AskDefine | Define purser

Dictionary Definition

purser n : an officer aboard a ship who keeps accounts and attends to the passengers' welfare

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. the person responsible for handling the accounts on a ship, or for dealing with the passengers on a ship or aircraft


  • ''If we offend against any of the other rules (A's or B's) - that is if we, say, utter the formula incorrectly, or if, say, we are not in a position to do the act because we are, say, married already, or it is the purser and not the captain who is conducting the ceremony, then the act in question, e.g. marrying, is not successfully performed at all, does not come off, is not achieved.'' - JL. Austin, "How To Do Things With Words" (1962)


Extensive Definition

A ship's purser (also purser or pusser) is the person on a ship responsible for the handling of money on board. On modern merchant ships the purser is the officer responsible for all administration and supply; frequently the cooks and stewards answer to him as well.
The purser joined the warrant officer ranks of the Royal Navy in the early Fourteenth century. Later these officers were "warranted" by the British Admiralty. They maintained and sailed the ships and were the standing officers of the navy, staying with the ships in port between voyages as caretakers supervising repairs and refitting.
In charge of supplies such as food and drink, clothing, bedding, candles, the purser was originally known as "the clerk of burser." The purser was not actually in charge of pay, but of necessity had to track it closely, since the crew had to pay for all their supplies, and it was the purser's job to deduct those expenses from their wages. The purser bought everything (except food and drink) on credit, acting almost as a private merchant. In addition to his official responsibilities, it was customary for the purser to act as a literal private merchant for luxuries such as tobacco, and to be the crew's banker.
As a result, the purser was always at risk of losing money and being thrown into debtor's prison; conversely, the crew and officers habitually suspected the purser of making an illicit profit out of his complex dealings. However, very few pursers became wealthy from their dealings; although there were wealthy pursers, it was due to side businesses facilitated by their ships' travels.
On modern-day passenger ships, the purser has evolved into a multi-person office that handles general administration, fees and charges, currency exchange, and any other money-related needs of the passengers and crew. The Chief Purser often holds a rank equivalent to that of the Chief Officer (and wears the same three rank rings).


On modern airliners, the Cabin Manager (chief flight attendant) is often called the purser.



  • The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy

See also

purser in German: Purser
purser in Italian: Commissario di bordo
purser in Dutch: Purser
purser in Norwegian: Purser

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

accountant, auditor, bakehead, black gang, boilerman, bookkeeper, bungs, bursar, cabin boy, cashier, cashkeeper, chamberlain, chips, commissary steward, compensator, complement, comptroller, controller, curator, deckhand, deckie, defrayer, depositary, depository, financial officer, fireman, gun loader, gunner, hand, hospital steward, landing signalman, liquidator, mail orderly, navigator, oiler, payer, paymaster, purse bearer, radio operator, ratepayer, receiver, recompenser, remunerator, roustabout, snip, snips, sparks, steward, stewardess, stoker, taxpayer, torpedoman, treasurer, trustee, watch, yeoman
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