The successful French invasion of the British held island of Minorca initiated the Seven Years War (or at least the Anglo-French component in the European theatre). The trial and subsequent execution of Admiral John Byng after his failure to defeat a French fleet and then relieve Port Mahon was a low point in British naval history. The following account of Byng's abortive campaign, trial and execution is taken from William Laird Clowes "The Royal Navy: a History from the earliest times to the present"
The British Ministry was very negligent in the matter of Minorca. It is quite clear that as early as October, 1755, it had received intelligence that the expedition preparing at Toulon was destined for that island; and that French reports to the same effect reached it in November and December, as well as later. Yet it took no proper measures for the defence of the place, the reason apparently being that, at that time, it undervalued the importance of the position. The military command of the island was in the hands of General William Blakeney, an officer in his eighty-second year, who was so infirm that when Port Mahon was besieged by the Duc de Richelieu, he, though mentally very active, was obliged to spend great part of his time in bed. The garrison also was very weak, and most of the officers belonging to it were on leave until some time after the French expedition had sailed from Toulon. Moreover, the British squadron in the Mediterranean, including as it did only three ships of the line and a few small craft, was a serious danger rather than a source of strength.
Yet at length public opinion in England insisted that something must be done; and on March 11th, 1756, Vice-Admiral the Hon. John Byng was appointed to the command of a fleet, which was then ordered to proceed to Minorca. The position of second in command was given to Rear-Admiral Temple West. But this fleet, which should have been a large and powerful one, was by no means of formidable proportions. It consisted only of ten sail of the line; and even those few ships were not fitted out without the greatest difficulty and friction. At that late date the Ministry seems to have been still blind to the importance of Minorca. There were at the moment twenty-seven ships of the line cruising in the Channel and Bay of Biscay, twenty-eight ships of the line in commission at home, and many small craft, which might have been detailed for the service. But Byng was not permitted to utilise any of these, or to draw crews from them; and his mission was evidently regarded as a wholly subsidiary one. He was directed to take on board the absent officers of the Minorca garrison and a reinforcement of troops, consisting of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, under the command of Colonel Lord Robert Bertie. To make room for these men, all the Marines belonging to the squadron were sent on shore, with the result that, had Byng been successful in throwing troops into Port Mahon, he would, owing to the absence of Marines from his ships, have been in a condition unfit for subsequently fighting an action at sea.
The Vice-Admiral prepared his fleet with as much dispatch as possible, and sailed from St. Helen's on April 6th, arriving at Gibraltar on May 2nd. He was there joined by some of the ships, which, under Captain the Hon. George Edgcumbe, were already in the Mediterranean; and he received intelligence that the Toulon squadron had landed a French army in Minorca, and that the enemy was already in possession of almost every strong position in the island. Byng communicated to General Fowke, the Governor of Gibraltar, an order from home to the effect that, subject to certain conditions, a detachment from the garrison, equal to a battalion of men, was to be embarked on board the fleet. But General Fowke and his advisers came to the conclusion, firstly, that it would be extremely dangerous, if not impracticable, to throw succour into Port Mahon; and secondly, that the garrison of Gibraltar was already too weak to spare the specified detachment without danger to itself. Yet as the fleet was in great want of men, and as Edgcumbe's ships had left their Marines, and some of their seamen, in Minorca to assist in the work of defence, the Governor permitted 1 captain, 6 subalterns, 9 sergeants, 11 corporals, 5 drummers and 200 privates to embark, it being represented to him that, without such reinforcement, several of the ships would be absolutely unable to go into action.
Captain Edgcumbe, with his little squadron, had been obliged to retire from off Minorca upon the appearance of the French. He had left behind him Captain Carr Scrope of the Dolphin, who commanded the naval detachment on shore, and who was to act as signal officer in the event of the appearance of a British squadron before the island. Ere Byng, with an easterly wind, sailed from Gibraltar on May 8th, he had been joined by the whole of Captain Edgcumbe's little force, excepting the Phoenix, which had been blockaded at Palma, Majorca, by two French frigates, and which was only able to get out upon the appearance of the British fleet off that island. The wind was for the most part easterly until 9 P.M. on the 18th, when a brisk northerly breeze sprang up; and the squadron, having sailed large all night, sighted Minorca at daybreak next morning. Byng at once sent ahead the Phoenix, Chesterfield and Dolphin to reconnoitre the mouth of Mahon Harbour, to pick up intelligence, and to endeavour to send ashore a letter to General Blakeney. Captain the Hon. Augustus John Hervey, the senior officer of the advanced squadron, drew in with the shore and endeavoured to communicate with the castle of St. Philip; but, before he could effect anything, the enemy's fleet appeared in the S.E., and the detachment had to be recalled.
