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John Montagu (21 August 1797 – 4 November 1853) was private secretary to the colonial secretary of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) 1834–1842 and later of Cape Colony.[1]

Early life

Montagu was born in India, the second son of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Montagu, and his wife Barbara, née Fleetwood.[1] Edward Montagu died of wounds in India in 1799.[2] John Montagu sent to England to be educated; he was taught at Cheam in Surrey, Parson's Green in Knightsbridge, and by a private tutor. In February 1814 Montagu was commissioned Ensign in the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot.

Military career

Montagu fought at Waterloo, was promoted Lieutenant in November 1815, and Captain in the 64th Foot in November 1822. In 1823, having transferred to the 81st Foot and then the 40th Foot, he went to Van Diemen's Land in 1824 with Governor Arthur and became Arthur's private secretary. In 1826 he was made clerk of the Executive and legislative councils, but in 1829 was recalled to England to take up his military duties. In 1830 he resigned from the army and was re-appointed clerk of the councils at Hobart.


In 1832 Montagu acted as colonial treasurer, and in 1834 was appointed colonial secretary. Montagu was still in this position when Sir John Franklin became governor in 1836, and for five years the two men worked in harmony. Montagu devoted time to the question of convict discipline, and in 1841 prepared the necessary instructions for a probation system which was then established. In October 1841 a strong difference of opinion arose with governor Franklin over the reinstatement by Franklin of a surgeon who had been dismissed after being charged with culpable negligence. Franklin reinstated him because he thought that further evidence showed the penalty to have been unjust, Montagu declared that the reinstatement would degrade the colonial secretary's office, and that if Franklin persisted in his determination he must not expect the same assistance from the colonial secretary that had been hitherto given. Franklin would not be intimidated and friction continued for some time. On 17 January 1842 in writing to Franklin, Montagu said,

"while your excellency and all the members of your government have had such frequent opportunities of testing my memory as to have acquired for it the reputation of a remarkably accurate one, your officers have not been without opportunity of learning that your excellency could not always place implicit reliance upon your own."[2]

In the circumstances this could only be taken as insulting, and Franklin feeling there was no possibility of their working together, dismissed Montagu from his office. Montagu withdrew the offending phrase but Franklin's mind was made up. Montagu, however, went to England and so successfully brought his case before Lord Stanley, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, that Governor Franklin was recalled.

Cape Colony

In April 1843 Montagu took up duties as colonial secretary to the Cape of Good Hope, where he did useful work. Soon after his arrival he "ascertained that there was a large amount of revenue many years overdue, and set about collecting it with an intensity of purpose from which even pity for the distressed was absent".[3] Montagu introduced a system of constructing roads by convict labour, and worked with great energy for the good of the colonies in many other directions. Montagu Pass near George, built by an Australian named Henry Fancourt White in 1843-47, was named in his honour, as was the town of Montagu. Over-work on constitutional changes which were taking place in the government, led to a nervous breakdown in 1852, and on 2 May he left for England. He never fully recovered his health and died on 4 November 1853; he is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.


Montagu married Jessy, daughter of Major-general Edward Vaughan Worseley, in April 1823[1] who survived him with children. Montagu, who had suffered losses in connexion with his transfer from Tasmania, died poor, and a civil list pension of £300 a year was granted to his widow.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 John Reynolds, 'Montagu, John (1797 - 1853)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, MUP, 1967, pp 248–250. Retrieved 10 October 2009
  2. 2.0 2.1 Serle, Percival (1949). "Montagu, John". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 10 October 2009. 
  3. Theal, History of South Africa, vol. II, p. 198

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