1st Viscount Torrington (1721-1733)
First Lord of the Admiralty
Born 1663 Died 1733
George Byng, English admiral, was born at Wrotham, Kent. His father, John Byng, was compelled by pecuniary losses to sell his property and his son entered the navy as a king's letter boy (see Navy) in 1678. He served in a ship stationed at Tangier, and for a time left the navy to enter one of the regiments of the garrison, but in 1683 he returned to the navy as lieutenant, and went to the East Indies in the following year.
During the year 1688, he had an active share in bringing the fleet over to the Prince of Orange, and by the success of the Revolution his fortune was made. In 1702 he was appointed to the command of the Nassau, and was at the taking and burning of the French fleet at Vigo, and the next year he was made Rear-Admiral of the Red. In 1704 he served in the Mediterranean under Sir Cloudesley Shovel, and reduced Gibraltar. He was in the battle of Malaga, and for his gallantry received the honour of knighthood. In 1708 as Admiral of the Blue he commanded the squadron which baffled the attempt of the Old Pretender to land in Scotland.
In 1718 he commanded the fleet which defeated the Spaniards off Cape Passaro and compelled them to withdraw from their invasion of Sicily. This commission he executed so well that the king made him a handsome present and sent him full powers to negotiate with the princes and states of Italy. Byng procured for the emperor's troops free access into the fortresses which still held out in Sicily, sailed afterwards to Malta, and brought out the Sicilian galleys and a ship belonging to the Turkey Company. By his advice and assistance the Germans retook the city of Messina in 1719, and destroyed the ships which lay in the basin, an achievement which completed the ruin ot the naval power of Spain. To his conduct it was entirely owing that Sicily was subdued and the king of Spain forced to accept the terms prescribed him by the Quadruple Alliance.
On his return to England in 1721 he was made Rear-Admiral of Great Britain, a member of the privy council, Baron Byng of Southill, in the county of Bedford and Viscount Torrington in Devonshire. He was also made one of the Knights Companions of the Bath upon the revival of that order in 1725. In 1727 George II on his accession made him First Lord of the Admiralty, and his administration was distinguished by the establishment of the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth. He died on the 17th of January 1733, and was buried at Southill, in Bedfordshire. Two of his eleven sons, Pattee (1699-1747) and George (1701-1750), became respectively the 2nd and 3rd viscounts. The title is still held by the descendants of the latter.
See Memoirs relating to Lord Torrington, Camden Society, new series 46, and A True Account of the Expedition of the British Fleet to Sicily 1718-1720, published anonymously, but known to be by Thomas Corbett of the admiralty in 1739. Forbin's Memoirs contain the French side of the expedition to Scotland in 1708.
Being the entry for TORRINGTON, GEORGE BYNG, VISCOUNT in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.