I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.

John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792)

This article was written by John Knox Laughton and was published in 1894

Lord SandwichSandwich was born on 3 November 1718, was eldest son of Edward Richard Montagu, viscount Hinchinbroke (d. 1722), by Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Popham of Littlecote in Wiltshire, and was grandson of Edward, third earl of Sandwich (d. 1729), whom he succeeded in the peerage at the age of eleven. He had a younger brother, William (1720?-1757). After some years at Eton Sandwich entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in April 1735. He remained there for two years, but left without a degree, and went to the continent. He appears to have remained in France for a year, and in July 1738 he started on a prolonged tour, which included Leghorn, Palermo, several of the Greek islands, Athens, Constantinople, Smyrna, Egypt, Malta, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Malaga, Minorca, and Genoa. Seven years after his death a book purporting to be his journal at this time was published under the title of A Voyage performed by the late Earl of Sandwich round the Mediterranean in the years 1738 and 1739. From its character, style, and numerous classical quotations, we may judge it to have been either written or corrected by his tutor, whose name does not appear. Even at that early age, however, Sandwich seems to have had some wish to pose as a patron of art, and brought home a collection of coins and archæological remains, as well as a large marble tablet, now in the library of Trinity College. An account of the tablet by Dr. John Taylor was published in 1743, under the title of ‘Marmor Sandvicense.’ On 20 March 1739-40 Sandwich was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

On returning to England in 1739 and taking his seat in the House of Lords, Sandwich at once plunged into party politics, and attached himself to the Duke of Bedford, under whom, in December 1744, he was appointed a lord commissioner of the admiralty. In August 1745 he was sent on a mission to Holland, and was shortly afterwards appointed, in quick succession, captain in the Duke of Bedford's regiment of foot, 27 Sept., aide-de-camp to the Duke of Bedford, colonel in the army, 4 October, and second colonel of the Duke of Montagu's ordnance regiment of foot, 22 November 1745. His frequent absences from England and his duties at the admiralty must have rendered his military service purely nominal, but he rose to the highest ranks in regular gradation, and at his death was the senior general on the list. During the early part of 1746 he was in London, taking an intelligent interest in the business of the admiralty, of which, in the absence of the Duke of Bedford, he was the nominal head. Several of his letters to Bedford and to Anson at this time show his anxiety to render the department efficient, despite the strong partisan feeling with which he conducted business. In July 1746 he was nominated plenipotentiary at the conferences at Breda, and he continued to represent the interests of this country in the tangled negotiations of 1747, and at the conclusion of the treaty at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. His youth led the French plenipotentiary, the Count de Saint-Séverin, to suppose that some advantage might be won from his inexperience, and he assured Sandwich that he had certain proofs that Austria and Spain had agreed on a separate treaty. This statement, which had not a word of truth in it, necessarily puzzled Sandwich, though it does not seem to have materially affected his conduct, and the terms on which he agreed with Saint-Séverin were essentially those which had been proposed at the beginning.

Sandwich was still a member of the admiralty board, and in February 1747-8, on the Duke of Bedford's appointment as secretary of state, he became first lord, delegating the duties of the office to Anson, notwithstanding the seniority of Lord Vere Beauclerk on the patent. On his return to England he was elected, 8 April 1749, an elder brother, and a few weeks later, 22 May, master of the Trinity House. He is said by Barrow to have originated and carried through an exact visitation of the dockyards and naval establishments, which led to the detection of many gross abuses and the introduction of stringent reforms. The credit of the measure is more probably Anson's, Sandwich's share in it being little more than supporting Anson with his name and influence. Similarly, the act of 1749, for regulating the discipline of the navy, was essentially Anson's, though introduced under the sanction and authority of Sandwich. In 1751 the jealousy between Bedford and the Duke of Newcastle became very acute, and with the view of driving Bedford from office Newcastle succeeded in dismissing Sandwich from the admiralty. On 12 June he received the king's orders to acquaint Sandwich ‘that his majesty had no further occasion for his service,’ and Bedford at once resigned the seals.

For the next few years Sandwich had no public employment, till in December 1755 he was appointed, with two others, joint vice-treasurer and receiver of the revenues of Ireland. He held this office till February 1763, when he was appointed ambassador extraordinary to the court of Madrid. In April, however, before he could go out, he was nominated first lord of the admiralty, and in August one of the principal secretaries of state, in which office he continued till July 1765.

