Master at Arms


Trent Pheifer

Could anyone explain to me why they had two Master-At-Arm? What was there jobs? and Was one in higher rank than the other. Thanks in advance for any information.


Dave Gittins

Apr 11, 2001
I guess they had two Masters at Arms because Titanic was a big ship. Both got the same pay, so they were probably equals, working under the command of the captain.

Their duty was to control the passengers and crew. They kept an eye on passengers who strayed out of their areas and looked out for thievery. If it came to a fight among the passengers or crew they were supposed to break it up. Today security men do the same things.

The name comes from the navy. The original job of the Master at Arms was to teach the sailors the art of fighting with small arms, such as swords and pistols, as distinct from the ships "great guns" or cannon. Later the Master at Arms became the ship's policeman. Probably the most famous Master at Arms is the fictional Claggart in Billy Budd. He shows the worst sort of Master at Arms found in the old time navy.
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Jason Smith

Trent, the job of the Master at Arms was to act like a policeman onboard the ship.
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philip whittick


The reason they had two "policemen" on board probably was so that they could take turns on duty. Obviously there are 24 hours in a day and a lot of things had to be watched at night as well as during the day.
As Dave says,they had to watch for passengers straying out of their areas. They would also have to watch out, late at night, for crew members (often stewards) masquerading as passengers in order to keep liasions with young ladies they had befriended.

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May 8, 2001
Is the term "master at arms" still used on shipboard today or have they been reclassified or renamed? On a ship like Captain Wood commands, how many "master at arms" are needed? (O.K. lets rephrase that... how many are hired for the job.)I am surprised that the Titanic only needed TWO. Thank you. Colleen

Erik Wood

Apr 10, 2001
Generally, they are not called Master at Arms although that is what the door plaque says they are just termed security. Ships today (post Sept 11th) usually have something close to 5 or 6. That is for passengers only and a group of about 2 for the crew. To ensure that the crew behaves and such.

Security these days is a little different and the industry is still adjusting. I wrote something in the New Age of Passenger Liners thread about the new security.

Dec 2, 2000
Easley South Carolina
Colleen, I can't speak to all that goes on in the merchent marine, but in the U.S. Navy, the term Master-At-Arms is not only alive and well, it's a specific law enforcement rating.

You won't find more then one or two on the smaller vessels, but on the larger ones such as aircraft carriers, they make up an entire division. (I think my last ship had something like 20+) The numbers have probably gone up on the carriers since Marines are no longer stationed aboard to provide security.

As these people work directly for the executive officer who in turn works for the Captain, crossing these people up is one whopper of a bad idea.

Michael H. Standart
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Addison Hart

One of the Masters-At-Arms, Mr. King, had some relatives who contacted me two years ago. It seems that King took care of the starboard side of the ship during the sinking, and had been sent down to keep the Third Class passengers from crashing through the gates, and he was to get them into an orderly group to go up on deck. Seems he was sent back up again to help load the boats. He seems to have disappeared from Titanic history from that point.

God bless,
Addison Hart
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Ben Holme

Feb 11, 2001
Hi Addison,

Interesting stuff. There are very few references pertaining to King's actions/wherabouts on April 14/15th. Here's another interesting tidbit - present day descendants are under the impression that he wasn't an entirely congenial character! (Hence the less than favourable depictions of him in most Titanic films).

Best Regards,

Addison Hart

Heavens, Ben, that's totally believable! I mean he was a Master At Arms, anyway! And heavens, his treatment of the Steerage passengers is hardly congenial sounding. There was at one time a suggestion that it was he who blew out his brains all over the deck, by the way.

God bless,
Addison Hart


The Master-At-Arms today are taught how to control and manage large groups of people and how to restain and detain individuals who are stronger than them including marines and special forces when they get out of hand. It is a job to be proud of and used to be very hard to get. Unfortunatly since 9/11 the rate has shot from 5000 to 60000 and up. The requirments were lowered and the age of MA's now are in the late teens and early 20's. I joined the rate about 7 months ago and have seen the MA rate at its best and its worst.
Dec 29, 2006
In general, a master-at-arms is a sort of marine "policeman", but it is important to remember that the Titanic was a British merchant vesset and, as such, the duties of a master-at-arms may not necessarily have been the same as those which would pertain to the master-at-arms on a modern American vessel.

When I worked for English Heritage, "Archie", the Chief Custodian at Bishops Waltham Palace, near Southampton in Hampshire, had been a master-of-arms with Cunard. I can obly describe him as a sort of chief petty officer figure - the sort of person who would comment if one's hair was too long, or one's boots were not properly polished (mine of course always were!)
Can someone describe their working hours? Would they split the ship and take rounds? Would they work day and night or only day (of course, if required by special circumstances, also on "night-call"). I know that they had their cabin on E deck, but where would they keep troublesome passengers? Where would they eat, and what would be their lavatories? (I guess since their cabin was in a Third Class area they would use those washing facilities?)
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Nov 13, 2014
In James Cameron's Movie, Jack is arrested for theft. He is locked up, handcuffed in the Master-At-Arms office. Does it even make sense that troublesome passengers are locked up this way? Where would they be held on the real Titanic?
I'm writing a book about the Titanic and I'd like to have my antagonist being locked up in the same way.

George GJY

Jun 9, 2015
Does any image of Master At Arms King match the Cameron movie's version? And, is the appearance similar to Body 160 that I've discussed earlier? [Wilde is the only possible candidate among the deck crew members, but very unlikely and too distinctive.]

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