India Company ships were large and well equipped. They were often
almost indistinguishable from Royal Naval vessels of the time,
except that they were built for carrying cargo and were much less
heavily armed. They also carried fewer crew than a naval vessel.
is adapted from a detail taken from the jacket painting by F J
H Gardiner for the book Lords of the East, by Jean Sutton
[London, Conway Maritime Press, 1981]
Admiral Gardner may have looked something like this,
but I have not yet been able to locate any illustrations of the
actual ship. The Admiral Gardner's tonnage was 813, and
she was built on the River Thames in 1796, probably at Blackwall.
Her fatal voyage was her fifth to the east. She was named after
Alan Gardner, the first Baron Gardner (17421809), who had
a distinguished naval career until he became a Member of Parliament
For most of the trading
life of the East India Company, the ships were between 300 to
800 tons, although there were some larger vessels employed at
the very beginning in the early 1600s, such as the Trades
Increase and the Royal James, which were about 1000
tons, and very much later, when some vessels of 1200 tons were
used, mostly for the China trade.
However, the sailing
qualities of these sometimes proved to be difficult, so the tonnages
reduced to about 500 tons by the 1640s and continued about this
level until around 1700. From about 1708 the majority were between
300 and 400 tons, but new vessels taken on were larger as the
trade grew more lucrative and more cargo space was needed.
However it is often
difficult to assess what the true size of an EIC ship was, due
to the company practice of "taking up" a ship at a tonnage
of 499 tons, even if it was technically larger. This was a money-saving
"fudge" to avoid the legal requirement to carry a chaplain
on vessels of 500 tons and over! The records of the EIC, therefore,
show an amazing number of vessels of exactly 499 tons for many
years, and it is only by examining such documents as survive from
the shipbuilders themselves that we are able to establish how
large the ships actually were.
Unlike the VOC (Verenigde
Oostindische Companie the Dutch East India Company), the
English company did not, for the most part, build its own ships.
It chartered them on long term contracts from shipbuilders and
shipowners. The role of what we would call today the Principal
Managing Owner (the person who looked after the ship's interests,
arranged the terms of its charter and fitting out) was called
by the seemingly quaint name of Ship's Husband. The Admiral
Gardner's husband was John Woolmore, who had risen from the
ranks of seaman to captain in the service of the East India Company.