The Admiral Gardner was a three-deck East Indiaman launched in 1797. Carrying 28 guns and a crew of 100 men, she was as well-armed as many warships. This seaborne might allowed her to fight off a French privateer in 1805, but cannon were useless against her final foe: a severe gale that drove her to ruin on the infamous Goodwin Sands.
Part of her doomed cargo was approximately 46 tons of “10 cash” and “20 cash” copper coins bound for the East India Company province known as the Madras Presidency. The Madras Presidency ruled over most of southern and southeastern India, and used a Hindu system of currency instead of the Mughal/Muslim currencies of the Presidencies of Bengal and Bombay.
This 10 cash coin from the Admiral Gardner shipwreck was salvaged in either 1984 or 1985. It has been certified as Genuine by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, one of the most respected coin grading services in the world. As the wreck is considered of historical importance, it is doubtful that any further coins will be recovered from the ship’s final resting place.
This coin displays the arms of the East India Company on obverse, comprising two lions supporting a shield bearing St. George’s Cross, each lion holding a standard of St. George. The upper left quadrant of the shield bears an escutcheon of the British royal shield. The crest above the shield is a full helm, surmounted by a lion holding a royal crown in its forepaws.
The coin’s reverse displays the denomination in Persian “Dah kas do falus ast” (Ten cash make two Falus) with the value in English below: “X.CASH” The diameter of the 10 cash coin, at 25.8mm, was slightly larger than a U.S. quarter (24.26mm). The weight, however, was a full gram lighter, 4.66 grams compared to 5.67 grams.
There were also 2-½, 5, 20, and 40 cash denominations, but the 10 cash was the most-used. The 1808 10 cash and 20 cash coins were the last minted, either in England or domestically in Madras (modern-day Chennai).
The End of Cash
In 1807, an effort began to reconcile the gold-based coinage of the Madras Presidency with the silver-based coinage of the adjacent territory of the Northern Circars. The most glaring problem was that each area used a different silver:gold ratio This meant that there was no way to easily exchange the coins of one territory with the other.
One of the first steps of the reforms involved replacing the copper cash coins of the Madras and the copper dub coins of the Northern Circars with a “new dub” in 1807. Confusingly, the new dub had a different weight than either of the copper coins it was replacing.
To bridge the gap between the old and new coinage systems, the East India Company in 1808 hired the Soho Mint of Birmingham, England to strike one last issue of 10 cash and 20 cash coins. It was part of that last mintage that the Admiral Gardner took to her watery grave.
The Wreck of the Admiral Gardner
In January 1809, the Admiral Gardner set sail from London in the company of two other ships in the employ of the East India Company: the brand-new Carnatic (822 tons, 32 guns), and the two-year old Britannia (1273 tons, 38 guns). War had broken out between Napoleon and the British Empire once again, and the EIC were convoying its ships for mutual protection. With a total of 98 guns, the three ships were a formidable force of their own.
Leaving London on a cold and rainy January 24, 1809, the ships rode a favorable wind down the southeast coast of England. Taking safe passage between the English coast at Deal and the Goodwin Sands to seaward, the convoy was becalmed at dusk. The Admiral Gardner and her fellow ships dropped anchor to avoid drifting into the ever-shifting Goodwin Sands in the darkness, and waited for the wind to return.
With no warning, a violent gale out of the west northwest struck the ships at 7 pm, directly opposite from the direction the ships were expecting. The pounding rain and screeching winds made it impossible for the crew to take in the sails. Giant waves crashed into the ships, ripping them from their moorings, and the Admiral Gardner was pushed toward the Goodwin Sands.
Seven hours later, the storm was still raging. The ship’s crew had still been unable to reef the sails. Suddenly, the anchor bower broke free, running out the anchor line to its end. The Admiral Gardner was now almost on top of the Goodwin Sands, where the high seas would pummel it to pieces.
The storm had been raging for nearly 12 hours, when at 6:30 am the anchor suddenly broke free from the sandy seabed. There was no time to attempt to reef the sails before disaster struck. The captain gave the order to cut down the masts before the ship was driven aground, but it was too late. The Admiral Gardner had crashed onto the Goodwin Sands..
The storm-driven waves broke over the ship as she lay helpless on the sandbank. The crew had no choice but to hold on as the ship was smashed to pieces around them. By the afternoon, the Admiral Gardner had been beaten into the sands of Goodwin enough that the storm waves were breaking over her top deck. At 3:35pm, the lifesaving boats from Deal reached the stranded crew, bringing them off to safety. Amazingly, all but one of the crew were rescued.
Over the next day, the Admiral Gardner and her fellow East Indiaman the Britannia were pummeled to pieces, the cargoes and the ships themselves a total loss. (The Carnatic alone of the three ships survived.) A short time later, the shipwrecks had disappeared beneath the shifting Goodwin Sands. There the Admiral Gardner would remain, until a fisherman in 1984 snagged his nets on her 175 year-old bones, newly emerged from her grave.
The Salvage of the Admiral Gardner
The shipwreck of the Admiral Gardner was found four miles from shore, making any salvage of valuables a non-trivial endevour. The discoverer of the wreck assembled a team from local wreck divers, forming a business syndicate named “The East India Company Divers”. Recovery of artifacts from the wreck began in the summer of 1984, but efforts were hampered by bad weather and the inherent difficulties of conducting salvage work four miles at sea.
In June 1985, professional divers from SAR Diving, who were assisting the original salvors, brought up a large quantity of the copper coins that had been protected by the deep sands. The highlight of this effort was a sealed barrel full of cash coins, holding an estimated 28,000 coins.
Salvaging the wreck ended in later in 1985, over disagreements over the methods used in the recovery (which had included selectively dynamiting the wreck!). Her Majesty’s Government has declared the area around the wreck a historical site. It is unlikely to approve another salvage attempt, making these shipwreck coins likely the last ever recovered from the Admiral Gardner.
The Goodwin Sands
The Goodwin Sands are a collection of giant, constantly shifting sandbanks four miles off the coast of Kent in southeast England. Stretching for nine miles or more, and five miles at its widest, the Goodwin Sands are located northeast of the Straits of Dover, in the narrowest part of the English Channel -- one of the busiest waterways in the world.
Hiding beneath the water’s surface at high tide, parts of the Goodwin Sands rise above the water at low tide, in many places firm enough for a man to walk on. The highest areas of the Sands can be as much as 16 feet above the ocean during an exceptionally low tide. Ships stranded in these spots would break in half as the water retreated.
When the tides come back in, solid land turns into murderous quicksand, swallowing ships and survivors whole -- the survivors immediately, the shipwrecks over a few days. Eventually, the wrecks work their way downwards, to be expelled by the shifting sands into the deep waters of the English Channel. Small wonder then, that the Goodwin Sands are known by the sobriquet “The Ship Swallower”.
It is thought that at least 2,000 ships have been destroyed on its treacherous nine miles of shifting bars. The sheer number of wrecks means that sometimes the wreck of a 200 year-old sailing ship is found next to the grave of a modern freighter.
The first recorded shipwreck was in 1298, but the greatest single disaster of the Goodwin Sands occurred much as the loss of the Admiral Gardner played out.
The Great Storm of 1703 still ranks as one of the worst storms to ever hit southeast England.The storm was actually a giant cyclone, whose top winds have been estimated as high as 150 mph. It caught a fleet of English warships and countless merchantmen seeking shelter along the coast of Kent. At least forty merchant ships and thirteen warships were driven onto the Goodwin Sands and wrecked. More than 2,000 of His Majesty’s sailors were drowned, or crushed in the wreckage of their ships.
Another wreck as famous as the Admiral Gardner was the Dutch East India Company ship Rooswijk, lost in 1740. No one saw her go down, and there were no survivors among the 250 men aboard.The only evidence that the Rooswijk had met its doom on the Goodwin Sands was a small chest of letters from people aboard the ship that washed ashore.
The Rooswijk emerged from the Sands in 2004, beginning an archaeological survey that continues today.She is the only Dutch East Indiaman shipwreck ever discovered containing a full cargo of trade goods destined for the East Indies. This is giving archaeologists their first ever look at the details of the 18th century spice trade.
The Goodwin Sands is a treacherous, miles-long graveyard of ships. Paradoxically also it forms the outer edge of one of the safest areas in the North Sea -- The Downs
The Downs is a roadstead between the Goodwin Sands and the English coast. The Goodwin Sands acts as a barrier island, breaking up storm waves from the east and south, protecting the English coast. For centuries, The Downs has provided safe harbor from storms. It has also afforded British ships protection from hostile naval forces, from the Dutch warships of the 1600s to U-boats and German torpedo boats in WWII.
However, sometimes an Atlantic cyclone will strike without warning from out of the west, turning The Downs into a death trap, and driving ships against the west side of the Goodwin Sands. As many hundreds of ships have found to their dismay, the sandy bottom of the Downs gives poor purchase for anchors, allowing ships to slowly be pushed by gale winds to their doom. What was a sure tragedy in the Age of Sail and the era of early steamships, can now sometimes be avoided by modern ships with their more powerful engines.
But not always.
The “Ship Swallower” always manages to take its due.