Rochester Oyster and Floating Fishery

Mark Smurthwaite Charter granted to the City of Rochester by Henry VI in 1446 first conferred the title of 'Admiral of the Waters of the Medway from Sherenesse to Hawkewode'.

In 1728 in the reign of King George II, an Act of Parliament was passed for “regulating, well ordering, governing and improving the Oyster Fishery in the River Medway and waters thereof, under the authority of the Mayor and Citizens of the City of Rochester, in the County of Kent.” This act was followed by another, passed in the 28th year of the reign of Queen Victoria, entitled “An Act for Better Regulating the Rochester Oyster Fishery and for other Purposes.”

By these and subsequent Acts of Parliament, the Mayor of the City of Rochester as Admiral of the waters of the Medway, and his Aldermen were given jurisdiction over the waters of the Medway and its creeks and tributaries between Garrison Point, Sheerness and Hawkwood Stone. The Oyster Fishery was free and common to all oyster fishermen and dredgers who had served seven years apprenticeship with any free fisherman or free dredger of the fishery. Upon application by the Fishery, the Mayor summoned an Admiralty Court for regulating and ordering the Fishery. The fishermen and dredgers were summoned by the Mayor’s Water Bailiff to attend the Court when a Jury was elected.

There is much documentary evidence that bears witness to the history and purposes of the floating and oyster fisheries and The Admiralty Court is still held today on the first or second Saturday in July with the Admiral of the River (The Mayor of Medway, as the successor to the Mayor of Rochester), a number of Councillors fully robed, the Chief Executive of the Borough of Medway (as successor to the Town Clerk of Rochester) as Registrar of the Fishery and other Dignitaries in attendance. The Jury is sworn and appointed, the list of Free Dredgers is called, the Water Bailiffs are sworn and appointed and the Jury, through the Chamberlain, presents its report on the previous years fishing in the River Medway, which is then approved by the Court.

< back