Government then leased the premises.
In the formative years of Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, the Advisory Board decided to include a Missions to Seamen Chapel and Recreation Room in its village. The Missions organisation was a significant feature of ports during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the period that the Village represents. They often erected Missions to house social and worshipful activities for seamen.
Flagstaff Hill’s curator, Mr Ken Marshman, approached the Melbourne Board of Management of Missions to Seamen regarding the Williamstown branch. Consequently, the Board gave its permission for the entire furnishings of the Williamstown chapel to be transferred to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village. A provision of the transfer was that the Victoria Missions to Seamen be recognised, that the items would remain as a collection, and that the chapel would be called St Nicholas Seamen’s Church and conduct Divine services. The donation was approved on 21st May 1979.
FLAGSTAFF HILL’S ‘ST NICHOLAS SEAMEN’S CHURCH’
Flagstaff Hill’s Missions to Seamen’s conception was partly motivated by the offer of Stained Glass Memorial Windows, originally from the local Warrnambool and District Base Hospital, which was undergoing multi-storey development in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The hospital’s Manager/Secretary was keen to see the historical window installed in an appropriate location.
The church, or chapel, was designed by a local architectural draftsman in conjunction with the Flagstaff Hill Planning Board and was built by Mr Leon Habel. The designers had the hope that the church would be used for formal worship such as weddings, funerals and multi-denominational special services such as War commemorations. The design is based on the ‘Missions to Seamen’ buildings in both Portland and the Port of Melbourne.
Placement of the furnishings was done as accurately as possible according to photographs of the Williamstown St Nicholas Seamen’s Church and with assistance from local clergy. The Recreation Room was furnished and arranged on advice from experienced members of the Missions to Seamen organisation. A framed document in the building recognises the donor of the furnishings, Victoria Missions to Seamen, as well as the names of some of the original donors and their donated item/s.
The design of the building incorporates local features such as Warrnambool sandstone, which was no longer commercially available but was procured from demolished buildings and uniformly cut, to be used as a veneer over the stronger Mt. Gambier stone. Also, traditional green American roofing slate were used, sourced from the 1908 local shipwreck “Falls of Halladale” by Flagstaff Hill volunteer divers. The bell tower includes a bell believed to be from a local shipwreck.
The additional furnishings were acquired locally and several items were donated by Warrnambool residents. Light fittings in both rooms were assembled to simulate 19th century gas light fittings.
The stained glass window at the back of the church is a memorial to Dr Connell, a well-respected member of the Warrnambool community. It was originally installed in 1928 in what was then the main building of Warrnambool Hospital.
The St Nicholas’ Seamen’s Church at Flagstaff Hill was officially opened by His Worship the Mayor, Cr. John Lindsay, on Sunday 11th October 1981. The event included a service of thanksgiving conducted by the Warrnambool Ministers Fraternal. Since then the Chapel has been the historic venue for many weddings.
The set of pews is significant historically for its origin in the St Nicholas Mission to Seamen's Church in Williamstown, established in 1857 to cater for the physical, social, and spiritual needs of seafarers. It originated in Bristol, England when a Seamen's Mission was formed in 1837.
The set of pews id historically significant for their connection to the Ladies Lightkeepers’ Auxiliary, an organisation of women, formed to support seafarers.
The connection of these pews to the Mission to Seamen and to the Ladies Lightkeepers’ Auxiliary highlights the strong community awareness of the life of people at sea, their dangers and hardships, and their need for physical, financial, spiritual and moral support.
Set of seventeen varnished oak wood church high back pews. The pews have a shelf fitted behind the backrest.
This is a set of original items in our ‘St Nicholas Seamen's Church Williamstown Collection’.
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