Sir George Montagu
1750-1829. He was born on 12 December 1750, the second son of Admiral John Montagu, and of his wife, Sophia Wroughton. He was the brother of Captain James Montagu, who was killed at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794, and of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Montagu of the Indian Army, 1755-99, who was killed in action at the Siege of Seringapatam.
In 1763 Montagu enrolled at the Royal Naval Academy in Portsmouth, and three years later he joined the Preston 50, Captain Alan Gardner, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral William Parry at Jamaica. He moved with Gardner to the Levant 28 in 1769 and returned to England a year later with his father aboard the Bellona 74.
On 14 January 1771 he was commissioned lieutenant of the Marlborough 74, Captain Richard Bickerton, and in February he went out to North America with his father, the new commander in chief, aboard the Captain 64, Captain Thomas Symonds. Benefitting from this familial patronage he was promoted commander of the sloop Kingfisher 14 on 9 April 1773, and on 15 April 1774 was posted to the Fowey 20.
Remaining in North America after his father’s return home, in May 1775 he took aboard the wife and family of the governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, after the rebels had seized the magazine at Williamsburg. On 12 May Lady Dunmore returned ashore, and Montagu despatched a party of marines and sailors to offer protection with the threat that he would fire on the town of Yorktown if his men were attacked. With the situation deteriorating, Lord Dunmore and his family returned to the Fowey off Yorktown on 8 June, and in early July Montagu’s command was relieved by the Mercury 24, Captain John Macartney, and she sailed for Boston.
Tasked with blockading the ports of Marblehead and Salem, Montagu made the first capture of a ship commissioned by the Continental Congress when he took the Washington 10 in Massachusetts Bay on 5 December 1775, the prize being taken into Boston. In early 1776 he detained a couple of Dutch ships that were attempting to land stores for the rebels, and in March he assisted in the evacuation of General Sir William Howe’s army and loyalists from Boston to Halifax. On 23 June he took on board Governor Robert Eden of Maryland after that popular official had been asked to leave by the rebellious Maryland Convention, and in August the Fowey served under Captain Andrew Snape Hamond of the Roebuck 44 off the Virginia Capes.
On 7 September 1776 the Fowey arrived at New York from South Carolina, and she joined the campaign to take possession of the city which successfully concluded in October. Apparently being in poor health, Montagu was ordered home with dispatches, and giving passage to Lord Dunmore the Fowey left New York with a convoy in November. Shortly afterwards she re-took a transport off Sandy Hook, and she arrived at Portsmouth on 18 December.
In January 1777 Montagu was promoted out of the Fowey to join the Romney 50, which vessel would fly his father’s flag, going out to Newfoundland from Plymouth with a convoy in April from where she returned in the late autumn. The Romney was stationed at Spithead in December, prior to going out to Newfoundland again in April 1778. Whilst on this station she was ordered to serve under Commodore John Evans in taking possession of the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon from the French on 14 September. The Romney then left Newfoundland at the beginning of November in convoy.
Montagu was appointed to the Pearl 32 in May 1779, which frigate spent the next two months being coppered and refitted at Plymouth. Dispatched on a cruise with a vastly inexperienced crew, he nevertheless captured the Spanish frigate Santa Monica 32 off the Azores on 14 September in a two-hour engagement, losing twelve men killed and nineteen wounded. On 8 October he was honoured with a long conference with the King following his attendance at a levee.
Having been docked at Portsmouth, the Pearl went out to Spithead in mid-December 1779, and she joined Admiral Sir George Rodney’s fleet which was sent to relieve Gibraltar. After losing a foremast, she had to return to England with the prizes from the capture of the Caracas convoy on 8 January in company with the Africa 64, thereby missing the Moonlight Battle off Cape St. Vincent on 16 January 1780.
In March 1780 the Pearl went out to North America from Plymouth giving passage to Brigadier-General William Dalrymple, and with intelligence of the sailing of a French expedition under the Chevalier de Ternay. For a time, Montagu was the senior officer at New York in the absence of a commander-in-chief. Whilst returning to New York from Halifax he captured what was described as a privateer of force, and after a five-hour duel and chase off Bermuda on 30 September he took the 32-gun French frigate Espérance which had been bound from Saint-Domingue to Bordeaux. Casualties in this engagement were high, being six men killed and ten wounded aboard the Pearl compared to twenty men killed and twenty-four wounded aboard the enemy. Some reports suggested that the Espérance was the richest prize ever taken in American waters, having a cargo of sugar, cotton, indigo and gold ingots. Although nominally a King’s ship, she had been sailing at the time as a letter of marque with 28 guns.
