John Mantagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792) The 4th Earl of Sandwich was a man of ambition who combined a political career with a life-long interest in the Navy and all things maritime. First Lord of the Admiralty on three occasions, reformer of naval dockyards and supporter of voyages of discovery, Lord Sandwich was friend and patron of Captain James Cook.
Having completed his education and the customary Grand Tour of Europe, Sandwich took his seat in the House of Lords in 1744, joining the Board of Admiralty in 1744. Becoming First Lord of the Admiralty in 1748, he worked closely with Admiral George Anson to tackle the state of the naval dockyards. Sandwich was the first head of the Admiralty to actually visit the dockyards in nearly a century.
Losing his office in 1751 due to shifting political alliances, Sandwich was reinstated in 1771 and remained until 1782. He was in office when Cook returned from his first voyage aboard the Endeavour (1769-72). Impressed by Cook’s achievements, the 4th Earl was one of the few people to recognise Cook as the true leader of the expedition, rather than the publicity-hungry botanist Joseph Banks. Sandwich backed Cook’s proposal of embarking on a second voyage – this time to seek out the Great Southern Continent. Cook always acknowledged his debt to the Earl, asserting that without Sandwich’s action and support, the second voyage would never have taken place.
When Cook returned from his second voyage, Sandwich saw that he was justly rewarded by promoting him to the rank of Captain. He then spent considerable time overseeing the publication of the official accounts of Cook’s voyages. A man of huge charm, Sandwich was happy mixing with the company of all sorts of men, and was particularly willing to promote men of humble origin or obscure background, to back their professional expertise against better-born but not technically expert superiors.
Nevertheless, the 4th Earl has sometimes been represented as a man of colourful reputation, described as a rake and gambler by Victorian historians. Whilst Sandwich certainly gambled, this was unavoidable in polite society at the time, and the Earl appears to have been restrained in the sums he bet. The Earl’s fondness for gambling has given rise to an interesting creation story for the infamous household snack which shares his name. The Earl apparently invented the ‘sandwich’ due to his reluctance to quit the gambling table for dinner! Whilst there is no evidence to prove this, the common sandwich is certainly named after the 4th Earl, who most likely ate slices of cold salt-beef between toasted bread at his writing-desk whilst spending long hours on correspondence!
This portrait of Lord Sandwich, painted by Thomas Gainsborough, can be viewed at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Grape Lane, Whitby. For this year’s commemoration of the 4th Earl why not knit a sandwich and enter the Captain Cook Museum competition. Details and knitting patterns can be found on their blog