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THE LOSS OF THE ADMIRAL GARDNER, or, How 46 Tons Of Matthew Boulton’s Copper Cash Ended Their Journey To The East Indies On The Goodwin Sands

 

By Chris Leather

The Loss of the Admiral Gardner

Admiral Alan,

1st Baron Gardner

1742-1809

East India Company XX Cash, Obverse, Soho Mint, 1808

Recovered from the cargo of the Admiral Gardner

wrecked on the Goodwin Sands, 25th January 1809

The Admiral Gardner

 

The Admiral Gardner was a three-masted, three-deck East Indiaman, built on the River Thames at Melhuish’s yard in Limehouse, on a sub-contract from Perry of Blackwall, and launched on 12th April 1797. She was built principally of oak and teak, with an overall length of 145 feet and beam of 36 feet. She displaced approximately 815 tons.

Like most Indiamen she was well-armed, though there was inevitably a trade-off between cargo-carrying capacity and the weight of armament she could carry. The Admiral Gardner was equipped with 12 gunports on the middle deck and 11 on the upper deck.

 

The Admiral Gardner had completed five round-trips to the East Indies, and was commencing her sixth when disaster struck. As can be seen from Captain Eastfield’s report, there was no suggestion that any weakness or failure in the ship contributed to her loss. This would have been Captain Eastfield’s second voyage in the ship as Captain.

 

The Admiral Gardner, although trading on behalf of the East India Company, was owned by Mr John Woolmore, the Ship-Husband, who had been in East India Company service for many years as a ship’s officer, and Captain, before becoming a stockholder, and ship owner. Between 1803 and 1808 he was one of the Principals behind the company which constructed the East India Dock, in London, becoming deputy Chairman, and then Chairman. He also sat, but was not known to have spoken, in the House of Commons.

Hover your Cursor

for a larger map

of the Goodwin Sands

The Cargo of Cash

 

In September 1807, discussions began between the Honourable East India Company, and the Soho Mint, regarding the coinage of a second consignment of cash pieces for the Company’s Presidency in Madras. A first coinage of I, V, X and XX Cash coins had been struck in 1803, and now additional supplies were required. This time, however, the weights of the pieces were reduced, and the tiny I Cash was not included in the order - perhaps the nearly 18 million examples coined in 1803 were sufficient! Be that as it may, the contract ran into problems right from the start, with a disagreement over which party should provide the copper, where it should be obtained from, and at what price.

 

Matters must have been resolved by the end of 1807, as coining began around then, and some forty tons of XX Cash pieces had been struck by the middle of January, amounting to some 4,300,000 coins and by early February some three million X Cash pieces joined them. A brief hiatus followed, until coining resumed in June and July, with a further eleven million XX Cash and two million X Cash being struck. A final round of striking would take place between the end of 1808 and the middle of 1809; by June 1809 some 33,590,406 XX Cash pieces, and 52,924,938 X Cash pieces had been made.

 

The cargo of the Admiral Gardner was a part-shipment, probably of the third round of strikings, and comprised mostly X Cash pieces, the most popular of the four denominations in the series, with an unknown quantity of XX Cash pieces.

East India Company XX Cash, Reverse, Soho Mint, 1808

Recovered from the cargo of the Admiral Gardner

wrecked on the Goodwin Sands, 25th January 1809

East India Company

Madras Presidency

I Cash, 1803

Struck at a weight of 720 coins to 1lb.

The Loss of the Admiral Gardner

 

The weather in January 1809 was cold and inclement. In some parts of the country, more snow had fallen than for ‘twenty or forty years past’ and there are reports of storms lashing the coasts. Despite the weather, a small group of East India Company ships, the Admiral Gardner, named after a famous naval officer of the time, the Carnatic and the Britannia, set sail from Deptford, in the port of London, bound for the East Indies, via Madeira. Forming a significant part of the cargo on the Admiral Gardner were 46 tons of coins struck by Matthew Boulton at Soho Mint, comprising ten and twenty cash copper pieces, for use in the Company’s trade in their Madras Presidency.

 

Leaving the Thames estuary, and passing Margate, the weather subsided into a calm, and the flotilla was forced to anchor to save themselves from drifting on to the Goodwin Sands, just four miles off Ramsgate, a notorious area of sandbanks and uncharted hazards. Then, a west-north-westerly gale got up, increasing in strength, and the ships’ anchors failed to hold in the sandy conditions. The ships began dragging towards the sands despite heroic efforts by the crew to avoid a fate which was fast becoming inevitable, and in the early hours of the morning of 25th January, the Britannia and the Admiral Gardner ran aground off South Foreland, and began to sink into the sands.

 

Captain William John Eastfield, the officers and crew, remained with the stricken Admiral Gardner until 3.35pm when, at the risk of their own lives, they were rescued by men from Deal. One crewman from the Admiral Gardner and seven from the Britannia were lost, together with both ships and all the cargo. The following day, Captain Eastfield wrote to the East India Company with an account of the loss of his ship.

Click to read this in full

 

Equally quickly, information about the losses reached the media of the time, the newspapers, by means of letters containing descriptions, written with more immediacy than accuracy, of what was supposed to be going on.

For a flavour of these, click to read more.

 

And there it remained, with the exception of a few items salvaged in 1809, until 1984, when a local fisherman reported snagging his nets on some wreckage, which, as the story of the Admiral Gardner was well-known locally, was assumed to be the lost vessel. The divers who made the first dive on the wreck were amazed at what they saw. Exposed ribs, frames and decking outlined the shape of the ship. She was lying on a gently sloping sandy bottom at depths ranging between 45 and 60 feet of water. Along with her cargo of coins, some of which had spilled out from the barrels in which they were stowed, she had carried a quantity of cannon balls, anchors, iron bars and copper ingots being shipped out East.

 

In 1985, with the wreck having been declared a site of historic interest, a licence to dive was issued and, as a result, considerable numbers of coins were recovered, including one intact barrel, estimated to contain 28,000 pieces. Coins recovered from the wreck can be easily found for sale though, as might be expected, their condition can be somewhat variable after 175 years on the seabed!

 

Since 1985 there has been no further licensed diving on the Admiral Gardner, with the exception of some surveying which was done in 1995-6. An echosounder survey and archaeological assessment in 2003 found the wreck entirely invisible and covered by ‘several metres of sand’ highlighting the shifting nature of the seabed in that area.

Wreck of the Gardner Letters.pdf

Acknowledgement

 

Details of the weights and numbers of coins struck, and the timescales, have been taken from ‘Soho Mint and the Industrialisation of Money’ by Dr Richard G Doty

Soho Mint
Wreck of the Gardner.pdf