It was during this time that, by the part which he took in the prosecution of John Wilkes, he laid the foundation of the mass of opprobrium which still clings to his name. For some years previously, Sandwich, with the Earl of March, Sir Francis Dashwood, Potter, and others, had been associated with Wilkes in the ‘brotherhood of Medmenham.’ As far as companionship in vicious pleasures, uncleanness, and blasphemy constituted friendship, they were friends, though it may well be that a practical joke of Wilkes was sullenly resented by his more aristocratic associates. It is certain that, when Wilkes's papers were seized, Sandwich and Dashwood, then Lord Le Despencer, took an active part in collecting proofs against Wilkes; March's chaplain, the infamous John Kidgell, suborned some of the men in Wilkes's employ and fraudulently obtained a copy of the ‘Essay on Woman,’ and Sandwich brought it before the House of Lords, pretending that the fact that it was addressed to him constituted a breach of his privilege as a peer, and insisted on reading aloud the filthy verses. Sandwich was believed to have been of the select company to whom the poem (which is also stated, though probably erroneously, to have commenced ‘Awake, my Sandwich’) was read over after its composition. Public opinion rightly condemned the men who for mere party ends thus sacrificed the ties of friendship, and at a performance of the Beggar's Opera the house rose to the words of Macheath in the last scene, ‘That Jemmy Twitcher should peach me, I own surprised me,’ and from that day Sandwich was known as Jemmy Twitcher. A still severer castigation was administered by Wilkes's more faithful ally, Charles Churchill, who described him as

Too infamous to have a friend,
Too bad for bad men to commend
(The Duellist, iii. 401)

and as one who

Wrought sin with greediness, and sought for shame
With greater zeal than good men seek for fame’
(The Candidate, 11. 315-16).

Denunciation, however, does not seem to have disturbed Sandwich's temper any more than it affected his conduct.
In the Rockingham administration he had no part, but in January 1768 he accepted office as postmaster-general under the Duke of Grafton. In December 1770 he was nominated one of the secretaries of state under Lord North, and on 12 January 1771 became again first lord of the admiralty under the same minister. He now held this office for eleven years, during which time his conduct was as great a scandal to public as it had all along been to private morality.

Throughout his long administration he rendered the business of the admiralty subservient to the interests of his party, and employed the vast patronage of the office as an engine for bribery and political jobbery. Other and more shady motives were also attributed to him. Early in 1773 it was currently reported that a vacancy at the navy board had been offered to Captain Luttrell of the navy for £2,000. The statement was published, as a matter of common notoriety, in the Evening Post of 30 January -- 2 February, and repeated in the issue of 13-16 February, to say that it remained uncontradicted. On this second attack, Sandwich indicted Miller, the printer of the Evening Post, for libel. The case was tried before Lord Mansfield on 8 July 1773, when Captain Luttrell gave evidence that he had been asked if he would give the £2,000 for the vacant commissionership. It was supposed that the offer came virtually from Miss Ray, Sandwich's mistress; but evidence of agency was wanting, and Miller was cast in heavy damages.

Five years later, Captain Thomas Baillie, after vainly trying to get the abuses at Greenwich remedied, published a very uncompromising account of them. Baillie was tried for libelling Sandwich's tools and mercenary place-holders, and was fully acquitted, though deprived by Sandwich of his office and refused all employment in the navy. On the other hand a committee of the House of Lords appointed to examine into the state of the hospital reported, on 7 June 1779, that the book contained ‘a groundless and malicious misrepresentation of the conduct of the Earl of Sandwich and others, the commissioners, &c. of Greenwich Hospital.’

In 1783, when attention was called to abuses in the public offices, Mr. Pitt stated in the House of Commons that though it had been officially declared that no fees were received by the navy office, it appeared that very considerable sums were received by the officers under the name of ‘gifts’. Exact inquiry disclosed wholesale robbery rather than peculation. The accounts showed a deficit of about three hundred thousand pounds of bread in 1780, besides beef, pork, and other provisions. It was shown that the contract price of bread was more than 4s. per cwt. above the market price, and that the bread actually supplied was 4s. per cwt. inferior to the contract; that the men in charge of the storehouses kept hogs in them, and fed them on serviceable biscuit; that stores of different kinds and in large quantities had been taken out of the yards not for the private use of the officers, but for sale, and that everywhere intimidation or guilty complicity had kept the knowledge of these abominations secret. The dockyards had been sinks of iniquity before that time, and were so after it, but at no time were they so utterly bad as during the war of American independence.

It is not to be supposed that Sandwich had any knowledge of, still less any direct part in, these evil transactions; but they were the direct outcome of his procedure, and of his assigning the charge of departments and of stores to men without a single qualification beyond their votes or their command of votes. It is not therefore to be wondered at that when war with France broke out in 1778 the number of ships in the navy was inadequate, and that of what there were many were not seaworthy; that the naval storehouses were empty; that the ships sent to America under Admiral John Byron were rigged with twice-laid rope; that it was only with the greatest difficulty and after most vexatious delay that Keppel got to sea with a fleet still numerically inferior to that under D'Orvilliers, and that on his return to Plymouth after the indecisive action of 27 July there were neither masts, nor spars, nor rope for the necessary refitting. This was at the very beginning of the war, but the same want of ships and of stores continued throughout.

