|Historical notes: ||The site is one of the most historic in Australia. The first occupant was Lieutenant Ball of the First Fleet vessel "Supply" in 1788, and after the waterfront part of the Hospital site to the south was set aside as a Dockyard, Thomas Moore, the Master Boat Builder, built a house where Ball's house and garden had been. The neighbouring land to the north was first owned by William Balmain, but by 1800 had passed to Robert Campbell.
The Bethel Union originated in England, in the Port of London. Its founding was part of the widespread evangelical religious revival of the early 19th century, of which missionary activity among seamen was becoming a part. In 1822, the Bethel Seamen's Union or Bethel Union was established in Sydney. Two earlier sites were granted to the Union, one at Darling Harbour near Erskine Street where a church was erected in 1844, the second at south east Circular Quay where the church operated out of a temporary building for 6 years, before the third site, the former Master Boat Builder's house site at West Circular Quay, was granted in 1856 following representations from the Union for a site in this area, the centre of maritime activity in Sydney.
The Bethel Union's third church was designed by John Bibb, in the Victorian Free Classical style, built of well-executed sandstone ashlar, with a slate roof. Construction continued throughout 1856 & 1857. Then work stopped through lack of funds. During construction, the stonemasons union advised of the reduction of their working hours per day from 12 to 8. This was agreed by the Bethel Union Trustees and thus the site was the first to employ stonemasons on a 8 hour day in Sydney. On 27 February, 1859 the Mariners' Church was opened. The building is of high architectural and historical importance, and the original church is a grand space and a rare and precious reminder of an expansive early Victorian preaching auditorium.
Early attendance was low, but after Rev. Thomas Gainsford took office in 1871, attendance soared, and in 1873 more accommodation was provided by the excavation of some 460 cu metres of sandstone to create a basement providing a hall for concerts and dining, a smoking room, and a library. In 1888, the basement was enlarged, a smoking room added to the library, and a gymnasium created. Around this time the Bethel Union was in financial difficulties, and eventually , in 1895, the Mariners' Church was leased to the Missions to Seamen, an organisation originating in England in 1835, and starting in Sydney with the work of John Shearston in 1872. In his missionary work for neglected seamen he initially provided church services but was soon providing for their wider needs, including reading rooms and clubs, education and welfare services. (Godden Mackay 1992: 11-35, 140-141)
The two organisations combined functions and prospered, The facilities were considered inadequate, and Sir Henry Rawson instigated extensions which were carried out in 1910, and the complex was renamed The Rawson Institute for Seamen. The alterations were designed by William Kent in Federation Free Classical style. The closure of Bethel Street and the creation of the Bethel Steps to replace it enabled a larger site. An extra storey was added with four columns to support the beam structure of the upper floor which consisted of a central chapel with compartments on either side. Kent added rooms to the George Street facade which were in the Federation Free Classical style, converting the façade into a three storey ensemble. The south front rooms curved around the boundary of the Bethel Steps. The activities of the Institute continued to expand and Dame Margaret Davidson, wife of the new Governor, launched an appeal for the further enlargement of 1927-28 called the Dame Margaret Davidson Wing designed by the architects Kent and Massie. In 1931 the Bethel Union Trustees approved an extension of the lease to the end of 1960, and a new dwelling for the Mission Chaplain was built.
In 1971 the Mariners' Church complex was resumed by the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority and the Bethel Union was relocated to Flying Angel House, 11-15 Macquarie Place, opened in 1977.
The SCRA then adapted the building for the Craft Council of NSW which operated from 1981-1990 when the building was vacated to make way for The Story of Sydney, and the Craft Centre moved to No 88 George Street.
The Story of Sydney opened in January 1991 and closed on 31 January 1992, as it proved not to be a financially viable project.
(From Godden Mackay 1992: 11-35, 140-149).
The Mariners' Church building was being used as an art gallery and café, the gallery moved out in 2006. Currently the building is being completely renovated and stonework restored for fitting out as a restaurant and nightclub. Part of these works were excavation into the 1909 extension to fit plant into a basement. This exposed the top courses of a retaining wall and SHFA archaeologists were called in to excavate. The almost complete remains of Bethel St were uncovered in the new basement. A viewing window was cut into the wall at Bethel Stairs and interpretation of Bethel St and the building is to be installed.
[Archaeology notes: The Mariners Church was originally built in 1854, extended in 1873, 1908-9, 1921 and 1927. The site had previously been that of the boat builders house and garden, part of the Government Boatyard which also encompassed Cadmans Cottage to the south.]