In the mid 19th century Australia’s only link with the rest of the world was via by sea and consequentially around 1,000 ships with crews totalling some 20,000 were passing through Sydney’s port each year. In the main, seafarers were not well paid or cared for and many came to rely on charities and community welfare groups, often after the little they had had been lost in the pubs and brothels of The Rocks.
In 1859 a number of citizens of Sydney “actuated by philanthropic motives formed a committee for the purpose of establishing a sailors’ home at Sydney where seamen could, at reasonable cost, obtain comfortable board and lodging and be generally looked after and cared for by persons having only the interests of the sailors using the home at heart”.
The resultant Sailors’ Home, in The Rocks, providing a refuge from its more unsavoury activities, opened in 1865 and operated continuously for 114 years before closing in 1979 after the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority resumed the land on which it stood. In any event, by 1979 the quality of on-board ship accommodation had improved immensely and numbers staying in the Sailors’ Home were low.
While the physical Home closed the organisation has continued under the guise of the Australian Mariners’ Welfare Society, giving financial assistance to organisations such as the Mission to Seafarers and the Stella Maris Clubs now caring for retired merchant seamen as well as active seafarers.
The Sailors’ Home was managed by a Superintendent, generally a former shipmaster, who between 1865 and the 1920s lived in the adjoining Cadman’s Cottage which still exists today and on which I have written a separate review.
In the 1980s a marionette theatre briefly occupied the heritage listed building which now houses an upmarket Thai restaurant (Sailor’s Thai) and an art gallery.
Address: 106-108 George Street, Sydney
Directions: Can also be viewed from Circular Quay