John Montagu

John Montagu was the 4th Earl of Sandwich and a British naval leader, best known as the namesake of the Sandwich Islands.


John Montagu was born on November 13, 1718, on the family estate in Chiswick, England. He inherited the title of Earl of Sandwich and joined parliament, taking a particular interest in naval affairs. Montagu inspired the name of both the Sandwich Islands and the sandwich during the course of his career. He died in Chiswick on April 30, 1792.

Early Life

John Montagu was born in Chiswick, England, on November 13, 1718. Montagu's father died when he was four years old. His mother quickly remarried, leaving her son to be raised by his grandfather, the 3rd Earl of Sandwich. Montagu inherited his grandfather's title in 1729. He studied at Eton and Cambridge and traveled abroad for a period of time before taking his seat in the House of Lords in 1739. He quickly earned a reputation as a champion of British naval power over the use of ground troops in continental conflicts.

Political Career

Montagu held several government positions, including postmaster general, secretary of state for the northern department and first lord of the Admiralty. His participation in the successful persecution of John Wilkes, a fellow politician and former friend, earned him the nickname "Jemmy Twitcher," after a treacherous character in The Beggar's Opera. Accused of corruption on a regular basis, Montagu was widely considered to be a weak administrator. His leadership attracted particular criticism during the American Revolutionary War, when Montagu decided to keep much of the British fleet in European waters for much of the conflict.


Montagu lent his name to both an island chain and a foodstuff. His leadership in naval affairs, and his promotion of exploration, inspired English explorer Captain James Cook to name the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawaii) after him in 1778.

The sandwich was also allegedly named for the 4th Earl. One origin story is that Montagu, a devoted gambler, spent 24 hours at the gambling table sustained only by bread and meat.

Personal Life

Montagu married Dorothy Fane, a noblewoman, and the couple had a son. Dorothy then became increasingly ill, slowly sinking into madness. Montagu subsequently had between four and nine children with an opera singer named Martha Ray. In 1779, Ray was murdered at the Royal Opera House.

In 1782, Montagu retired from public life. He died on April 30, 1792, at the family estate in Chiswick.

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