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The Admiral Gardner

Discovery and salvage

 Diver on the site of the Admiral Gardner

Wreck site with coins

Click the images to see larger pictures

[All the pictures on this page are Copyright Michael Pitts 1986]

In 1809, after the ship sank, some  items were salvaged from the wreck, but the valuable cargoes deep in the hold were not reachable.

Around 1984, which was 175 years after the ship sank, a local fisherman reported that he thought he was snagging his nets on the Admiral Gardner, the fate of the ship being well known locally.

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, her cargo had consisted of a quantity of cannon balls, anchors, iron bars and copper ingots .

In 1985 the wreck was listed as being of historical interest, and a licence to dive on the site was granted to Richard Larn of Cornwall, the original discoverers of the wreck having formed themselves into a syndicate known as The East India Company Divers. The group, all very experienced in diving on wrecks on the Goodwin Sands, was formed to salvage and administer the legal aspects of any artefacts recovered. Some salvage was carried out in the summer of 1984, but due to weather problems and the special difficulties of working four miles offshore, the amount of coin recovered was minimal.

In June 1985, professional divers from a company called SAR Diving, who were working with the EIC diving group, succeeded in recovering a large quantity of copper coins, which were passed to the legal authority for such finds, the Receiver of Wreck. The most impressive find was an intact barrel which underwent preservation treatment at Portsmouth and was estimated to contain 28,000 coins.

Unfortunately, as is the case with many of these ventures, treasure (or here, at least, the copper variety) meant trouble. Strong disagreements developed between the parties involved about the methods employed on the wreck, some of which included controlled explosions. Diving on the site was suspended, and the site remains a protected wreck, with no-one currently licensed to dive on it.

There has been some archaeological investigation of the site.

Barrel of coins
Barrel of coins

Salvage versus Archaeology: an ongoing dilemma...


For many years there has been a debate between commercial salvors and underwater archaeologists about the best way to manage historic wreck sites.

Salvors claim that in many cases they are the driving force behind the discovery of wrecks which would otherwise remain unknown.

They say that the incentive of being able to profit from the sale of cargo or artefacts allows them to mount expeditions to locate and investigate wrecks.

Archaeologists believe that the activities of the salvors and treasure hunters cause damage to wreck sites and that valuable information is lost to future generations. In many cases they say, they would prefer wrecks to remain unknown. 

Anchor stock and cannon balls
Anchor stock and cannon balls