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ADMIRAL BYNG CAMPAIGN
Admiral Byng Campaign is a campaign set up to lobby for a complete exoneration of Admiral John Byng, a naval hero wrongly shot in 1757 by sentence of a court martial.
This decision was called "One of the most scandalous evasions of responsibilities that an English Government has ever perpetrated”, by Sir Winston Churchill in the third volume of his acclaimed series,
The History of The English Speaking People.
Justice for a war hero
The Admiral Byng campaign was set up by Thane Byng, a seventh-generation descendant of the Admiral in order to secure a full exoneration for her esteemed relative (unlike a pardon, an exoneration denotes no guilt in the first place)
The Admiral Byng Story
By Ian, Earl of Lauderdale
Admiral Byng was a first class officer sent to his death by a corrupt and incompetent administration bent on covering its own inadequacy by executing him.
In August 1755 the British government was warned of plans by the French to invade and seize Minorca. The reports became more detailed and by November 1755 the government knew that a fleet of 12 ships of the line and 5 frigates were being fitted out to attack Minorca in February or March 1756.
No action was taken until March 1756 when a fleet of 13 ships, mounting 584 guns was selected to defend Minorca. The French fleet had 796 guns and the government was aware of its strength, but nevertheless chose a weaker fleet to defend the island.
Admiral Byng was appointed to command the squadron. Several of the ships were in poor condition and all lacked sufficient crew.
On April 6th, Admiral Byng, having fitted out his fleet left Portsmouth for Minorca -2,800 km away. On April 10th the French fleet left Toulon to sail 300 km to Minorca, where they landed 15,000 troops on 18th April. British forces on the island were 2,800 men.
On the 17th May, three days before Byng reached Minorca, George Bubb Dodington, an associate of Newcastle, wrote to say that there was already a ‘scape goat’ in mind and that the Admiral was chosen to take the blame for Minorca’s loss – which thus was anticipated by the Ministry long before news of the action reached them.
Byng reached Minorca on 20th May and, hampered by the Admiralty’s Fighting Instructions, fought an indecisive action against the French fleet, which then withdrew. He retired to Gibraltar to refit and intended to return to Minorca to blockade the island.
The French account of the action reached London on the 2nd June and the Ministry decided to dismiss Byng from his command. News of the French occupation of Minorca reached London on 8th June. On the 10th June, the Duke of Newcastle, Prime Minister discussed a pamphlet campaign against the Admiral, and paid the author £300 from Secret Service funds in November
Byng’s despatch reached London on the 23rd June, and on 25th June the Government decided to arrest him. His despatch was heavily edited before publication.
The government now mounted a vicious publicity campaign against Byng. In July the Duke of Newcastle wrote to Lord Hardwicke “The government could not avoid some share of the blame, some scheme or measure of offence and attack must be thought of, or we shall be absolutely ruined” Hardwicke should discuss with Lord Anson a defence of the Government in the Commons “and also (which is still of more consequence) for the immediate trial and condemnation of Admiral Byng, if as I think there can be no doubt he deserves it. The sea officers should be learnt (sic) to talk in this matter and not to think to fling the blame upon civil ministers”
Later in July Newcastle wrote to Lord Nugent to place the blame on Byng: “I thought I could not avoid touching upon the Loss of Minorca; I thought it not fair, to lay the Loss expressly upon Byng, Tho’ there it will, & must be laid, & there only.”
In a meeting with representatives of the City of London Newcastle replied to a demand from the City for vengeance on Byng, with the words, "Oh, indeed, he shall be tried and hanged directly!"
The Admiral was then charged under the 12th Article of War, “That every person who shall in time of action withdraw, or keep back, or not come into fight, or who shall not do his utmost & through Motive’s of Cowardice, Negligence, or Disaffection, shall suffer Death.”
The only effective defence to this charge would be annihilation of the enemy, and the death penalty was mandatory on conviction.
In December 1756 Byng was tried by a court martial consisting of nine admirals, selected by Lord Anson, whose own reputation in this matter – in the selection of the ships and their crewing – was potentially under attack. Several captains whose ships were in Portsmouth joined the court.
Before the trial began a member of the Board of Admiralty wrote “Well, say what you will, we shall have a majority, and he will be condemned”
It took the admirals five days to persuade the captains to convict. Byng was expressly acquitted of charges of cowardice and disaffection, but convicted of failure to “do his utmost”. Despite pleas from William Pitt, the Prime Minister who succeeded Newcastle, King George II refused to grant clemency as recommended by the court, and the Admiral was shot on 14th March 1757.
This is an appalling tale of government incompetence in failing to respond promptly to a threat, followed by villainy in planning and implementing the death of an officer to divert attention from the administration’s failures.
“To the Perpetual Disgrace of Public Justice, the Honourable John Byng Esq, Admiral of the Blue, fell a Martyr to Political Persecution….when Bravery and Loyalty were Insufficient Securites for the Life and Honour of a Naval Officer”
Admiral Byng's tombstone
More material related to Admiral Byng (compiled by ABC Supporter, Ian, Earl of Lauderdale)
Books dealing with Admiral Byng
The distinguished jurist F.E.Smith included Admiral Byng’s court-martial in his collection of notable British cases, More Famous Trials. Military historian Michael Scott devoted a chapter of his book, Scapegoats: Thirteen Victims of Military Injustice, to Admiral Byng.
The latest research
Dr Joe Krulder is the leading expert on the Admiral Byng case, and his research forms a key part of the campaign to win a full exoneration. Here is his Doctoral thesis on the conspiracy to frame Byn. His blog is also worth reading.
Who's supporting us
Founder and Co-Chair - Ms Thane Byng "We / ABC will never give up"
Chair - Nigel Pascoe QC
Byng Descendants - Tim, Viscount Torrington "Well done" [to all ABC supporters], Mrs Sarah Saunders-
Davies, Mr Chris Byng-Maddick, Dr John Byng-Hall "Keep going", William, Earl of Strafford,
Colonel (retired) Arthur B. Byng, The Hon Kristina Elizabeth Byng
LSE Alumni - Ms Thane Byng (BA Social Anthropology – late 80s – UCL in 90s ), Ms Susanna Ferrer (BA Soc. Anth. 1978 – 81), Dr.Mathew Partridge, (PhD Economic History 2005 – 11), Mr. Tom Pine (Bsc Geog. 82 – 85),
Mr. Kenneth Venables MBE (Bsc Econ – Economic History 82 - 85). Mr Robert Nelson, Mr Chris Byng-Maddick and Mrs Mary Venables join the team as 'Friends'
Other Prominent Supporters - HH Peter Cowell, Admiral Nick Wilkinson, Ian, Earl of Lauderdale, Mr David Hilton, Mr Nico Rodenburgh, Mr Robert Nelson, HH Roger Cooke (RIP), Mr Charles Edward Samuel Whitbread,
Mrs Jane Elizabeth Whitbread, Derek Smith (award winning producer and director),
Ian Potts (award winning producer/director/cameramen), Dr Joe Krulder
The late John Taylor QC said "Never give up seeking exoneration. The law does not prevent the presentation of multiple petitions. Hammer them (the authorities)!"
HH Derwent Hope also gave a moving eulogy to Admiral Byng on 14th March 2017, stating that "Justice demands that our Sovereign rectifies the legacy that is properly due to Admiral John Byng, and a fitting memorial granted to him [an exoneration] for his courage and service to a Country that he loved."