The following is a report from Garnered Sheaves by Aileen Brown:
MISSION TO SEAMEN
In 1853, after a six-months' journey, the Sir William Molesworth arrived at Melbourne with the Rev. Kerr Johnston, his wife and family of five girls and two boys on board.
After being ordained at Greenwich, be had married Elizabeth Denovan Gowan, the daughter of a shipbuilder in Berwick-on-Tweed. Before leaving he had been in touch with the London Seamen's Mission (July, 1857). Subsequently he spent some time in Hobart Town, and then came in the Goldseeker to Melbourne. The Kerr Johnston home was The Emily, a large, old American hulk, granted for the purpose by the Government. The hulk was painted a light colour, with "Bethel Sailors' Church" in large, black letters on the side, and this strange church was officially opened by Bishop Perry in July, 1857, who arrived by boat from Williamstown. During the service, the hymn
"Oh God of Bethel, by Whose Hand
was sung. For two and a half years the family lived on the "Bethel," then Leigh Terrace came to be their home at Port Melbourne. As time went on an old boathouse on the beach was used for services, and it is on that site that the present Port Melbourne Institute stands. In 1858 we have records of a public meeting held in the Mechanics' Institute, Collins Street, to interest people in the welfare of sailors. His Excellency, Sir Henry Barkly, K.C.B., was chairman of the meeting, and a very strong committee was formed. Soon after, funds were collected for a building. This building was formally opened by Lady Loch, and is still known as "The Bethel." It is thus described in verse:
Thy people still are fed,
Who thro' this weary pilgrimage
Hath all our Fathers led."
"Just a simple building,
The "Bethel Floating Church" was last seen to turn turtle after catching fire. A "Sailors' Rest" was opened at Williamstown, where shipping was very heavy. A faithful band of local residents attended to the needs of the men while in port. In later years, owing to the more extensive use of Port Melbourne and Yarra wharves and docks, Williamstown became ever less important.
Just a simple word;
Yet power and might were in them both,
The power of the Lord."
"There, souls were saved and taught,
There, hearts and homes were blest,
By one brave, earnest soul, who now
Has entered into rest."
(E. H. JOHNSTON.)
After 26 years of active service and a few years of retirement, the Rev. Kerr Johnston "passed over," leaving wonderful pioneer memories. The "Argus" says "He was a gentleman and loved by all." His family, through all that time, was a source of great strength to him in all branches of the work. His grandson, Rev. Noel Johnston Daune, is at work in the Church of England in an industrial suburb of Melbourne.