Today, Sandwich's islands. The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make our civilization
run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
The story has it that the sandwich was created when
John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, told his valet to bring him a piece of
meat between two slices of bread. That'd surely been done before, but Montagu
was Lord of the Admiralty and people seemed bent on naming things after him.
Take the Hawaiian Islands: He was Captain Cook's patron, so Cook named them
Sandwich Islands on his third voyage in 1778. Cook came back a year later,
got into a squabble with the natives, and was killed. Then the name lasted
only until 1819 when King Kamehameha I formed the islands into a kingdom
But before that, on his second voyage, Cook had put his patron's name on
another set of islands. He found a 700-mile-long island chain beginning a
thousand miles southeast of the Falklands -- far, far, from the south Argentinean
Cook mapped the main island and named it South Georgia Island after King George
III. It's big -- 1500 square miles. Then Cook sailed hundreds of miles southwest
from there. He found a string of small islands curving southward and called them
Sandwich Land. Today, we know that they and Georgia Island, lie on the northern
border of a tectonic plate whose southern border touches Antarctica.
Later, after Cook had extended the name Sandwich to the Hawaiian chain, these
became the South Sandwich Islands. And how different they are -- barren, cold,
and mountainous. Cook named one Montagu Island -- again after his patron.
It's only 50 square miles, but on it,
Mt. Belinda volcano
rises almost a mile into the sky. Belinda erupted in 2001. Ever since, it has
spewed lava that cuts a channel through its ancient cloak of ice, all the way to
Georgia and the Southern Sandwich Islands rather mirror Montagu's and King George's
lives. They've been in as much political turmoil as their namesakes were. Only
Georgia has a small permanent population. But the whole island chain was one
bone of contention in the 1982 Falkland War between Britain and Argentina. That
argument continues today, maybe more about pride than purpose.
The life of Montagu/Lord Sandwich was no less turbulent. He was a brilliant,
ruthless politician, twice Lord of the Admiralty among other high posts. Today,
he's credited and blamed for British Naval might and for her loss of the American
He first married a young woman. History says she went insane, but doesn't tell us how.
Then Montagu spent sixteen years with a famous singer, Martha Ray, as his mistress.
Ray bore five children and was then murdered by a deranged admirer. Montagu was also
deeply involved in promoting the music of his recent past. He's probably the reason
that Handel is so popular today.
So it's fitting that a volcanic Island carries his name -- this volcanic man from
volcanic times, like Montagu Island, is now just a bit of history smoldering away
and largely forgotten.
I'm John Lienhard at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
N. A. M. Rodger, Montagu, John. Fourth earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,
Vol. ?, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004): pp. 744-748.
See the Wikipedia articles on
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands,
John Montagu,4th Earl of Sandwich,
and Plate Tectonics.
The tectonic plate ringed by Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is
the smallish Scotia Plate. (See map below.) All images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
except the Google Earth satellite view of the Scotia Plate. My thanks to Peter
Copeland, UH Geoscience Dept., for additional counsel.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2009 by John H.