Passport to the World over 64 years. Pages from my Travel Diary

Visit to Marine Art Show. The Flying Angel Club, Mission to Seafarers, Melbourne. Friday the 11th. of July 2003

Melbourne Seafarers Building which is Heritage protected
Melbourne Seafarers Building which is Heritage protected
Snuggled down at 717 Flinders Street Melbourne on the southern boundary of the newly fashionable Docklands precinct is an unpretentious Heritage listed building, the Mission to Seafarers housing the Flying Angel Club. It is the site for a current Maritime Art Show featuring over 100 paintings that all relate to the sea.

Last Friday the 11th. of July, with Don Boyle, the current President of the Victorian Chapter of the Naval Historical Society of Australia and his wife Kathie, I visited the show. I had always been aware of the location of the Mission, but one could be forgiven for either driving or walking past without even sparing it a sideways glance.

In 1916, the then Governor of Victoria Arthur Stanley, laid the foundation stone of a building designed to serve visiting seamen who arrived in the port of Melbourne aboard their ships from around the world. Given the current changes in ships and the carrying of cargo, now all packaged into steel containers, ships rush into port, they are unloaded all through the night, to immediately sail away the next morning. their crews are lucky to even set foot ashore let alone go off to the Flying Angel Club at the Mission.

The Flying Angel Club at Mission to Seafarers Melbourne
demThe Flying Angel Club at Mission to Seafarers Melbourne
Thus the use of the facilities here is no longer as robust as it once was over its many years of service to mariners, the staff from the mission tend to take their services directly to the ships docked in Melbourne for their quick visit.

The Art Show.
The large central room has a fine stage, replete with a huge brass ship's bell engraved Diomede, the bell is supported by two large brass fish. Two of the items displayed at the exhibition brought back strong memories of my past at sea in WW2, and when docked in Liverpool in late 1940.

Firstly, above the stage some old photographs, one with Chaplain Oliver, a former worker here, but he was the Anglican Chaplain in my ship the 8 inch heavy cruiser HMAS Australia during 1939-1941, when I served as a Midshipman. He had an unfortunate and very pronounced stammer, that gave him great difficulty with the phrase "Let us Pray!" So much so, that our sailors very irrevently christened him "Stuttering Sam."

Secondly, one of the paintings features a sailing ship docked at Liverpool alongside the famous Liver Building. its twin towers each topped with a stone Liver Bird, that mythical flightless bird. In December of 1940, with HMAS Australia snugly docked in Gladstone Dock here, the English traitor Lord Haw Haw. broadcasting propaganda from Germany, promised my ship that:

"Tonight you will be bombed in dock at Liverpool, and German bombers will make those Liver Birds on top of the Liver Building FLY."

The subsequent nightly bombing of this port almost kept his Lordship's word, but the Liver Birds did remain intact.

The Chapel.
At the northern end of the building is a small gem, the chapel, it carries a series of small but exquisite stained glass windows. One is dedicated to the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Jervis Bay, who on the 5th. of November 1940, sacrificed herself to save her convoy. This 14,164 ton ship had been launched in 1922, at the start of WW2 the Admiralty ordered her to be converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser fitted with 8 by 6 inch old guns.

HMS Jervis Bay, sunk by Scheer

Jervis Bay commanded by Captain Edwin Fegen RN, was supporting Convoy HX84 from Halifax to UK, it was made up of 37 ships, when on the 5th. of November 1940, the German pocket Battleship Admiral Scheer mounting modern 11 inch guns hove into view, Fegen ordered his convoy ships to scatter, then on the path of certain death he turned his relatively feeble ship to face the enemy, he was completely both outranged and out gunned.

Admiral Scheer

Admiral Scheer

His ship survived for 22 minutes before she sank, taking her Captain and 190 crew members with her, only 65 were rescued by the Swedish ship Sturholan. By providing a diversion, 32 of the convoy vessels were able to escape, and Captain Fegen was postumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Captain Edwin Fegen. Postumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Died in action against Admiral Scheer

Captain Edwin Fegen. Postumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Died in action against Admiral Scheer

The window in this chapel, 12,000 miles from this heroic action, remembers Jervis Bay, and her sacrifice made in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, so that many others could live.

This Memorial Chapel of St Peter the Mariner is the only one available in all of the Docklands area, it also carries a stained glass window of the Seafarer's Symbol, the only Seafarers Chapel world wide to do so. I was particularly taken with two beautiful timber items in the chapel, one is the carved pulpit, which depicts a replica of the stern section of an old galleon or sailing vessel at the time when both wind and sail dominated the world's ships.

The second is a lovely carved timber cover for the christening font, it is surmounted by a cross, and is in memory of two WW1 Australian soldiers, one lost at Gallipoli, the other died in France.

This chapel is a " Must see." and would appear to be one of Melbourne's best kept secrets of its Maritime world, and a visit is recommended to anyone evenly remotely interested in the sea, and its history in this port of Melbourne.

Rest of Mission Building.
The southern end of the Mission is finished with a fine dome, it once proudly crowned the then gymnasium. There is a games room with a billiard table and table tennis facilities, no doubt,  this room once was filled with raucous laughter and voices of sailors as they enjoyed themselves here, now sadly silent, and largely unused.

There is a four bed room facility on site as the Chaplain's residence for him and his family, now lying quite empty. A fine board room has a beautiful timber table, with appropriate chairs, on its northern wall is secured another brass ship's bell, this one from the Morteon Bay.

Prime Piece of Real Estate.
This Mission to Seafarers stands on a prime piece of real estate, at the moment it would seem to be under utilized, there are plans afoot to move the Flying Angel Club upstairs, and then convert the ground floor building to a more commercial use. A boutique Maritime Museum, with conference and eating facilities may be one option.

How wonderful to think that this area, with its beautiful chapel may one day be again thronged with people enjoying maritime history.


Captain Edwin Fegen. Postumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Died in action against Admiral Scheer

The Flying Angel Club at Mission to Seafarers Melbourne

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