A ship's purser, or just purser is the person on a ship responsible for the handling of money on board.
Originally, in the Royal Navy, the purser was a warrant officer in charge of supplies such as food ("victuals"), clothing, bedding, candles, and so forth. 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 victuals) 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 fees and charges, currency exchange, and any other money-related needs of the passengers and crew.
- N. A. M. Rodger, The Wooden World (Naval Institute Press, 1986) pp. 87-98