Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Montagu, Samuel
MONTAGU, Sir SAMUEL, first Baron Swaythling (1832–1911), foreign exchange-banker and Jewish philanthropist, born at Liverpool on 21 Dec. 1832, was second son and youngest child of Louis Samuel (1794–1859), watchmaker and silversmith, of Liverpool, by his wife Henrietta, daughter of Israel Israel of Bury Street, St. Mary Axe. His parents were orthodox Jews, and he was through life a strict adherent of orthodox Judaism. Whilst still a lad his parents reversed his original name of Montagu Samuel to Samuel Montagu, and he obtained a royal licence for the change in 1894. By a second licence in 1904 he assumed the surname of Samuel-Montagu.
After education at the Mechanics' Institution, Liverpool, now the Liverpool Institute, he came to London when his father retired from business in 1845. He obtained his earliest employment at thirteen with his brother-in-law, Adam Spielmann, a foreign banker in Lombard Street. Soon dissatisfied with his salary and prospects he became manager of the London branch of a Paris banker named Monteaux, opened at 21 Cornhill. Quickly cancelling this engagement he acted as a bullion-broker on his own account, but in Feb. 1853 he resolved on founding a new foreign exchange and banking business. He was still under age, and a small capital, stated to be 3000l., was advanced by his father in his behalf to his elder brother Edwin, a small banker in Liverpool, who became Montagu's partner without an active role in the concern. The firm was first known as Samuel & Montagu and had an office in Leadenhall Street. Two years later Montagu took over Monteaux's London branch which was in difficulties, and he moved to its premises in Cornhill. From the start Ellis Abraham Franklin, who afterwards married Montagu's sister, was in the effectual position of Montagu's partner, and he was made a full partner in 1862, when the firm's style was changed to Samuel Montagu & Co. New premises were taken in 1863 at 60 Old Broad Street. The house at Cornhill then became a branch, and later, with capital of Samuel Montagu & Co.'s provision, the independent concern of A. Keyser & Co. By subsequent agreement two sons of each of the three partners of Samuel Montagu & Co. were taken into that firm's partnership. Five survivors of the six younger partners carry on the business at 60 Old Broad Street.
At the outset Montagu and his colleagues took up with energy the foreign exchange operations from which great firms like those of Rothschild and Baring were withdrawing in view of other occupation. Montagu's house quickly secured a large proportion of the exchange business, and, while establishing its own fortune, helped to make London the chief home of the clearinghouse of the international money market. Montagu's knowledge of intricate exchanges was, even among Jewish exchange dealers, remarkable. He calculated profit in the most complicated transactions, involving the conversion and re-conversion of foreign currencies, with a miraculous rapidity. In the silver market his firm's transactions were on an exceptionally large scale. He owed much in later life to his partners' sagacity and to his choice of able assistants.
Self-confident, and of a masterful personality, Montagu soon exerted much influence alike in general financial and public affairs, as well as in the Anglo-Jewish community. The demonetisation of the French copper coinage in England was largely due to his agitation. Mainly ovdng to his representations the Royal Exchange was roofed in by the City authorities, and the merchants assembling there were protected from the inclemency of the weather. In 1897 he gave one of the picture panels in the Exchange, painted by Solomon J. Solomon, R.A., depicting Charles I's visit to the Guildhall in 1641-2 to demand the surrender of the Five Members.
Montagu, who in politics was a staunch liberal, was elected in the liberal interest M.P. for the Whitechapel division of the Tower Hamlets in 1885 and held the seat for fifteen years. He grew intimate with the party leaders but took little part in the business of the House of Commons save on financial matters and on those touching the Jews. He was chief author of the Weights and Measures Act (1897), which legalised the use of metric weights and measures, and he procured the insertion of a clause in the Finance Act of 1894 (sec. 15) exempting from the death duties bequests to public libraries, museums, and art galleries. An ardent supporter of bimetallism, he was a member of the gold and silver commission (1887-90), and he was president of the Decimal Association, of tho principles of which he was an ardent advocate. In 1888 he was a member of the select committee of tho House of Commons on alien immigration, which in the interest of persecuted foreign Jews he was avenue from restricting unduly.
With the public work of the Anglo-Jewish community Montagu from an early period intimately identified himself, but he had many differences with leading fellow-workers. He was a life member of the council of tho United Synagogue, but disagreement the Lord Rothschild led him to forgo active association. For some years he was a prominent member of the Jewish board of deputies, of the Jewish board of guardians, and of the Religious Education Board, but from the two latter bodies he withdrew before his death. In 1870 he founded in Aldgate, and became president of, the Jewsh Working-men's Club. He was until 1909 president of the Shechita board (for supervising the slaughtering of animals according to Jewish ritual), and was chairman of the building committee of the New West End Synagogue in Bays water (his own place of worship), of which he was first warden. One of his greatest services to the Jewish community was his successful effort to form in 1887 the federation of the smaller East End S3niagogues. By insisting on English being the official language at meetings of the members of these synagogues he helped to anglicise the foreign Jewish population.
His efforts on behalf of the East London poor, both Jewish and Christian, were imremitting. He was treasurer of the Jews' Temporary Shelter. To facilitate the distribution of working Jews among the leas populated provincial districts he founded without much success the Congregational Union and Dispersion Committee. In 1887 he established the East London Apprenticeship Fund, of which he was president. He was also a trustee of the People's Palace at Mile End, a member of the house committee of the London Hospital, and a director of the Four per Cent. Industrial Dwellings Company. On 28 July 1903 he gave 10,000l. to the London County Council for its housing scheme for the poor of Tottenham.
He frequently travelled abroad in the interests of his oppressed co-religionists. In 1875 he visited the Holy Land and subsequently founded with Lord Rothschild the first secular and industrial school in Jerusalem. On tho outbreak, in 1882, of the violent Jewish presentation to he went to the Continent, at the request of the Mansion House Committee for the Russian Jews, to control and direct the ensuing stream of emigration. Two years later he unted the United States to assist in the establishment of Jewish agricultural colonies in the Far West. In 1886 he visited all the ohief towns of Russia, investigating the conditions of the Jews there and discourging emmigration. He was well received, until on his arrival at Moscow the Ressian government's suspicions were arroused and 'the Jew Montagu' was ordered to leave the country in 48 hours (Hansard, 1886, ccoviii. 263-4). The Mansion House Fund developed into the Russo-Jewish Committee, of which Montagu was president from 1896 until 1909. The fund rendered inestimable services to persecuted Russian Jews.
Montagu, who was a collector of of art, was a member of the Fine Arts Club, and was elected F.S.A. on 14 Jan. 1897. He was a frequent exhibitor at the Old Masters' Exhibitions of the Royal Academy, the Burlington Fine Arts Club, Guildhall, Whitechapd, and elsewhere. Besides possessing many choice pictures, he was a discriminating purchaser of old English silver. His notable collection included the earliest known 'font-shaped' cup, two mazer bowls, early silver-mounted stoneware flagons, Tudor and Jacobean tankards, salts, steeple cups, and Lamerie plate.
Montagu, who was made a baronet on 23 June 1894, retired from the representation of Whitechapel in the House of Commons in 1900, and was succeeded there by his nephew and partner, Mr. Stuart Montagu Samuel, who was created a baronet in 1912. Montagu, however, unsuooessfully contested the central division of Leeds against Mr. Gerald Balfour at the general election of 1900. On 18 July 1907, on Campbell-Bannerman's recommendation, he was raised to the Baron Swaythling, taking his title Swaythling near Southampton, where he had a country residence.
A man of great tenacity of purpose and opinion, Swaythling was long a pillar of conservative Judaism and warmly deprecated any breach of Jewish custom on the part of his family or of the Jewish community. At the same time he was a vigorous opponent of the Zionist movement for the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine. He retired from active business life in September 1900, and died on 12 Jan. 1911 at his London residence, 12 Kensington Palace Gardens. He was buried with full Jewish ritual at the cemetery of the Federation of Synagogues, Edmonton.
He married on 5 March 1862 Ellen, youngest daughter of Louis Cohen of Gloucester Place, Portman Square, and the Stock Exchange, sister of Sir Benjamin Louis Cohen, first baronet; her grand-aunt Judith was wife of Sir Moses Montefiore. She survived him with four sons and six daughters. Louis Samuel Montagu, the eldest son, succeeded to the peerage, and Edwin Samuel Montagu, the second son, has been M.P. for the Chesterton division of Cambridgeshire since 1906, and became under-secretary for India in 1910. By a provision of his will Swaythling debarred his children and those claiming through them from participation in his estate (beyond a life annuity of l00l.) should they at his death not themselves be professing, or be married to a person not professing, the Jewish religion.
The congregation of the New West End Synagogue presented him in 1902 with his portrait by Sir W. Q. Orchardson [q.v. Suppl. II]; it belongs to the family, and was reproduced in the 'Magazine of Art' (new series, ii. 361). A cartoon appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in November 1886 (No. 505). Besides contributions to 'Palgrave's Dictionary of Political Economy' and to the 'Encyclopædia Britannica,' and articles to periodicals on finance and decimal currency, Swaythling published 'A Plea for a British Dollar ' (reprinted from 'Murray's Magazine '), 1888.
[The Times, 11, 13, 16, 17 and 22 Jan., 6 March 1911; Jewish Chronicle, 13 and 20 Jan. 1911 (with portrait); Bankers' Magazine, 1888, xlviii. 963-5 (with early portrait), Nov. 1909, lxxxviii. 667-70 (with later portrait), Feb. 1911, xci. 282-6; Who's Who, 1911; Lodge's Peerage; Pike's London in the 20th century, p. 113; private information.]