Colonel George Montagu (1753-1815)

Miniature portrait of George Montagu: Image used with permission of the Linnean Society of London

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. The 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.

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

Colonel George Montagu’s shells

One of Colonel George 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.

Research on the Montagu collection

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.

Curators recently re-catalogued and researched the entire collection. For more information and publications please see the Collections Story on Montagu and his molluscs. Alternatively his entire collection is available online, many of the specimens are types. Please contact us if you require access to higher quality photographs or further information.

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