Our History & Patrons

An Insight into our History - Mission to Seafarers, Sydney, NSW


In 1822, the Rev. William Cowper (Rector of St Philip’s Church of England in Sydney) and a group of prominent Christian businessmen founded the Interdenominational Society known as The Sydney Bethel Union Society.  Their aim was to bring the blessings of Christian ministry to seamen in the Port of Sydney.

In 1881, the Church of England’s Seamen’s Mission commenced its ministry in Sydney.  The first ‘Seamen’s Missionary’ was Mr John Shearston, who ministered to the sailors of the Men at War in Sydney.

With commercial shipping handling more than 80% of global trade by volume, this ministry is now more important than ever: Since 1940, the globalising economy has grown twelve-fold from $8trn to more than $100trn now.

It is my pleasure today to report that this proud legacy of ministering to seafarers endures, and that the Mission to Seafarers is in good health.

The Board which you have elected has ensured that the Mission has an increasingly robust governance structure, has a documented plan which is monitored, and which is executed by a competent and committed team of staff and volunteers.  As you will learn, we have emerged from COVID with our chaplains resuming face to face care seven days a week

 – Extract from Chairman’s Report to the 57th AGM, 9 May 2023 by Peter Janssen OAM


A Prayer for the Mission to Seafarers:

Lord God, be the canoe that holds us in the sea of life.
Be the rudder that keeps us on the straight course.
Be the outrigger that supports us in times of great testing.

Image: Rev William Cowper


The Mission to Seafarers Sydney is thankful for the vital support of the Sydney Bethel Union (SBU)

“As President of the Mission to Seafarers I am acutely aware of the role played around the globe by charitable organisations in caring for the welfare of seafarers, who spend much their lives away from home and family. The Mission to Seafarers, now a world-wide organisation working in 200 ports across 50 nations, originated in London in 1856,” said Princess Anne, our global president.

Some 34 years earlier in Sydney a group of concerned citizens led by the Reverend William Cowper founded the Sydney Bethel Union Society and committed to safeguard the spiritual and physical welfare of the crews on ships whose long, arduous and dangerous voyages were the only link between the remote colony New South Wales and the rest the world.

Successive grants of land for construction of a Mariners’ Church and related facilities gave rise to the Sydney Bethel Union Act 1851.  Subsequent Acts of the NSW Parliament still regulate SBU activity today. Arriving in Sydney in the latter part the Century, the Mission to Seamen collaborated with SBU in providing for the welfare of seafarers. In 1896 it was agreed the Mission would operate from premises owned by Sydney Bethel Union, commencing a partnership that is now in its 126th year…

“In congratulating the Sydney Bethel Union on its 200th birthday I like to re-emphasise the vital role seafarers play in the economy and indeed the survival of this island nation, even a continent sized one like Australia! I also like to highlight the compassion and foresight shown by the founders of Sydney Bethel Union in 1822, which continues to this day, along with the ongoing partnership that enables the Mission to Seafarers to deliver welfare services to sailors [in several ports in NSW]. Finally, I would like to thank the commitment of the trustees and SBU supporters who have given freely their time and expertise to manage the affairs of SBU to seafarers visiting NSW ports,” so said Peter Janssen during his toast.

Happy 200th Anniversary SBU –
then MtS Chair Peter Janssen OAM
toasts SBU Chair Clive Goodwin.

Find out more about the Sydney Bethel Union here: https://www.sydneybethelunion.com.au/

Modern Day Unity

Mission to Seafarers Sydney is part of The Australian Council for the Mission to Seafarers Inc. which promotes co-operation between Mission to Seafarers (MTS) centres around Australia, New Zealand and in PNG. It also works to strengthen ties between Australian and international MTS centres to reinforce our global MTS family and support networks. 

It is working to grow Australian involvement in Sea Sunday, the day which many Christian Churches around the world set aside to remember and pray for seafarers and their families, and to give thanks for their lives and work. Learn more at: https://www.missiontoseafarers.org/sea-sunday

The work of the Australian Council is guided by the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church of Australia. Learn more at: https://www.mts.org.au/mts-australia

For more details on other Missions around the world, see: (link to Global page on our website).

Our Patrons:

Global Patron – Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II under review.

Following His Majesty King Charles III Accession, the Royal Household is conducting a review of all Royal Patronages including those such as Mission to Seafarers, of which Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was Patron. https://www.royal.uk/charities-and-patronages

Holiday Hours - regular except CLOSED on Dec 25, Dec 31 and Jan 1, 2024.​