Vice-Admiral Byng then stood towards the foe and made the signal for a general chase. Both squadrons made sail towards one another; and at 2 P.M. the British Commander-in-Chief made the signal for a line of battle ahead. But, the wind dropping, this order could not be properly carried out. In the meantime he took the precaution of reinforcing such of the ships as were most weakly manned, by means of drafts from the frigates; and he directed that the Phoenix, which had been reported as unfit for general service, should be made ready to act as a fireship in case of necessity. At about six o'clock in the evening the enemy advanced in order, with twelve ships of the line and five frigates; the van being commanded by M. Glandevez, the centre by M. de La Galissonnière, and the rear by M. de La Clue. An hour later the French tacked, and went away a distance of about six miles, with a view to gaining the weather-gage; and Byng, to preserve that advantage, tacked likewise. On the following morning two tartars, which had been sent out by M. de Richelieu with soldiers to reinforce M. de La Galissonnière, were chased by the British ships, one of them being taken by the Defiance, and the other escaping. That morning at daybreak, the weather was hazy, and the enemy was not at once seen; but, a little later, he came in sight in the S.E.
Captain Mahan's account of the action [Influence of Sea Power upon History, 286-287] which followed may be here quoted, as it admirably summarizes what occurred.
"The two fleets," he writes, "having sighted each other on the morning of May 20th, were found after a series of manoeuvres both on the port tack, with an easterly wind, heading southerly, the French to leeward, between the English and the harbour. Byng ran down in line ahead off the wind, the French remaining by it, so that when the former made the signal to engage, the fleets were not parallel, but formed an angle of from 30 to 40 . The attack which Byng by his own account meant to make, each ship against its opposite in the enemy's line, difficult to carry out under any circumstances, was here further impeded by the distance between the two rears being much greater than that between the vans; so that his whole line could not come into action at the same moment. When the signal was made, the van ships kept away in obedience to it, and ran down for the French so nearly head on as to sacrifice their artillery fire in great measure. They received three raking broadsides and were seriously dismantled aloft. The sixth English ship" (Intrepid) "counting from the van, had her foretopmast shot away, flew up, into the wind, and came aback, stopping and doubling up the rear of the line. Then undoubtedly was the time for Byng, having committed himself to the fight, to have set the example and borne down, just as Farragut did at Mobile when his line was confused by the stopping of the next ahead; but according to the testimony of the flag-captain, Mathews's sentence deterred him. 'You see, Captain Gardiner, that the signal for the line is out, and that I am ahead of the ships Louisa and Trident' (which in the order should have been ahead of him). 'You would not have me, as admiral of the fleet, run down as if I were going to engage a single ship. It was Mr. Mathews's misfortune to be prejudiced by not carrying down his force together, which I shall endeavour to avoid.' [This refers to Admiral Thomas Mathews who was cashiered after the battle of Toulon on 11 February 1744 in which he failed to keep his Line toegether]. The affair thus became indecisive; the English van was separated from the rear and got the brunt of the fight. One French authority blames Galissonnière for not tacking to windward of the enemy's van and crushing it. Another says he ordered the movement, but that it could not be made from the damage to the rigging; but this seems improbable, as the only injury the French squadron underwent aloft was the loss of one topsail-yard, whereas the English suffered very badly. The true reason is probably that given and approved by one of the French authorities on naval warfare. Galissonnière considered the support of the land attack on Port Mahon paramount to any destruction of the English fleet, though he thereby exposed his own. 'The French navy has always preferred the glory of assuring or preserving a conquest to that, more brilliant perhaps, but actually less real, of taking some ships; and therein it has approached more nearly the true end that has been proposed in war.' The justice of this conclusion depends upon the view that is taken of the true end of naval war."
The losses in killed and wounded were nearly equal; but the French lost no officers of rank, whereas in Byng's fleet Captain Andrews, of the Defiance, was killed, and Captain Noel, of the Princess Louisa, was mortally wounded. The British ships also suffered much more than the French in their masts, yards and rigging; so much so, in fact, that Byng deemed it right, before venturing to do anything further, to call a council of war on board the Ramillies, and to summon to it not only the naval officers, but also several of the land officers who were on board the ships. The questions debated in this council, and the conclusions arrived at, were as follows:
As a result, the squadron sailed for Gibraltar, and, on the way, occupied itself in repairing such damages as could be repaired at sea. At the Rock the Admiral (on June 4, 176, Byng was promoted to Admiral of the Blue) found reenforcements which had been sent out to him under Commodore Thomas Broderick, the Ministry, after Byng's departure from England, having apparently realised for the first time the full extent of the danger in the Mediterranean.
It was unfortunate for Byng that the first detailed news of what had happened off Minorca reached the Government through French channels. M. de La Galissonnière's dispatch cannot now be found in the Archives de la Marine in Paris, and possibly it no longer exists; but a copy of it, or a translation, reached the Secretary of the Admiralty some time before Byng's own dispatch arrived in England; and upon the former the Government took action, recalling Byng and West, and sending out Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke and Rear-Admiral Charles Saunders to supersede them. The important part of this dispatch of La Galissonnière's is as follows:
"At half-past two in the afternoon the two squadrons were in line of battle and began the engagement. The English consisted of eighteen sail, of which thirteen were of the line, and ours, of twelve sail of the line and four frigates. The action lasted almost three hours and a half, but was not general during the whole of the time. The English ships that had suffered most from our broadsides got away to the windward, out of gunshot. They continually preserved this advantage that they might keep clear of us as they pleased. After having made their greatest efforts against our rear division, which they found so close and from which they received so hot a fire that they could not break in upon it, they made up their minds to sheer off, and did not appear again during the whole of the next day, the 21st. Speaking generally, none of their ships long withstood the fire of ours. Our vessels suffered but little. They were repaired in the night, and on the following morning were fit for action." . . . " Our total killed was thirty-eight, and wounded one hundred and fifteen."
It may here be pointed out, in passing, that this report makes the British fleet to have been considerably superior to the French, whereas if there were any real difference between them it was only a very slight one; and that it does not agree, in other respects, with the facts as they are now accepted.
Before going further, it is right to print the dispatch which Byng addressed to the Admiralty on May 25th, and in which he gave his version oft what had happened. It is right also to say that the Admiralty, after receiving this dispatch, kept it for some time before making it public, and that, when it did publish it, gave it to the world in a mutilated condition. The complete dispatch was printed by Byng after his return to England, and ran as follows:
Ramillies, off Minorca, May 25th, 1756.
"SIR, I have the pleasure to desire that you will acquaint their Lordships that, having sailed from Gibraltar the 8th, I got off Mahon the 19th, having been joined by his Majesty's ship Phoenix off Majorca two days before, by whom I had confirmed the intelligence I had received at Gibraltar, of the strength of the French fleet, and of their being off Mahon. His Majesty's colours were still flying at the castle of St. Philip; and I could perceive several bomb-batteries playing on it from different parts. French colours I saw flying on the west part of St. Philip. I dispatched the Phoenix, Chesterfield, and Dolphin ahead, to reconnoitre the harbour's mouth; and Captain Hervey to endeavour to land a letter for General Blakeney, to let him know the fleet was here to his assistance; though every one was of the opinion we could be of no use to him; as, by all accounts, no place was secured for covering a landing, could we have spared the people. The Phoenix was also to make the private signal between Captain Hervey and Captain Scrope, as this latter would undoubtedly come off, if it were practicable, having kept the Dolphin's barge with him: but the enemy's fleet appearing to the south-east, and the wind at the same time coming strong off the land, obliged me to call these ships in, before they could get quite so near the entrance of the harbour as to make sure what batteries or guns might be placed to prevent our having any communication with the castle. Falling little wind, it was five before I could form my line, or distinguish any of the enemy's motions; and could not judge at all of their force, more than by numbers, which were seventeen, and thirteen appeared large. They at first stood towards us in regular line; and tacked about seven; which I judged was to endeavour to gain the wind of us m the night; so that, being late, I tacked in order to keep the weather-gage of them, as well as to make sure of the land wind in the morning, being very hazy, and not above five leagues from Cape Mola. We tacked off towards the enemy at eleven; and at daylight had no sight of them. But two tartars, with the French private signal, being close in with the rear of our fleet, I sent the PRINCESS LOUISA to chase one, and made signal for the Rear-Admiral, who was nearest the other, to send ships to chase her. The PRINCESS LOUISA, DEFIANCE, and CAPTAIN, became at a great distance; but the DEFIANCE took hers, which had two captains, two lieutenants, and one hundred and two private soldiers, who were sent out the day before with six hundred men on board tartars, to reinforce the French fleet on our appearing off that place. The PHOENIX, on Captain Hervey's offer, prepared to serve as a fire-ship, but without damaging her as a frigate; till the signal was made to prime, when she was then to scuttle her decks, everything else prepared, as the time and place allowed of.
