Byng, George

, lord viscount Torrington, an eminent naval officer, was descended from a family long seated in Kent, his direct ancestor Robert Byng, of Wrotham, inthat county, being high sheriff of it in the 34th year of queen Elizabeth; and he was the eldest son of John Byng, esq. by Philadelphia, daughter of Mr. Johnson, of Loans, Surrey. He was born in 1663, and went a Volunteer to sea in 1678, at the age of fifteen, with the king’s letter* given him on the recommendation of the duke of York. In 1681 he quitted the sea-service upon the invitation of general Kirk, governor of Tangier, and served as a cadet in the grenadiers of that garrison; until on a vacancy, which soon happened, the general made him ensign of his own company; and soon after a lieutenant. In 1684, after the demolition of Tangier, lord Dartmouth, general of the sea and land forces, appointed him lieutenant of the Oxford; from which time he constantly kept to the sea-service, remaining likewise an officer in the army several years after. In 1685 he went lieutenant of his majesty’s ship the Phoenix to the East Indies where, engaging and boarding a Zinganian pirate, who maintained a desperate fight, most of


This, says Charnock, was a mode of entering into the service, though lately disused, which entitled the person who possessed it to a rank equal to that of the midshipmen of the present day. This class of young officers were originally called the king’s letterboys.

| those who entered with him were killed, himself much wounded, and the pirate sinking, he was taken out of the sea with scarce any remains of life. In 1688, being first lieutenant to sir John Ashby, in the fleet commanded by lord Dartmouth, fitted out to oppose the designs of the prince of Orange, he was in a particular manner intrusted and employed in the measures then carrying on amongst the most considerable officers of the fleet in favour of that prince; and was the person confided in by them to carry their secret assurances of obedience to his highness, to whom he was privately introduced, at Sherburn, by admiral Russel, afterwards earl of Orford. After his return to the fleet, lord Dartmouth sent him with capt. Aylmer, and capt. Flastings, to carry a message of submission to the prince at Windsor; and made him captain of the Constant Warwick, a ship of the fourth rate. In 1690 he commanded the Hope, a third rate, and was second to sir George Rooke, in the battle off Beachy head. In the years 1691 and 1692, he was captain of the Royal Oak, and served under admiral Russel, who commanded in chief their Majesty’s fleet. In F693, that great officer distinguished him in a particular manner, by promoting him to the rank of his first captain; in which station he served in 1694 and 1695 in the Mediterranean, where the designs of the French against Barcelona were prevented: and also the next year, 1696, in the Channel, to oppose the intended invasion of king James with a French army from the coast of France; which, upon the appearance of the fleet, was laid aside. In 1702, upon the breaking out of the war, he accepted of the command of the Nassau, a third rate, and was at the taking and burning of the French and Spanish fleets at Vigo. The year following he was made rearadmiral of the red, and served in the fleet commanded by *ir Cloudesley Shovel, in the Mediterranean; who detached him with a squadron to Algiers, where he renewed and improved our treaties with that government. In 1704 he served in the grand fleet in the Mediterranean, and commanded the squadron that attacked and cannonaded Gibraltar; and, by landing the seamen, whose valour was very remarkably displayed on this occasion, the town was taken. He was in the battle of Malaga, which followed soon after, and, for his behaviour in that action, had the honour of knighthood conferred on him by his Majesty. In the winter of this year he was sent oat with a squadron | to cruise against the French, which he^ did with great success, taking about twenty of their largest privateers in about two months time, with the Thetis, a French man of war of fifty guns. In 1705 he was made vice-admiral of the blue: and upon the election of a new parliament, was returned burgess for Plymouth, which place he represented in every succeeding parliament to the year 1721, when he was advanced to the peerage.

During the summer of 1705, he commanded in chief a squadron in the channel, and blocked up the French fleet in Brest, with a much inferior strength. In 1706, king Charles of Spain, the late emperor, being closely beseiged in Barcelona, by sea and land, by the duke of Anjou, and the place reduced to great extremity, and our fleet in the Mediterranean being too weak to relieve it, sir George Byng was appointed to command a strong squadron fitting out in England; in the hastening of which service, he used such diligence and activity, and joined our fleet with such unexpected dispatch, that the saving of that city was entirely owing to it. He assisted at the other enterprizes of that campaign, and commanded the ships detached for the reduction of Carthagena and Alicant, which he accomplished. In 1707 he served in the second post under Sir Cloudesley Shovel, at the seige of Toulon: and the year following was made admiral of the blue, and commanded the squadron which was fitted out to oppose the invasion designed against Scotland by the pretender with a French army from Dunkirk; which he fortunately prevented, by arriving off the Frith of Edinburgh before their troops could land, and obliged them to betake themselves to flight. On his return from this expedition, he was offered by the queen the place of one of the prince of Denmark’s council in the admiralty, which he then declined. He continued to command all that summer in the channel, and upon the marriage of the queen of Portugal, had the honour of conducting her majesty to Lisbon, where a commission was sent to him to be admiral of the white. In 1709 he commanded in chief her majesty’s fleet in the Mediterranean; and, after his return to England, was made one of the commissioners of the admiralty, and continued so till some time before the queen’s death; when, not falling in with the measures of the court, he was removed, but upon the accession of George I. he was restored to that station. In 1715, upon the breaking out of the rebellion which | was at first secretly supported with arms "and warlike stores from France, he was appointed to command a squadron, with which he kept such a watchful eye along the French coast, by examining ships even in their ports, and obtaining orders from the court of France to put on shore at Havre de Grace great quantities of arms and ammunition shipped there for the pretender’s service; that, in reward for his services, the king on Nov. 15, 1715, created him a baronet, and gave him a ring of great value, and other marks of his royal favour. In 1717, upon the discovery of some secret practices of the ministers of Sweden against this kingdom, he was sent with a squadron into the Baltic, and prevented the Swedes appearing at sea. In 1718 he was made admiral and commander in chief of the fleet, and being sent with a squadron into the Mediterranean for the protection of Italy, according to the obligation England was under by treaty, against the invasion of the Spaniards, who had the year before surprized Sardinia, and had this year landed an army in Sicily, he gave a total defeat to their fleet near Messina: for which action he was honoured with a letter from the king, written with his own hand, and received congratulatory letters from the emperor and the king of Sardinia; and was further honoured by his imperial majesty with his picture set in diamonds. He remained for some time in these seas, for composing and adjusting the differences between the several powers concerned, being vested with the character of plenipotentiary to all the princes of Italy; and that year and the next he supported the German arms in their expedition to Sicily; and enabled them, by his assistance, to subdue the greatest part of that island. After performing so many signal services, he attended his majesty, by his command, at Hanover, who made him rear-admiral of England, and treasurer of the navy, and, on his return to England, one of his most honourable privy-council; and on Sept 19, 1721 he was called to the peerage by the title of baron Byng, of Southill, in the county of Bedford, and viscount Torrington, in Devonshire; and 1725 was made one of the knights of the bath on the revival of that order. In 1727, his late majesty, on his accession to the crown, placed him at the head of his naval affairs, as first lord of the admiralty, in which station he died, Jan. 17, 1732-3; and was interred at Southill, in Bedfordshire. Lord Torrington married, in 1691, Mary, daughter of James Master, of East Langdon, in the county | of Kent, esq. by whom (who died in 1756) he had eleven sons and four daughters. His fourth son, was the unfortunate John Byng, admiral of the blue, who was condemned by the sentence, of a court-martial in 1757, and shot at Portsmouth March 14th of that year, for a breach of the twelfth article of war. From the best accounts published on this affair, it may be concluded that he was a sacrifice to popular clamour artfully directed to the wrong object. 1


Biog. Brit.—Collins’s Peerage by Sir E. Brydges.—The best account we have seen of Adm. John Byng’s case is in Charnock’s Biog. Navalis.