Colonel George Montagu (1753-1815)

Colonel George Montagu is one of the British naturalists who established 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. Linnean Society is 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. Later, when he left the Army, he was able to focus fully on scientific study.

Montagu’s wide-ranging biological interests included marine zoology and British mammals. He is best known for his passion for ornithology (birds). The common names of several animal species bear his name: Montagu’s blennyharrier, ray, sucker, and sea snail.

Colonel George Montagu’s shells

One of Montagu’s most important works was ‘Testacea Britannica: a Natural history of British shells, marine, land, and fresh-water, including the most minute: systematically arranged and embellished with figures’. This was published in 1803. Later he also published a supplement to the first volume. Montagu used his own collection of shells for the descriptions and illustrations.

Most of Montagu’s shell collection is here at RAMM and it contains many very important specimens. Initially Montagu left the collection to his son who later donated it to RAMM in November 1874. The Natural History Museum in London also holds a small number of Montagu’s shells. It is possible that some have found their way to a museum in Washington, USA.

In January 2020 Arts Council England awarded the Montagu Collection Designated status. This mark of distinction recognises the collection’s international significance to the scientific community. It is the most intact and taxonomically important collection of British shells of the early 19th century (1800-1816)  anywhere in the UK.

Montagu died in 1815 from lockjaw (tetanus) after stepping on a rusty nail.

Research on the Montagu collection

Curators recently re-catalogued and researched the entire collection. For more information please see our Research Blog.

Accession register pages

This PDF document allows researchers to see the original museum register entries from 1874 detailing each specimen in the Montagu collection. It is especially useful where original specimen labels are missing. The transcript of the accession register pages for specimens Moll3639-4314 is available to download as an Excel spreadsheet.