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Byng, John

Byng, John (1704–57). Byng's naval career got off to a flying start. He was a younger son of Viscount Torrington ( George Byng), the hero of the naval victory over the Spaniards at Cape Passaro and 1st lord of the Admiralty 1727–33. He entered the navy at 14, was present at Cape Passaro, and reached rear admiral in 1745. Six years later he was brought into Parliament as a government supporter for Rochester. On the outbreak of war in 1756 he was dispatched to the Mediterranean with a squadron to protect Minorca, under threat from the French. He found an enemy force landed on the island and a French fleet cruising outside. Byng's ships engaged the enemy but came off worse and Byng retired to Gibraltar, leaving Minorca to its fate. When it surrendered, the outcry was thunderous. Byng was recalled at once, court-martialled, and sentenced to death for not doing his utmost to engage, though with a recommendation to mercy. The recommendation was ignored and he was shot on the quarter-deck of the Monarque in Portsmouth harbour. Byng died with courage and composure and the memorial at Southill insisted that he had been the victim of political persecution. Voltaire's Candide, published in 1759, contained the famous observation that the English liked to shoot an admiral from time to time, pour encourager les autres.

J. A. Cannon

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Byng, John

John Byng, 1704–57, British admiral; son of George Byng, Viscount Torrington. Sent (1756) to prevent the French from taking Minorca, he arrived when the island was already under siege and, after an indecisive naval engagement, withdrew without relieving the siege. His court-martial and execution for "failure to do his utmost" brought charges that he had been used as a scapegoat for ministerial failure and prompted Voltaire's suggestion (in Candide) that from time to time the British find it desirable to shoot an admiral "pour encourager les autres" [to encourage the others].

See study by D. B. E. Pope (1962).

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