Colonel George Montagu (1753-1815)
Colonel George Montagu is regarded as one of the British naturalists responsible for establishing the foundation of modern scientific study. He did this by assisting with the identification of British fauna. He was also among the earliest members of the Linnean Society – one of the world’s leading organisations for the study of taxonomy and natural history.
Colonel Montagu was born in Lackham, Wiltshire. At the age of 17 he joined the Army and fought with his regiment in North America. It wasn’t until he left the Army that he was able to focus fully on scientific study.
His wide-ranging biological interests included the study of marine zoology and British mammals, but he is most well known for his knowledge of ornithology (birds). The common names of several animal species bear his name: Montagu’s blenny, harrier, ray, sucker, and sea snail.
Colonel George Montagu’s shells
One of Montagu’s most important works was his Testacea Britannica: a Natural history of British shells, marine, land, and fresh-water, including the most minute: systematically arranged and embellished with figures, which was published in 1803. He used his own collection of shells for the descriptions and illustrations in this volume.
The majority of Montagu’s shell collection has been cared for here at RAMM since November 1874 when it was donated to us by his son Henry D’Orville who lived in Alphington, Exeter. The Natural History Museum in London also holds a small number of shells from this collection, and some others may have found their way to a museum in Washington, USA.
Montague died in 1815 from lockjaw (tetanus) after stepping on a rusty nail.