The Admiral Gardner treasure

As I mentioned last week, the postman has been keeping me busy and several mails showed promise of leading to individual items in this column. Such as the two which appear today.

The first item results from an exchange I've been having with a retired Royal Air Force officer in Devon (U.K.), Wing Commander G.F. Hingston-Jones, after he received a copy of my Raj Bhavans of Tamil Nadu from his son-in-law, Mike Nithavrianakis, the British Deputy High-Commissioner in Madras. In his latest letter to me he tells me he has sent out to his son-in-law, “for show in Cottingley”, a framed 20 cash (kasu) coin minted in 1808 which had gone down with the ship carrying it to Madras and had been salvaged in 1985. The Wing Commander comments, “It may have had its original journey to Madras delayed, but now is where it should have been in 1809!”

That brief message of a two-hundred-year-old link with Madras had me digging into its beginnings and it is a fascinating tale I found, which I retail here in brief.

Two East Indiamen, those tall-masted sailing ships usually leased by John Company, sailed in convoy from London but, within a few days, foundered on the Goodwin Sands off the coast of Kent on January 25, 1809. They were the Britannia and the Admiral Gardner which is the focus of this story. The 11-year-old, 815-ton Gardner, owned by ‘Ship-Husband' — as such lessors were called — John Woolmore, was on its sixth voyage to India and its captain, John Eastfield, who had been on many voyages to the East, was in command of her for the second time. Aboard her was 46 tons of copper cash consigned to Fort St. George.

With the Madras Mint unable to cope with local requirements and with the Royal Mint also unable to meet Madras's demands, the Royal Mint had first commissioned John Boulton's Soho Mint in Birmingham to strike in 1803 Madras's requirements of I, V, X, and XX cash. But Madras required more and, between January 1807 and June 1809, Boulton struck an additional 33.5 million XX cash coins and 53 million X cash ones besides a few million V cash coins. The coins were of Cornwall copper which includes traces of silver. It was from this second order that the Gardner loaded its holds with the small barrels that contained the coins packed in wax.

According to the earliest East India Company records, 80 copper cash was one gold/silver fanam (panam). In 1691, a copper dudu (thuddu) was added to Madras currency and equalled X cash. In 1818, Madras currency changed from the pagoda to the rupee and XX cash became the equivalent of one pice.* The monetary system that operated for well over 125 years after that was 12 pice to the anna and 16 annas to the rupee. Besides the 46 tons of copper cash the Gardner carried, the Britannia carried 8 tons of coin.

The wreck of the Gardner was first found in 1984 and salvage operations by a consortium led by Richard Lam of Cornwall, the first finder, were begun in 1985. After a barrel with an estimated 28,000 coins, besides thousands of loose coins and copper ingots bound for the Madras Mint, was found, differences developed among the partners and the Crown cancelled their salvage licence and declared the ship a Protected Wreck. The coins that had been salvaged in 1985, however, went on the market and, today, dealers offer a X cash coin (see picture) for around $35.

A curious footnote to this whole story is that in the same year the Admiral Gardner went down, the Admiral after whom the ship was named and the man who made the ship's most valuable cargo both died. Admiral Alan Gardner, after a distinguished naval career, became a Member of Parliament in 1796. Matthew Boulton, who started as a jeweller and brassware manufacturer, established the Soho Mint in 1761. He powered it with James Watt's steam engine after he became a partner of Watt in the steam engine business in 1775.

*Will a numismatist please tell me whether it was pice or pies at that time? I remember it being 3 pies to a pice and four pice or 12 pies making an anna.

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An early hockey club

My reference to Keith Flory of The Statesman, Delhi (Miscellany, June 2), in connection with Anglo-Indian hockey in India, brought me mail from him asking for more information about Madras's Anglo-Indian Sports Club. Reader Flory tells me that his grandfather John Flory, then General Manager of Lawrence & Mayo, Mount Road, was “one of the prime movers of the club.” But, sadly, Grandfather Flory left little record of his contribution — and no one else seems to have any records of the club which contributed significantly to hockey in Madras.

The first hockey tournament to be played in South India was in Madras in July 1901 and was organised by the Madras Cricket Club. It's a tournament that continues to this day. The first mention of the Anglo-Indian Sports Club (AISC) I've come across was in 1920 when it entered two teams in what was a 16-team MCC tournament that year.

The AISC, it would appear, owed its hockey roots to players who had turned out for the Madras Volunteer Guard (MVG) from 1906; the MVG itself sponsored a tournament from 1911. The Guard, for the record, was raised from Domiciled Europeans and Anglo-Indians.

When the Indian Hockey Association was formed in 1924 and its successor institution, the Indian Hockey Federation, the next year, the South was represented in neither body.

And it was the Anglo-Indian Sports Club's voice that was loudest in protest against this. When the Amsterdam Olympics loomed in 1928 and hockey was reintroduced in the Games, the AISC wrote, “It is a matter of great regret that at the Provincial Hockey Trials to be held in Calcutta shortly to choose an all-India team…for Amsterdam, Madras is not a competitor. One reason for this deplorable fact is that there is no representative organisation in this city to further such matters.” It wrote these words as it felt confident that one or two of its players would have been in the running for places.

The AISC's efforts to have an association formed had failed, mainly because of the MCC's differences with the Anglo-Indians and Indians during various matches in 1925-27.

By 1931, however, with the Madras United Club taking the lead, things had been sorted out with the MCC and the Madras Hockey Association was formed. But by then the AISC's voice was less heard and the club gradually faded from the scene, leaving it to institutional representatives like the M & SM Railway, Telegraphs and Port to keep Anglo-Indian hockey prowess in the South Indian limelight.

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Madras MiscellanyJune 6, 2010