John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (3 November 1718 – 3 April 1792) succeeded his grandfather, Edward, the 3rd Earl, in the earldom in 1729.
Educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge, he spent some time in travelling, and on his return to England in 1739 he took his seat in the House of Lords as a follower of the Duke of Bedford. He was soon appointed one of the commissioners of the Admiralty under Bedford and a colonel in the army.
In 1746 he was sent as plenipotentiary to the congress at Breda, and he continued to take part in the negotiations for peace until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was concluded in 1748. In February 1748 he became First Lord of the Admiralty, retaining this post until he was dismissed by the king in June 1751. In August 1753 Sandwich became one of the principal secretaries of state, and while filling this office he took a leading part in the prosecution of John Wilkes. He had been associated with Wilkes in the notorious fraternity of Medmenham, and his attitude now in turning against the former companion of his pleasures made him very unpopular, and, from a line in the Beggar's Opera, he was known henceforward as Jemmy Twitcher.
He was Postmaster General in 1768, secretary of state in 1770, and again First Lord of the Admiralty from 1771 to 1782. For corruption and incapacity, Sandwich's administration is unique in the history of the Royal Navy. Offices were bought, stores were stolen and, worst of all, ships, unseaworthy and inadequately equipped, were sent to fight the battles of their country. The first lord became very unpopular in this connection also, and his retirement in March 1782 was hailed with joy. Sandwich married Dorothy, daughter of Charles, 1st Viscount Fane, by whom he had a son John (1743 – 1814), who became the 5th Earl. He had also several children by the singer Martha Ray, of whom Basil Montagu (1770 – 1851), writer, jurist and philanthropist, was one. The murder of Miss Ray by a rejected suitor in April 1779 increased the earl's unpopularity, which was already great, and the stigmas of the prosecution of Wilkes and the corrupt administration of the navy clung to him to the last.
He is also credited with the invention of the sandwich, the name obviously derived from his title. It was long said that he invented the food to sustain himself while gambling without having to eat a full meal, but his biographer Rodger points out that the sole source of this rumour was gossip mentioned in a travel book by Grosley, and that at the period in question (1765) he was known to be very busy, and it is just as likely that it was for the purpose of eating at his desk.
Captain James Cook named the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) after him.
- N. A. M. Rodger, The Insatiable Earl: A Life of John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich (London: Harper Collins, 1993)
- Montague family history page (http://www.montaguemillennium.com/research/h_1792_john.htm)
- Guide to the papers of Lord Sandwich, 1718-1792 (http://nla.gov.au/nla.ms-ms7218) held and digitised by the National Library of Australia
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopędia Britannica.