Looking back at the Mission via a set of postcards

Looking back at the Mission via a set of postcards

By Sue Dight - CEO

Only recently, we were alerted to an online auction of the original glass plates of the Rose Stenograph Company – one of Australia’s most significant historical photo collections. 

In the collection there were more than 100,000 pieces, of which more than 7000 are glass negatives, a technology that still beats the modern digital world today.

The collection is without question, a most significant historical collection and the Mission was included in it as one of the architectural gems. Held by the family of one of the country’s earliest photographic companies The Rose Stereophonic Company, it spanned five generations and 140 years.

The collection dates back to 1880 and featured photographs of Ned Kelly’s armour, baby photos of Queen Elizabeth II and the landing at Gallipoli. After the rise of cinema and a decline in stereograph popularity, it went onto become a photographic postcard business, capturing significant landmarks and historical moments nationally and internationally.

The images of the Mission are dated some time between 1919 and 1926. We know this as the Dome was completed in 1919 and the side of the building next to the Chapel on the left, had tennis courts installed in 1926. They show the Chapel as it was before some of the beautiful stained-glass windows were dedicated to the men and women who either served or were served by the Ladies Harbour Guild.

Also of great interest is the Main Hall. Some of the furniture is still in the Mission, such as the piano for entertaining, we hold some of the paintings in our collection, and four of the original thonet chairs (in very poor repair). Most went out in a clear-out in the 1970s. The seafarers in the pictures are doing exactly what they do when they come to visit us (when they are allowed ashore) – reading, contacting loved ones at home, relaxing. Missing is the bar – that was only introduced as a “shop for comforts” back in the 1930s. 

Of the 7000 glass negatives there were five of the Mission and we managed to win four of them at the auction (if you have the fifth we would be pleased to have this also). We will be making some new postcards from the negatives, and some of the other images from our archive. 

The Mission to Seafarers Victoria (MtSV) collection spans from the late 1800s to the present day. It comprises documents, books, photographs and objects, and is recognised as having state and national significance. As soon as lockdown is over we will have a new exhibition from our digital collection Voyager. Everyone is welcome to come to view this free exhibition.

Voyager was photographed by Simon Burton who joined the MtSV as a volunteer in 2016 to offer his social welfare skills. He started as a bus driver transporting the seafarers on shore leave to the Mission then became a ship visitor to provide counselling and practical support to crew unable to leave their vessels. His approach was to wait in the ship’s galley until a seafarer came in for a break and started a conversation. The loneliness they feel make them willing to make a connection with a stranger. Every seafarer has a compelling story. 

The project Voyager is a series of images that vividly captures each seafarer’s individuality and provides them with an opportunity to speak for themselves. These editorials have since been used by the Mission across a range of media platforms to help raise awareness about the relatively unknown individuals who play such a vital role but hidden role for our community.

Where would Melbourne be without the 60,000 tons of coffee beans delivered by sea each year. Of course, the pandemic has changed everything and onboard visits have ceased. However, the Mission has quickly regrouped and developed an innovative contactless online shopping service that enables crews to order essential supplies while at sea to collect when docked. We deliver these supplies and continue to document the increasingly difficult circumstances that seafarers are experiencing during our briefest of encounters. Our shopping for the crews to date in 2021 exceeds $250,000. 

Please assist us by dropping into the box on our front porch any spare sturdy, clean shopping bags so we can pack up not only the shopping, but the care packs we supply. We are also appealing for any hand-knitted beanies you may have available. A hand-knitted item warms the heart as well as the head as it shows someone cares •

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