Seafarers, the Mission and the Archive: affective, embodied and sensory traces of sea-mobilities in Melbourne, Australia

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Abstract

The Mission to Seafarers, founded in 1856, is an international organisation that offers support to the seafaring community. Recently, at its mission in Melbourne, Australia, a century’s worth of records were discovered, concealed in boxes under its theatre stage. These included annual reports, scrapbooks, diaries, letters, visitors log books, newsletters, artefacts and an array of evocative photographs. Besides providing rich insights into the history of seafaring, of Melbourne as a port city and of the Mission itself, the discovery of this extraordinary resource produced profound non-representational affective, emotional and sensory intensities for those connected with the Mission. Heightened anticipation about the unknown and unexplored stories that might lie within escalated as we worked to catalogue the material. As enticing fragments were uncovered and connections made, this feeling intensified. This paper reveals the affective qualities of the archives and histories of connections and encounters that are so evocatively felt in the Mission. The retrieved archive supplements the already atmospheric space of the ship-themed Mission, a realm replete with eccentric artefacts and eclectic traces, as well as with seafarers and staff. I register this broader affective context here, while also recounting my own sensorial entanglements with the archival material. I conclude by elaborating upon a process through which I became yet more intimately connected to the Mission by contributing to this emotionally saturated archive. This involved retrieving a recently found, long-lost object and returning it to its rightful place amidst great excitement, wonder and a few tears, an object that has subsequently become a symbolically charged element within the Mission's archive.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 9 Feb 2021