Historical information

This pair of kneeling rails was part of the original furnishings of the St Nicholas' Mission to Seamen's Church at 139 Nelson Place, Williamstown, Victoria.

A kneeling rail is part of the furniture of a church and is used during religious prayer, assisting the person to be in the position of kneeling. A padded kneeling mat or cushion would also be provided for comfort.

THE MISSIONS TO SEAMEN (Brief History: for more, see our Reg. No. 611, Set of Pews)

The Missions to Seamen, an Anglican charity, has served seafarers of the world since 1856 in Great Britain. It symbol is a Flying Angel, inspired by a Bible verse. Today there are centr4es in over 200 ports world-wide where seamen of all backgrounds are offered a warm welcome and provided with a wide range of facilities.

In Victoria the orgainsation began in Williamstown in 1857. It was as a Sailors’ Church, also known as ‘Bethel’ or the ‘Floating Church’. Its location was an old hulk floating in Hobson’s Bay, Port of Melbourne. It soon became part of the Missions to Seamen, Victoria. In the year 2000 the organisation, now named Mission to Seafarers, still operated locally in Melbourne, Portland, Geelong and Hastings.

The Ladies’ Harbour Lights Guild was formed in 1906 to support the Missions to Seamen in Melbourne and other centres such as Williamstown. Two of the most significant ladies of the Guild were founder Ethel Augusta Godfrey and foundation member Alice Sibthorpe Tracy (who established a branch of the Guild in Warrnambool in 1920). The Guild continued its work until the 1960s.

In 1943 a former Williamstown bank was purchased for the Missions to Seaman Club. The chapel was named St Nicholas’ Seamen’s Church and was supported by the Ladies’ Harbour Lights Guild, the Williamstown Lightkeepers’ Auxiliary and the League of Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Friends. It ceased operation in 1966.

A Missions to Seamen Chapel and Recreation Room was a significant feature of ports during the late 1800s and into the 1900s. It seemed appropriate for Flagstaff Hill to include such a representation within the new Maritime Village, so the Melbourne Board of Management of Missions to Seamen Victoria gave its permission on 21st May 1979 for the entire furnishings of the Williamstown chapel to be transferred to Flagstaff Hill. The St Nicholas Seamen’s Church was officially opened on October 11, 1981 and closely resembles the Williamstown chapel.


This pair of kneeling rails is significant through its association with the St Nicholas' Mission to Seamen Church in Williamstown, Melbourne, established in 1857.
The items in our collection from the Missions to Seamen in Williamstown, Victoria, have historical and social significance. They show that people of the 1800s and 1900s cared about the seafarers’ religious, moral, and social welfare, no matter what the religion, social status or nationality.
It had its origins in Bristol, England when a Seamen's Mission was formed in 1837. The first Australian branch was started in 1856 by the Rev. Kerr Johnston, a Church of England clergyman, and operated from a hulk moored in Hobson’s Bay; later the Mission occupied buildings in Williamstown and Port Melbourne.

Physical description

Rail and base; one of a pair of two. Three varnished wood pillars and cap rail, mounted on a rectangular box-shaped base. A kneeling rail used in religious worship.
This is a pair of original items in our St Nicholas Seamen's Church Williamstown Collection.

Inscriptions & markings