On January 25, 1809, the Admiral Gardner set sail through the English Channel, headed for India. Not long into the voyage, a sudden and violent storm hit the Channel just off Dover. Captain Eastfield and his crew tried desperately to ride out the storm, but to no avail as the ship succumbed to the wind and ocean. The ship ran aground on the Godwin Sands and, by the next morning, the ship was submerged by the unrelenting ocean. The shipwreck carried with it a precious cargo of copper coins and claimed the lives of one crew member. It would be nearly two centuries later before the treasure could be recovered.
By the start of the 19th century the British East India Company (BEIC) had been in business for over two hundred years and had mastered the art of trade with India and China. The Company sent a fleet of ships to India, China, Malaya (Malaysia), and the Indonesian islands once a year to pick up goods, precious minerals, and treasure. They were fitted and equipped with great care, and often escorted by Royal Navy war ships through unfriendly waters and the East India ships themselves were heavily armed. The firepower assigned to the British East India Company and its ships was justified by a seemingly never-ending war with the French alongside rampant piracy in the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, the Straits of Malacca, and the South China Sea.
The British Crown in seeking a way to ease its financial and military burden in governing India, backed the British East India Company in its efforts to rule large swaths of India; the BEIC possessed its own private mercenary armies, exercised military power, and assumed administrative functions of government; all with the support and permission of the British government back at Westminster Hall. Company rule in India effectively began in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey and lasted until 1858 when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Government of India Act 1858 passed by Parliament led to the British Crown re-assuming direct control over all of India in the form of the new British Raj, which would last until 1947 when Great Britain granted full independence to India.
“East Indiaman” was a generalized term for any sailing ship operating under charter or license to any of the East India Companies belonging to a major European trading power of the 17th through the 19th centuries. The primary commercial trading powers of the era who had East India Companies were; Great Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, and Portugal. In Great Britain, the British East India Company held a monopoly granted to it through a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1600 covering all English trade between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, making it the oldest among companies of its type. The original English (after 1707’s Act of Union, British) East Indiamen usually ran between England, the Cape of Good Hope, and India. Their main ports of call were Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. The Indiamen often continued on to China and Sumatra before returning to England via the Cape of Good Hope and Saint Helena.
The Admiral Gardner was an armed East Indiaman of the British East India Company. She was three masted, boasting 23 guns with an estimated tonnage of 816 and 145 feet in length. Constructed in 1796 at Blackwall alongside the HMS Venerable; she was named after Baron Alan Gardner (1742–1809), who had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy until he became a Member of Parliament in 1796. Officially the Admiral Gardner was owned by John Woolmore with William John Eastfield serving as Captain when the Admiral Gardner ran aground in 1809. However, she had two Captains in the years prior to the wreck, they were Edward Bradford serving from 1797-1804 and George Saltwell as Captain for a short time from 1804-1805.
The Admiral Gardner had six major voyages to her credit in the years leading up to 1809’s disastrous wreck. She set sail on her maiden voyage in September of 1797 headed for the Bengal region of India and Bengkulu (British Benkulen) on the isle of Sumatra in modern day Indonesia. Admiral Gardener returned safely to St.Helena in May 1799 and then arrived home at Blackwall in August of 1799. The vessel’s second mission was to Madras, India and onto Penang, China; this particular voyage lasted from March 1801 through July 1802 and was completed successfully. Edward Bradford’s final voyage as Captain of the Admiral Gardner began in February 1803 with orders to Madras and Bengal. He and the Admiral Gardner completed their task in June 1804 upon returning to Blackwall, England. Captain Bradford would be replaced for a short time, one voyage in fact, by Captain George Saltwell. Assigned quick turnaround trip from Madras back to St.Helena then home to England, Captain Saltwell and the Admiral Gardner set off from Portsmouth in April of 1805. In November of 1805 10 members of the crew were severely injured after an engagement against a French Man’O War from which they narrowly escaped being seized or destroyed. Upon making port in Madras in December 1805, Admiral Gardner made an unscheduled second stop at Colombo, in Sri Lanka in February 1806. She made it to St.Helena in May that year and arrived back home in England making port at Blackwall that August.