MONTAGU, John (1797-1853)


MONTAGU, John (1797-1853)
Tasmanian colonial secretary
was born in 1797, the third son of Lieut.-colonel Edward Montagu, who died of wounds in India in 1799. Montagu was educated at private schools and by a tutor, and when 16 years of age was made an ensign in the 52nd regiment. He fought at Waterloo, became lieutenant in November 1815, and captain in November 1822. In 1823 he went to Tasmania with Governor Arthur (q.v.) and became his 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 he acted as colonial treasurer, and in 1834 was appointed colonial secretary. He was in this position when Sir John Franklin (q.v.) became governor in 1836, and for five years the two men worked in harmony. Montagu gave much attention to the question of convict discipline, and in 1841 prepared with great care the necessary instructions in connexion with a probation system which was then established. In October 1841 a strong difference of opinion arose with the governor, 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". In the particular 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 tip. Montagu, however, went to England and so successfully brought his case before Lord Stanley, the secretary of state for the colonies, that Franklin was recalled, and Montagu was sent as colonial secretary to the Cape of Good Hope, where he did valuable work. Soon after his arrival in April 1843 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". (Theal, History of South Africa, vol. II, p. 198). He brought in a system of constructing roads by convict labour, and worked with great energy for the good of the colonies in many other directions. Over-work in connexion with constitutional changes which were taking place in the government led to a break-down in 1852, and on 2 May he left for England. He never fully recovered his health and died on 4 November 1853. He married in 1823 Jessy, daughter of Major-general Edward Vaughan Worseley, 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. His conduct to Franklin cannot be justified, as no governor at that period could carry out his work without the full support of the officials. It is true that when he left Montagu was offered a handsome testimonial by 800 of his fellow colonists, and that Stanley exonerated him; but Franklin had had no opportunity of reply, and the Narrative he afterwards published has the impress of truth on every word of it. Apart from this incident Montagu was a great official, zealous, able and energetic.
W. A. Newman, Biographical Memoir of John Montagu; J. Franklin, Narrative of Some Passages in the History of Van Diemen's Land; J. West, The History of Tasmania, vol. I; G. McC. Theal, History of South Africa, vols. II and III; Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XXV, pp. 213-26.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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