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Basil Montagu

Birthplace: England - natural son of John Earl of Sandwich
Death: Died in England -
Immediate Family:

Son of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich and Martha Ray
Brother of Augusta Speed
Half brother of John Montagu, 5th Earl of Sandwich; Lord Edward Montagu of Sandwich; Lord William Augustus Montagu of Sandwich and Lady Mary Montagu of Sandwich

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About Basil Montagu

Basil Montagu (24 April 1770–27 November 1851) was a British jurist, barrister, writer and philanthropist. He was educated in Charterhouse School and studied law in Cambridge, later wrote and worked on reforms in bankruptcy laws of Britain. He served as Accountant-General in Bankruptcy between 1835 and 1846. He was highly influenced by the writings of Francis Bacon. He was the son of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, and his mistress, singer Martha Ray.


He was the second illegitimate son of John Montagu by Martha Ray; he was acknowledged by his father, and brought up at Hinchingbrooke, Huntingdonshire. He was educated at Charterhouse School and Christ's College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1786, graduated B.A. (fifth wrangler) in 1790, and proceeded M.A. in 1793.[1] On 30 January 1789 he was admitted a member of Gray's Inn, but continued to reside at Cambridge until 1795, when, having by a technical loophole lost the portion of inheritance intended for him by his father, he came to London to read for the bar.

He was on intimate terms with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, whose early enthusiasm for the ideas of the French Revolution he shared. In the autumn of 1797 he made a tour in the Midlands counties with William Godwin. He spent a week in Godwin's house in 1797, assisting the distraught Godwin, whose wife Mary Wollstonecraft was dying, following the birth of a daughter.

He was called to the bar on 19 May 1798. By Sir James Mackintosh, whose acquaintance he soon afterwards made, and with whom he went the Norfolk circuit, he was converted to political moderation and the study of Francis Bacon. Montagu was also a friend of Samuel Parr. Montagu never became eminent as a pleader, but he gradually acquired a practice in chancery and bankruptcy; his leisure time he devoted to legal and literary work.

Appointed by Lord Erskine, 1806–7, to a commissionership in bankruptcy, Montagu set himself to reform the bankruptcy law. He also founded in 1809 the Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge upon the Punishment of Death. In July 1825 he gave evidence before the chancery commission, and suggested a radical reform. In Trinity term 1835 Montagu was made K.C., and soon afterwards accountant-general in bankruptcy. His tenure of this office, which lasted until 1846, he established the liability of the Bank of England to pay interest on bankruptcy deposits. He was a member of the Athenæum Club, and his town house, 25 Bedford Square, was for many years a centre of reunion for London literary society. He was one of the most attentive listeners to Coleridge's monologues at Highgate. He died at Boulogne-sur-Mer on 27 November 1851.

Founder Member of RSPCA

Along with Sir James Mackintosh, Thomas Fowell Buxton, William Wilberforce, Richard Martin (M.P.) and Reverend Arthur Broome, Montagu attended a meeting on 16 June, 1824 at Old Slaughter's Coffee House in St. Martin's Lane, London that created the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (in 1840 by royal assent from Queen Victoria it became the RSPCA). Montagu was one of eleven members that formed a sub-committee to "superintend the Publication of Tracts, Sermons, and similar modes of influencing public opinion" about the humane treatment of animals.



Montagu married three times:

1.On 4 September 1790, Caroline Matilda Want of Brampton, Huntingdonshire; Glasgow, in 1801, Laura, eldest daughter of Sir William Beaumaris Rush of Roydon, Suffolk, and Wimbledon, Surrey;
3.the widow of Thomas Skepper, lawyer, of York.

He had by his first wife a son Basil Caroline, mentioned in William Wordsworth's lines ‘To my Sister’ and ‘Anecdotes for Fathers’. By his second wife he had three sons; and two sons and a daughter by his third wife. All his children but two (his daughter and one of his sons by his third wife) died in his lifetime. His third wife, whose maiden name was Benson, was the daughter of a wine merchant of York, and in her youth had known Robert Burns (cf. his complimentary letter to her dated Dumfries, 21 March 1793, in his Correspondence). he in middle age fascinated Edward Irving, who gave her the sobriquet of "the noble lady".’ Thomas Carlyle, introduced to her by Irving in 1824, corresponded with her; and during the earlier years of his residence in London was a frequent visitor at 25 Bedford Square. Carlyle was offended by an offer of a clerkship at £200 a year which Montagu made him in 1837. His early letters to her were printed for private circulation by her daughter by her first husband, Mrs. Procter, soon after the publication of the ‘Reminiscences’ (see Bryan Waller Procter).

A portrait of Montagu by Opie was lent by Bryan Waller Procter ("Barry Cornwall") to the third Loan Exhibition (No. 183).

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Basil Montagu's Timeline

England - natural son of John Earl of Sandwich
Age 81
England -