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Missions to Seamen

Mission to Seafarers was established in 1856 as a national Society, incorporating the Bristol Channel Mission and the Thames Church Mission. The Society provided chaplains to serve vessels and seamen afloat and ashore.  

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The Missions to Seamen (MTS), now the Mission to Seafarers, was established by the Church of England in 1856 as a national society to bring together the work of regional missions, including the Bristol Channel Mission (1836) and the Thames Church Mission (1844). The Society initially focussed on providing services to seamen afloat, rather than in port, but gradually extended its reach to include port-based chaplaincies in both the UK and other British colonial and imperial ports. By 1858, chaplains were stationed in 14 ports in England and Ireland, with representatives in Singapore, Madras, and Nova Scotia.

By the 1880s, Mission to Seafarers activities included:

  • Worship on the Seas, encouraging united workshop for crews using volunteer captains and officers
  • Church in the Roadsteads, using two steam yachts and 8 sailing vessels to visit anchorages around the southern coasts of England including the Solent, Portland Roads, Plymouth Sound, the Bristol Channel and Waterford Road in the Irish sea
  • Seamen on shore. Providing chaplain to cocks, and rivers, 'so as to follow the sailor, the fisherman, and the bargeman into boarding houses, public-houses, and other haunts'.
  • Royal Navy. Supplements naval chaplains with scripture readers
  • Fishermen
  • Canal men
  • Emigrant and passenger ships
  • Foreign seamen in British ports
  • British seamen in Foreign ports
  • Literature afloat
  • Abstaining seamen Loss of life at sea

To deliver this programme, the total income of the Missions to Seamen in 1882 was £21,000. There were two clerical superintendents, with 25 chaplains at 48 stations, as well as other part-time officers.

Visitation to isolated marine communities continued to be the mainstay of the Society's activities, such as this visit to the Isles of Scilly in the 1920s. The Society operated its own vessels, in the tradition of the Rev. John Ashley's missionary cutter, the Eirene.

Chaplain visiting the Isles of Scilly, passing the Bishop Rock Lightouse. Source: Mission to Mariners Archive U DMS, Hull History Centre.

Today, the Missions to Seamen developed into one of the world?s largest maritime charities, with links to over 200 ports around the world.

The Archives of the Society were generously donated to the University of Hull and are now housed in the Hull History Centre where they have benefitted from a professional catalogue. The value of the archive to marine historians and communities is considerable, particularly because of the loss of archives relating to other marine missions. 


Missions to Seafarers Archives, Hull History Centre. 

Gollock, G.A. 1930. At the Sign of the Flying Angel: A Book of the Sailor at the Coastline (London: Longmans).

Kverndal, R. 1986. Seamen’s Missions: Their Origin and Early Growth (Pasadena, California). 

Miller, R. W. H. 2012. One Firm Anchor: The Church and the Merchant Seafarer, an Introductory History (Cambridge: Lutterworth).

Strong, L.A.G. 1856. Flying Angel: The Story of the Missions to Seamen (London). 

Walrond, Mary L. 1904. Launching out into the deep; or the pioneers of a noble effort [the missions to seamen] (London).


Mission to Seafarers Archive, Hull History Centre

Weatherall, Claire. 2019. ‘“For those in peril on the sea”: Seamen’s Missions Archives at Hull History Centre’. JISC Archives Hub (Jan.) 

Citation for this article

Hilary Carey, 'Missions to Seamen' Mariners: Race, Religion and Empire in British Ports 1801-1914,
Retrieved 14 July 2024