- Francis, Richard
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Royal Australian Naval House has always been known affectionately as ‘Johnnies’, although the origin of the name is hard to trace. Enquiries made amongst men who used the hostel as far back as 1900, in its heyday as Royal Naval House, revealed that some knew it as ‘Jacky’s’- possibly so called after the then Superintendant Jacky Shearston. It is now assumed that it became known by the name ‘Johnnies’on account of Mr. Shearston’s Christian name ‘John’.
THE FIRST ROYAL NAVAL HOUSE in Sydney was founded in 1876 for the benefit of ratings of the Royal Navy and established at leased premises at 31 Princes Street (later demolished in 1926 to make way for the southern approaches to the Harbour Bridge). It was named then ‘Goodenough Royal Naval House’ after the late Commodore Goodenough RN, who died on active service as the result of a poisoned arrow wound at Santa Cruz Island the previous year, 1875, (and who had received a huge naval ceremonial funeral and had been buried in the cemetery at Crows Nest, together with two of his men who also had died of wounds in the attack by natives). The establishment provided about 50 beds and was run by a Committee of the following:
- Sir George Innes
- Captain Francis Hixon, RN (Chairman)
- Captain Hastings, RN
- H.E.A. Allan, Esq
- John Algar, Esq,
It provided the sailors with a place to stay overnight when on short shore leave from their ships in port.
With the gradual increase in size of the Royal Navy’s Australian Squadron, it was soon appreciated that the present facilities were becoming inadequate to cater for all the men on shore leave. Another establishment, ‘Trafalgar House’, belonging to the Church of England Seamen’s Mission (and managed by Mr. John A. Shearston) also provided for another 50 men of the Squadron in port. Mr. Shearston conducted Mission work amongst Royal Navy sailors and was very popular with them. Eventually, construction of the present Royal Naval House in Grosvenor Street (then Charlotte Place) was commenced in 1889 and Captain Deane RN, then Treasurer of Goodenough Royal Naval House, stated at the foundation stone laying ceremony and quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 June 1889:
‘The Committee waited upon the then Government (of NSW) and applied for the grant of a piece of land for a site. Subsequently, I have waited on four different governments, each succeeding one disapproving of the plans of their predecessors and proposing a fresh one of their own . . . we found this present ground . . . the Government redeemed their pledge, bought this property and handed it over to a body of gentlemen as trustees . . .’ This new building provided for 200 beds for the ratings on shore leave and was administered by a board of distinguished Trustees. Commander in Chief of the Australia Station was then RADM Henry Fairfax, CB, RN, who in the absence of his wife invited Lady Carrington, wife of the Governor of NSW, to lay the foundation stone ‘. . . in the presence of a large and brilliant assemblage of ladies and gentlemen.’ The Royal Naval House was completed and opened in a ceremony performed by Lord Carrington on 25 September 1890 ‘. . . in the presence of a numerous and influential assemblage . . .(including). . . officers and men of the English, German and French warships now in port.’ The building had cost 24,600 pounds ($49,200), the furniture 1,200 pounds and the land 9,400 pounds and the trustees at that time ‘. . . were of the opinion that it was one of the best Royal Naval Sailors Homes in the world.’
By 1904, as the Squadron had grown more in numbers of ships and men, further accommodation became necessary and a wing was added, and incorporated as part of the House in 1907, following help from the Government of the day to acquire land on the eastern side of the House, bounded by present day Milsons Lane (formerly Vinegar Lane). No further alterations were made since that date until 1939, when various renovations were carried out (e.g. conversion from gas lighting to electricity and cement rendering of the walls – previously plain painted brick).