Monday 11 February 2008

“At 12 Mr Byng was shot” – the court martial and execution of Admiral Byng

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

The Byng family was prominent in Bedfordshire in the 17th and 18th centuries. After a successful naval and political career, George Byng was created Viscount Torrington in 1721. His son, Pattee Byng, was MP for Bedfordshire until he succeeded his father in 1733. The family had strong naval connections, the best known being John Byng, a younger son of the first Viscount, who rose to become an Admiral.

Admiral Byng was charged with neglecting his duty during an action against the French fleet in the Mediterranean in summer 1756. At a court martial he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Pleas for mercy were unsuccessful and he was executed by firing squad on board his former ship, the Monarch, on 14 March 1757.

The story is simply told on the Royal Naval Museum website and on the National Maritime Museum site where there are also some excellent portraits of Byng and a painting of his execution.

His execution has long been controversial and a group at Southill in Bedfordshire where the Byng family lived is campaigning for his pardon. Despite a set back last year on the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his death when the MoD told a descendant that a pardon after so long was inappropriate, the campaign continues, with several local initiatives -

  • A seminar entitled “Admiral John Byng (1704-1757): the life and death of the Admiral of the Blue" will be held on Saturday 23rd February 2008 from 10. am to 4 pm at the Function Room of the White Horse Public House, High Street, Southill, near Biggleswade, Beds SG18 9LD (This is 200 yards from the Byng Vault – his resting place, open to view during the day.) Speakers include Dr David Davies, David Wyllie, Dr John Byng Hall, James Collett-White, Chris Byng-Maddock, John Taylor QC, Rev. Mark Aaron Tisdale, Sarah Saunders Davies and Thane Byng Nelson.
    Bookings must be made in advance of the day. Tickets at £6.00 (excluding lunch) from Nico Rodenburg - email
  • A petition - ask Nico Rodenburg about signing it, but be quick! It will be handed in on 12 March.

  • A dramatic oratorio “The Musket Ball and the Tragic Fate of Admiral John Byng" in three parts, devised by Thane Byng and composed by David Wyllie. The European premiere will be in Brussels on 7th March and the British premiere is on 14th March 2008 at 7.30 pm at All Saints Church, Southill, Beds, in aid of the Restoration Fund. It will be performed by members of the Bedford Choral Society
    Tickets at £12.50, including light refreshments from 6.30 pm from Nico Rodenburg: e-mail

No comments: