What do they call the bloke in charge of a royal barge….?

The Royal Barge Gloriana at the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant on 3 June 2012
Tony Harrison, Flickr

You know how it is when you think you have the right word for something, only to examine its definition and find that it isn’t? With this in mind, I thought I was right with “bargemaster” for the man in charge of an oared royal barge. But according to various dictionaries, it means barge owner, which of course is the monarch, not the captain or whatever of the royal barges. Yet captain doesn’t feel quite right either.

According to Wikipedia “….The tradition of the Bargemaster dates back to 1215, with the signing of Magna Carta at Runnymede….The Bargemaster is responsible for the Royal Watermen, chosen from the ranks of the Thames Watermen who operrate tugs and launches on the river. There are 24 Royal Watermen, each of whom receives an annual salary of £3.50….” Unless I’m reading it incorrectly, this again seems to hint at someone in overall charge of all the barges. Not the barge owner, admittedly, but not the man in control of a single barge either.

Soooo…. does anyone know if there’s a correct word for the chap who has the fanciest outfit, keeps all the oarsmen and others in order, and whose word is law on board? Is he the bargemaster? The captain? Just the bloke in charge? No, that last can’t be right. I can’t imagine a medieval monarch shaking his head, jerking a bejewelled thumb back to the gilded stern and saying, “I dunno, you’ll have to ask that bloke at the back.”


  1. Tony, I haven’t heard that word before, and when I looked it up in a dictionary of archaic words I can only find “dokett”, meaning docked., so there’s a connection. Another spelling was for a dovecote. Thank you for supplying it.


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