In 1779, when Spain became the ally of France, the English were everywhere outnumbered. At home, when the allied fleet invaded the Channel, the English fleet, of barely half the numbers of the enemy, could only draw back to Spithead; while in the West Indies, Barrington at St. Lucia in December 1778, and Byron at Granada or St. Kitts in July 1779, were opposed by vastly superior forces. Captain Mahan has rightly spoken of ‘the military difficulty of England's position in this great and unequal war,’ and has criticised her policy in ‘awaiting attacks, which the enemies, superior in every case, could make at their own choice and their own time’. He has perhaps not allowed sufficient weight to the degradation of the navy under such a chief. In the terrible deficiency of numbers any rotten hulk that could float was made to do duty as a ship of war. The worn-out 70-gun ship Northumberland, converted into the Leviathan store-ship, had guns put on board her, and formed part of Howe's line of defence at Sandy Hook in 1778. She foundered in the West Indies in 1780. The Terrible sank after the battle off the Chesapeake, 5 September 1781, not so much from the actual damage she had received, as from her decayed condition, and the Royal George went down in still water at Spithead in consequence of a great piece of her bottom falling out. Several of the ships which were engaged on the Doggerbank on 5 August 1781 were in a similar category.

In other respects, also, Sandwich's administration proved disastrous. Rightly or wrongly the heads of the whig party believed that his appointment of Keppel to the command in 1778 was a trick to put the disgrace which might accrue from the inadequacy of the fleet on a political opponent; and the way in which he ordered and pushed the court-martial on Keppel was denounced as scandalous not only by the navy, but by public opinion. On Keppel's acquittal the mob, drunk with joy and strong waters, made a savage attack on Sandwich's official residence at the admiralty. The navy more sternly resented his conduct, and many officers of character and ability: Harland, Howe, and Barrington among others, refused to accept a command while he remained at the admiralty, not scrupling to say that under such a chief their honour was not safe. One man alone, of real ability, forced by pecuniary embarrassment, was willing to serve. This was Sir George Brydges Rodney, afterwards Lord Rodney, who went out to the West Indies as commander-in-chief early in 1780. Rodney had formerly been on friendly terms with Sandwich, but the whole tenor of his correspondence from the West Indies betrays the irritation, if not exasperation, which he felt at the conduct of the first lord. It should be observed, however, that Sandwich interested himself in getting Captain Cook's two vessels fitted out in an adequate manner in 1778, and it was after the first lord that Cook named the Sandwich Islands.

Shortly after the acquittal of Keppel, while Sandwich's unpopularity was at its highest, the town was shocked by the murder of Sandwich's mistress, Margaret or Martha Ray, on 7 April 1779, by a young clergyman who had unsuccessfully sought her hand in marriage. With the murder Sandwich had absolutely nothing to do; he seems to have been much attached to the woman, who had lived with him for sixteen years, and to have sincerely mourned her death. But the revelation that he, a man of over sixty, had a mistress permanently residing in his house led to an outburst of indignation on the part of the public who hated him. On the fall of the North administration in March 1782 Sandwich retired in great measure from public life, and though he accepted the office of ranger of St. James's and Hyde Parks under the coalition, it was but for a few months. During the following years he resided for the most part at Hinchinbroke, and died in London on 30 April 1792.

No public man of the last century was the mark of such bitter, such violent invective. On the other hand he was esteemed and loved by the subordinates at the admiralty, men who were content to serve him to the best of their ability, and to receive in thankfulness such gifts as he could bestow. That their adulation was not entirely mercenary appears from the posthumous notices of his life, such as that by the Rev. J. Cooke, printed as an introduction to the Voyage round the Mediterranean, or that in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1792, pt. i. p. 482. That Sandwich was assiduous and punctual in the despatch of business is attested not only by many witnesses, but by his own letters; but his industry was frittered away over details which seemed to increase his personal consequence, while matters of the first importance were left in the hands of incompetent and dishonest subordinates.

In society he is described as having a singular charm of manner. ‘Few houses were more pleasant than his; it was filled with rank, beauty, and talent, and every one was at ease.’ The musical entertainments at Hinchinbroke had a distinct reputation, and Miss Ray, whose natural talent had been cultivated under the best masters, was the admired prima donna; ‘he was the soul of the Catch Club, and one of the directors of the Concert of Ancient Music, but he had not the least real ear for music, and was equally insensible of harmony and melody'. His gait is described as awkward and shambling. Seeing him at a distance, a gentleman said, ‘I am sure it is Lord Sandwich; for, if you observe, he is walking down both sides of the street at once;’ and Sandwich himself used to tell how, on taking leave of his dancing-master in Paris, and offering him any service in London, the man answered, ‘I should take it as a particular favour if your Lordship would never tell any one of whom you learned to dance’. Churchill of course refers to this uncouthness, and adds that his visage is that of one ‘half hanged,’ with the inference that he had been ‘cut down by mistake’. This unflattering description is to some extent supported by the portrait by Gainsborough in the Painted Hall at Greenwich, which has a ghastly effect, chiefly due perhaps to the fading of the flesh tints. Other portraits by Zoffany: one belonging to the family, one in the National Portrait Gallery, and one in the Trinity House — though not prepossessing, are less repulsive. Sandwich married in 1741 Judith, third daughter of Charles Fane, first viscount Fane, and had by her, besides other children who predeceased him, one son, John, who succeeded as fifth earl. By Miss Ray he also had children, one son, Basil and another, Robert, who died an admiral in 1830.

Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 12 January, 2016

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind