Admiral John Byng

Admiral John Byng

The French writer, Voltaire (1694-1778), said 'In this country [England] it is thought well to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others' - a very harsh comment at the expense of Admiral John Byng (1704-1757).

The French writer, Voltaire (16941778), said 'In this country [England] it is thought well to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others' a very harsh comment at the expense of Admiral John Byng (1704-1757).

In 1756, a fleet under Byng's command sailed for the Mediterranean to support British forces in Menorca. On arrival, Byng found the garrison in Port Mahon besieged by French forces. After an indecisive action with the French fleet covering their invasion, Byng returned to Gibraltar. Port Mahon surrendered a month later.

On his return to England, Byng was arrested and tried by Court Martial under the provisions of the 12th Article of War: 'Every person in the fleet, who through cowardice, negligence or disaffection... shall not do his utmost to take or destroy every ship which it shall be his duty to engage; every such person so offending, and being convicted thereof by the sentence of a court-martial, shall suffer death'.

The hostility of public opinion and the bitter atmosphere of the politics of the time, together with the implacable wording of the 12th Article, left no room for clemency. Byng went bravely to his execution by firing squad on the quarterdeck of HMS Monarch.

It has not been necessary to shoot an admiral since then.