Montagu was present at the Battle of Cape Henry on 16 March 1781 where the Pearl acted as the repeating vessel, and after capturing the French privateer Singe on 10 July and the American privateer Senegal 8 on 19 August he had the good fortune to miss the Battle of Chesapeake Bay on 5 September. Rejoining the fleet on 14 September, he shadowed the French fleet before returning to New York two weeks later. Somewhat shattered in health, he eventually left New York with General Sir Henry Clinton a passenger on 13 May 1782, and he returned to Portsmouth on 11 June for the Pearl to be paid off in July.
After remaining on half-pay through the peace for the next eight years, Montagu commissioned the Hector 74 at Portsmouth in early September during the Spanish Armament of 1790. She went out of harbour for Spithead on 3 December, and he retained her at Portsmouth as a guardship through the Russian Armament of 1791. Whilst in command of this ship he acted as the jailer of a number of Bounty mutineers who had rebelled against Captain William Bligh on 28 April 1789, and as well as sitting on their court-martial in 1792 he attended many others. The Hector was also employed to execute men from the attendant ships in Portsmouth who had been sentenced to hang.
With war clouds gathering, the Hector was moved down to Spithead at the end of December 1792, and following the declaration of war on 2 February 1793 she formed part of a squadron sent to Guernsey under the orders of Commodore John Colpoys to defend the Channel Islands against the French. Returning to Spithead on 9 March, she sailed later that month for the Leeward Islands with Rear-Admiral Alan Gardner’s squadron to participate in what ultimately proved to be an unsuccessful campaign. The Hector returned home with a convoy from Jamaica that passed through the Gulf of Florida in early August, and having reached Portsmouth she went into harbour on 26 October.
Following a long refit at Portsmouth, the Hector sailed from Spithead in January 1794 under the orders of Commodore Thomas Pasley of the Bellerophon 74 with a squadron of four sail of the line and five frigates in search of a squadron of French frigates that had been reported in the Channel. During March she put out from Spithead in a similarly sized squadron under the flag of Rear-Admiral John MacBride.
Montagu was promoted rear-admiral on 12 April 1794, and with his flag aboard the Hector, Captain Lawrence Halsted, he was attached to Admiral Lord Howe’s Channel fleet. After setting sail on 2 May with the rest of the fleet, he was detached to Cape Finisterre with a squadron of six sail of the line and a convoy, and upon divesting the latter he undertook the second part of his orders which were to look out for the French provision convoy from America. Although he failed to discover any trace of this vast fleet of merchantmen, he did recapture ten ships from the Newfoundland convoy which had previously been taken by Rear-Admiral Joseph-Marie Nielly. Having returned to Plymouth on 30 May, he was ordered to sea again by the Admiralty three days later with nine sail of the line to seek out the vast convoy that had also eluded Admiral Lord Howe with the bulk of the Channel Fleet. Falling in with eight sail of the line on 8 June, he forced them to enter Brest, and the next day he spotted nineteen sail of the line to the west. Having no knowledge of Howe’s victory at the Battle of the Glorious First of June, he attempted to lure the French fleet away to the south, but bar a desultory chase by a few of their vessels he failed to do so. Returning to Cawsand Bay on 12 June he reported to Lord Howe and the Admiralty who both approved of his conduct. Subsequent commentators were not so kind however, and in the last years of his life he shared a bitter correspondence with Captain Edward Brenton over the latter’s version of these events in his history of the French wars.
Shortly after returning to England Montagu became ill, and this indisposition coupled with the grief over his brother’s death at the Battle of the Glorious First of June caused him to resign his position, although he did briefly fly his flag aboard the London 98, Captain Lawrence Halstead, in August. During the next few years he became a regular visitor to Bath, whilst in accordance with seniority he was promoted vice-admiral on 1 June 1795. In March 1799 he was nominated for the command of the Nore station, but he refused this in the hope of obtaining a better position. In April of the following year he was offered the role of second in command in the Channel fleet by Earl St Vincent, only for the Admiralty to promote Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Harvey and Vice-Andrew Sir Andrew Mitchell before him. Following St Vincent’s elevation to the role of first lord of the Admiralty Montagu re-applied for a position but was advised that there was ‘an insuperable bar to him being employed in any way.’ Montagu would subsequently discover that the bar related to his conduct at the time of the Battle of the Glorious First of June, and that it had in all likelihood been established by the King, for St. Vincent advised that he was under an oath not to disclose any further information. Some meagre compensation came with the concurrence of Montagu’s contemporaries that he had been unfortunate rather than culpable.
On 1 January 1801 he was promoted admiral, and he was evidentially released from the ‘bar’ following the commencement of the Napoleonic War in May 1803 when he was appointed the commander-in-chief at Plymouth. Hoisting his flag aboard the Salvador del Mundo 112 at the Devonshire port on 3 June, he then struck it on the 11th and five days later assumed the position of the commander-in-chief at Portsmouth in place of Admiral Lord Gardner, who had only reluctantly assumed this appointment two months earlier, and who was keen to resume the role of commander-in-chief in Ireland.
Hoisting his flag at Portsmouth aboard the Royal Sovereign 100, Captain Richard Curry, Montagu shifted it to various ships over the next few months in order to rush them to sea before eventually settling on the Royal William 100, Captain John Wainwright, and from 1806 Captain Hon. Courtenay Boyle. In September 1803 he hosted the Prince of Wales on the occasion of the royal visit and review of the ships at Spithead, and he presided over the court-martial of Rear-Admiral Sir John Duckworth in April 1805 on the charge of tyranny towards Captain James Athol Wood. In June he struck his flag to retire to Bath for two weeks to be temporarily replaced by Rear-Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin, and he had a further ten-day break when he was indisposed before relieving Cotton on 20 September. During this latter respite Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson was forced to flee from the backdoor of Montagu’s house at Portsmouth to avoid the adulating crowd, prior to sailing for the Mediterranean and to his death at the Battle of Trafalgar. Before news of that victory and tragedy reached England, Montagu dined the Rear-Admiral Dmitry Nikolayevich Seniavin and his captains from the visiting Russian fleet on 27 October.
In December 1805 he presided over the court-martial of Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder which examined that officer’s earlier conduct at the Battle of Cape Finisterre on 22 July, refusing to even let it adjourn for Christmas Day, and on 23 July 1806 he returned to his position after another short break. He was away again in December and in February 1807, whilst in April he was the president of the court-martial into the conduct of Captain Henry Whitby, who whilst in command of the Leander 50 had fired into an American vessel on 25 April 1806 thereby provoking an international incident. During the same month a whole service of plate was stolen from Montagu’s house at Portsmouth, and by the time that the perpetrator of this theft was brought to trial in 1809 the silver had already been cut to pieces and sold.
In July 1807 Montagu took another short break to be replaced by Rear-Admiral Coffin, and in August 1808 he retired for a month to his estate at Avisford Park near Arundel to be replaced by Rear-Admiral William Albany Otway. During October he hosted the Duke of Clarence at Portsmouth and he finally left his position of commander-in-chief at the end of January 1809 to be succeeded by Admiral Sir Roger Curtis. Weeks later he attended the King at a levee, and thereafter he saw no further active service.
On 2 January 1815 Montagu was created a G.C.B. with which he was invested by the Prince Regent in April, and he died on 24 December 1829 at his seat, Stowell Lodge, Wilcot, Wiltshire, being at that time the second most senior officer in the service.
In 1783 he married his cousin, Charlotte Wroughton of Wilcot, Wiltshire, and the couple had four sons and five daughters, three of whom predeceased him. His eldest daughter, Georgina, married Admiral Sir John Gore in 1808. Of his sons, George Wroughton became a lieutenant-colonel, John William, born on 18 January 1790 entered the Royal Naval Academy in 1803, was posted captain in 1820, served as flag-captain to Admiral Sir Edward Codrington from November 1839 until March 1841, and reached the rank of admiral, James, born on 10 April 1791, entered the navy with his father aboard the Princess Royal 98 in 1803, was posted captain in 1824 and also reached the rank of admiral, whilst the fourth son took holy orders and also predeceased his father. In June 1811 Montagu sold his estate of Avisford Place which he had purchased in the 1780’s. and he retired to Stowell Lodge at Wilcot, Wiltshire, which was constructed in the early part of the 1810’s.
He was a great friend of Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley.