John Byng

Byng c.1749. Painting by Thomas Hudson, in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Born: 1704
Years of Service

Admiral John Byng was the fifth son of Admiral of the Fleet George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington. Born in 1704, Byng joined the Royal Navy at age 13, and was a lieutenant by age 19. Byng received his first command in 1727, the 20-gun HMS Gibralter, fresh off a refit. In the Mediterranean until 1739, Byng became Commodore-Govenor of Newfoundland in 1742, and Commander-in-Chief, Leith (Scotland) from 1745-46. After returning to command the Mediterranean Fleet in 1747, which came with a promotion to Vice Admiral, Byng became a member of Parliament in 1751. When the Seven Years' War broke in 1756, the French attacked the island of Minorca in the Mediterranean, a British holding. Byng, stationed in the Channel, was ordered to relieve the island garrison. With a short preparatory time, many of his ships in poor states of repair, and a lack of support, Byng expected the mission to be a failure from the start, and wrote to the Admiralty stating as much. Byng arrived at Minorca on 19 May, but was unable to land any troops before the French fleet arrived the next morning. After an inconclusive fight, Byng withdrew to Gibralter for repairs to his ships. He was ordered home, and court-martialed for failing to prosecute his mission to the utmost of his ability. Found guilty, and denied requests for clemency, Byng was executed by firing squad, 14 March, 1757.