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Admiral Gardner

Location: Goodwin Sands, Kent
Age / period: post medieval (1809)
List entry number: 1000062
Reason for designation: historical significance
Depth: 18m
Type: an English East Indiaman

Wreck history and loss

The English East Indiaman Admiral Gardner was built at Limehouse in 1797. She was named after Alan Gardner, the first Baron Gardner (1742-1809) who had a distinguished naval career before becoming a Member of Parliament. The ship had three decks, measured 145ft in length and was registered at 816 tons.

In January 1809 she departed for Madras on her sixth voyage with a mixed cargo of anchors, chain, guns, shot and iron bar. The Admiral Gardner also carried 48 tons of East India Company copper tokens for use as currency for native workers. She was caught in the Downs by a violent gale and wrecked on the Goodwin Sands along with the East Indiamen Britannia and Apollo.

An account exists of the vessel's final moments from the Captain, Eastfield;

"seeing it impossible to save the ship, I ordered the main and mizzen masts to be cut away. In doing it, the ship struck and the sea made a fair breach over us. At daylight I had the misfortune of witnessing her on the South Sand Heads. We remained on the vessel until 3.35pm, when to the gallant exertions of the Deal men, at the risk of their own lives, we were brought off with the loss of only one man, the ship then full of water to the upper deck."

A week later, the cargo of the wreck was reported to be beyond salvage. An auction was held to sell off all what remained of the vessel; some rope, lead and iron, sailcloth and some food.

A scuba diver uses a rope to prepare a wooden barrel, its lid missing and content of copper tokens exposed, for recovery to the surface
A diver prepares a wooden barrel, and its exposed contents, for recovery © Michael Pitts

Discovery and investigation

In 1976, East India Company tokens appeared in sand dredged from the Goodwins for use as fill for construction work in Dover Harbour. Divers located the site and her cargo of tokens in 1983 while investigating a fisherman's snag. A number of parties then claimed interest as they thought it was the Britannia, lost at the same time but carrying silver Company tokens.

Following a salvage agreement, operations began in 1984, recovering over one million tokens. The site was designated in 1985 in response to concern about the apparent lack of archaeological standards applied during the salvage operation although salvage work continued under licence. The site is now subject to a 300m (radius) restricted area prohibiting unlicensed activities within the boundary. Michael Pitts, an underwater photographer, took a number of images of the site in 1985. The result has meant the 1985 work is well documented photographically.

In 1986 the salvage company had the designation revoked due to the site being over three miles off the English coast. After the extension of the limit to 12 miles offshore in 1987, and the eventual relocation of the wreck, it was re-designated in 1990.

The seabed around the wreck site comprises sterile sand that is periodically mobile and several metres of the wreck mound have been uncovered. More extensive remains were exposed in 1995.

Mobile sand waves, up to one metre high, have been observed around the site and indicate that the level of burial of the wreck could change on a daily basis. Changeable sediment levels mean there is little or no flora covering the site. The last visit on behalf of Historic England was in 2012. The site was found to be deeply buried at that time. As a result very little fieldwork was undertaken.


The area of exposed wreckage covers approximately 15m x 20m and stands one metre proud of the current seabed level. A search located another area away from the main mound where two guns and an anchor were exposed.

In 1999, the site appeared undisturbed and relatively stable, though disruption of the concreted mound by the earlier salvage operations was still evident. Only the top metre of one of the cargo mounds consisting mainly of iron stock and anchors was exposed. The last visit to the site where it was exposed was in 2002. Only six frames were visible over an area approximately 10m2.

A split in a well preserved wooden barrel reveals a large number of copper tokens
The exposed contents of a barrel showing some of the 48 tons of East India Company copper tokens that were being transported for use as currency for native workers © Michael Pitts

Marine development proposals

The Goodwins South Sand Head and North Head of South Calliper, were encompassed within the licenced Historic Aggregate Dredging Area 342 between 1976 and 1998. Dover Harbour Board (DHB) dredged material from Licence Area 342 during this time for fill material for the construction of the hoverport terminal and land reclamation at the Eastern Docks. It was during the 1976 dredge that the Admiral Gardner was first discovered.

The current proposal (2016) sees DHB applying for a marine licence from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to dredge parts of the Goodwins South Sand Head and North Head of South Calliper where Area 342 once was. The application requires an Environmental Impact Assessment, (amended Directive (2014/52/EU)). Although the exact location for dredging has yet to be determined, the initial scoping phase of the EIA application highlighted a wider area for the purpose of resource prospection, and study of possible impacts.

Marine aggregate dredging in England is a well-established industry with clear and effective methods to understand and protect features of the known and potential historic environment through published best practice guidance. Historic England and their Marine Planning Unit are working closely with the MMO, DHB, their environmental consultants and survey contractors to attain the most appropriate protective measures possible, which may exclude a much wider exclusion zone surrounding the Admiral Gardner designated restricted area from being dredged.

Further work

In 1999, it was reported that a diver guide had written that 2 million tokens still remained on the wreck; however, a monitoring visit found that the site lay undisturbed despite evidence for unauthorised anchoring on site.

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Admiral Gardner image gallery

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • A diver wearing scuba diving equipment sits on a small inflatable boat on the deck of the main diving support vessel
  • A diver wearing scuba diving equipment examines a small find on the seabed. In front of the diver is a mound of concretion
  • A diver underwater, wearing scuba equipment, recovers a large number of copper tokens
  • A scuba diver excavated the wreck in very low light illuminated by a torch
  • A sandy seabed revealing small finds including at least four cannonballs
  • Two exceptionally well preserved leather shoes
  • A sealed wooden barrel that has a tape measure revealing it is c.45cm long on the deck of the diving support vessel
  • The archaeologists and divers on the Admiral Gardner are filmed for a television broadcast whilst sitting on the deck of the diving support vessel
  • The team from 1985 are photographed on the diving support vessel