SHEARSTON, JOHN SAMUEL (b. Sydney NSW, 21 Oct 1853; d. Sydney, 21 March 1916). Missionary to seamen in Sydney.
Following formal education, Shearston was employed in Royal Mint, Sydney. From early boyhood had keen admiration for the seamen of the Royal Navy. He wondered that they had nowhere to go on shore and no one took genuine interest in them. He visited ships in his leisure time and spoke to men about their soul's salvation, distributed tracts and papers and visited and prayed with the sick. He saw many fine men become drunk in the streets, or crowd into brothels. Shearston felt the need of a home to which he could ask men to come out of the street and, although he lived at Darling Point, he resolved to invite men there and in 1872 one man came and, after tea, they went to St Mark's Church of England.
A lodge of the Order of The Good Templars was established in the colony, which soon Shearston joined followed by a number of seamen; two Lodges formed for them and grew quickly. More men came out to the house at Darling Point and soon there was quite a large party every Thursday and Sunday evening. On Sundays the men were taken to church. This work continued for six years. Goodenough Royal Naval House opened in July 1876 as a hostel for seamen on shore leave. It was another community expression of the moral concern for sailors' welfare the young Shearston was developing. During 1878 he produced a magazine Hands About Ship and distributed 500 copies per month to seamen and others, plus 63 copies of the Holy Scriptures, 9000 gospel and temperance tracts and leaflets etc. He made 374 visits to HM ships and about 300 to ships of the Merchant Service. His only object—'to do good to our sailors and win their souls for our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ'.
Having m. Mary Jane Sledge on 29 March 1880 he was licensed by Bishop Barry as 'Missionary to Seamen' and on 25 May 1881 began a full-time ministry supervised by Archdeacon King of Holy Trinity Church Miller's Point and supported by some of the wealthy parishioners. John and Mary Shearston then moved to 3 Princes Street (on the Rocks), where many seamen congregated in search of a happy evening and wholesome entertainment.
In October 1885, the Shearstons moved to larger premises to be known as 'Trafalgar House' at 9 Princes Street. His ministry and temperance work progressed with increasing success. Unlike a number of his contemporaries, he favoured 'moral persuasion' as a means of curbing the liquor problem. Goodenough Royal Naval House and Trafalgar House worked together under Shearston's supervision. A new Royal Naval House was completed in 1890 and Shearston was appointed as superintendent. During the 1890s he also served on the Committee of the Missions to Seamen and at the turn of the century became a Vice-President. Mrs Shearston devotedly assisted in the work at Royal Naval House, just as she had done at Trafalgar House. Shearston's health declined over the years and he died suddenly in Royal Naval House.
J S Shearston, H.M.S. Nelson (Sydney, 1885); J S Shearston, Mission Work Among Sailors in Sydney Harbour (Sydney, 1889); J S Shearston, Hands About Ship - a monthly magazine for seafarers (Sydney); Annual Reports of the Church of England Seaman's Mission 1882-1916; Anon, A Biography of John Samuel Shearston (hand written copy)
RICHARD OWEN DYKES
Electronic Version © Southern Cross College, 2004
Content © Evangelical History Association of Australia and the author, 2004