New finds at Seafarers

Rev Bill Coffey mends a flag on the roof of the Mission to Seamen building with Station Pier beyond. Photo: PMHPS Collection

Rev Charles Lavender mends a flag on the roof of the Mission to Seamen building with Station Pier beyond. The flag now forms part of the Mission to Seafarers archives. Photo: PMHPS Collection

When Jay Miller, Curator at the Mission to Seafarers in Flinders Street, and her volunteer Ros Fletcher were tackling the Mission’s closetful of old, unsorted photos, documents, scrapbooks and memorabilia, they found much that they knew would interest us. That’s because the Mission first developed at Sandridge.

Curious to hear what PMHPS knows, Jay got in touch last November to invite a few members around to have a look at some things they’d found, and to exchange information and learn what each group had in its collection.

We were excited, as our knowledge of our own Seamen’s Institute, Sailors’ Rest and early Bethel is scant. We agreed to meet in February at the Mission and bring what we could to show them. In the meantime we exchanged all the digital material we could.

Graham and Pat were able to meet with Jay and Ros on the 8th February. An enormously lengthy table was spread with intriguing items and the four spent hours in discussing them, exchanging their knowledge, pouring over bulging 19th century scrapbooks that contained too much enlightening information to take in. Ros had photocopied some of the Sandridge material for us. Questions were answered, mysteries explained. It was a really useful session but scarcely touched the surface before it had to end, after talk over a light lunch.

Ros and Jay had gone to a great deal of trouble but it was certainly to our mutual benefit. We were surprised to find how little they knew of our 1937 Mission (which they referred to as ‘the King George V Memorial’). When it was built the 1920s Flinders Street Mission was already in operation.

There will be further explorations. Jay and Ros hope to visit us around Easter as Ros is especially keen to view Capt Gray’s scrapbook. They also want to see Alison Kelly’s Mission Arts Centre album of 1987 to ’91 activity as well as our own collection of items from the demolished Mission.

Comments

  1. There was a big mystery associated with the Seamen’s Mission during World War 2. I lived in Garden City/Bagdad then, and, along with other dwellers at the end of the MMTB bus route to Centre Avenue, we passed by that building regularly. The mystery arose from the appearnce of a ‘missing room’ on the upper floor of the Mission. Nobody I came across knew for sure why it was so, but the rumours were all associated with a wartime secrecy issue. US Army sevicemen used to get off the bus at the nearest stop to the Mission, and I dimly recall an armed guard standing close to the corner. The flats behind the Mission were occupied by US Army servicemen, and Tiger Lawson remembers that their Post Exchange ( PX) for Melbourne was located close to that stop. When the atom bomb was dropped, and we all heard about radiation, the Bagdad rumour mill then connected the missing room with imagined wartime secret experiments conducted there, the resulting radiation requiring the room to be demolished, for safety reasons. The missing room had its plastered, painted wall, as it would have been as an internal wall, visible for all to see from the bus. I will attempt to post a pic that shows it as we saw it at the the time the mystery first arose. It was on the left of the central portion of the building. The ship nearest to the Mission is the American Matson liner SS Lurline, so a pre-war photo.( I cannot Post the pic…please contact me if you wish to see it)

    • Paul Coffey says:

      Great to see such interest in the old, now demolished, Mission to Seamen building in Port Melbourne. In the picture published the person dealing with the flag is not Rev Bill Coffey (my Father) but Rev Charles Lavender who was the chaplain there from 1937 to 1941.
      Our family lived in the Mission from 1958 to 1963 and my bedroom was on the western side of the missing room. It has a door out on to what we called “the Balcony” and there was evidence of holes drilled in the floor of the balcony which may have been for gun placements.
      I have been in touch with and have met with Shirley Lavender (Rev Charles Lavender’s daughter) who co-incidentally occupied the same bedroom during her father’s tenure. We met up and shared many reminiscences about the Mission. Shirley kindly gave me many newspaper clippings about the Mission.

      • David Thompson says:

        Thanks for this clarification Paul. I will change the caption and the information accompanying this photograph in our collection.

  2. On Born and Bred Port Melbourne and Port Melbourne History Facebook pages I have Posted an after the war photo of the Mission which clearly shows the missing room, and the still plastered what was an internal wall.

  3. Dear Paul Coffey
    It was great to see your feedback on the PM George V building and to read the recollections of your childhood at the Mission. It would be a great pleasure to have you visit here at the Mission to Seafarers if you have the time. We will be having building centenary celebrations later in the year and would love to hear more from you. We have just discovered Bill Coffey’s excellent book the Brackens and our volunteer Ros is reading this at the moment. I am away until end of August but maybe you and I and Ros could meet up in September or October Best regards Jay Miller, Mission to Seafarers

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