"The enemy now began to appear from the mast-head. I called in the cruisers; and, when they had joined me, I tacked towards the enemy, and formed the line ahead. I found the French; were preparing theirs to leeward, having unsuccessfully endeavoured to weather me. They were twelve large ships of the line, and five frigates.
"As soon as I judged the rear of our fleet the length of their van, we tacked altogether, and immediately made the signal for the ships that led to lead large, and for the DEPTFORD to quit the line, that ours might become equal to theirs. At two I made the signal to engage: I found it was the surest method of ordering every ship to close down on the one that fell to their lot. And here I must express my great satisfaction at the very gallant manner in which the Rear-Admiral set the van the example, by instantly bearing down on the ships he was to engage, with his second, and who occasioned one of the French ships to begin the engagement, which they did by raking ours as they went down. The INTREPID, unfortunately, in the very beginning, had her foretopmast shot away; and as that hung on her foretopsail, and backed it, he had no command of his ship, his fore-tack and all his braces being cut at the same time; so that he drove on the next ship to him, and obliged that and the ships ahead of me to throw all back. This obliged me to do also for some minutes, to avoid their falling on board me though not before we had drove our adversary out of the line, who put before the wind, and had several shots fired at him by his own admiral. This not only caused the enemy's centre to be unattached, but the Rear-Admiral's division rather uncovered for some little time. I sent and called to the ships ahead of me to make sail, and go down on the enemy; and ordered the Chesterfield to lay by the INTREPID, and the DEPTFORD to supply the INTREPID'S place. I found the enemy edged away constantly; and as they went three feet to our one, they would never permit our closing with them, but took advantage of destroying our rigging; for though I closed the Rear-Admiral fast, I found that I could not gain close to the enemy, whose van was fairly drove from their line; but their admiral was joining them, by bearing away.
"By this time it was past six, and the enemy's van and ours were at too great a distance to engage, I perceived some of their ships stretching to the northward; and I imagined they were going to form a new line. I made the signal for the headmost ships to tack, and those that led before with the larboard tacks to lead with the starboard, that I might, by the first, keep (if possible) the wind of the enemy, and, by the second, between the Rear-Admiral's division and the enemy, as he had suffered most; as also to cover the INTREPID, which I perceived to be in very bad condition, and whose loss would give the balance very greatly against us, if they attacked us next morning as I expected. I brought to about eight that night to join the INTREPID, and to refit our ships as fast as possible, and continued doing so all night. The next morning we saw nothing of the enemy, though we were still lying to. Mahon was N.N.W about ten or eleven leagues. I sent cruisers to look out for the INTREPID and CHESTERFIELD, who joined me next day. And having, from a state and condition of the squadron brought me in, found, that the CAPTAIN, INTREPID, and DEFIANCE (which latter has lost her captain), were much damaged in their masts, so that they were in danger of not being able to secure their masts properly at sea; and also, that the squadron in general were very sickly, many killed and wounded, and nowhere to put a third of their number if I made an hospital of the forty-gun ship, which was not easy at sea; I thought it proper in this situation to call a council of war, before I went again to look for the enemy. I desired the attendance of General Stuart, Lord Effingham, and Lord Robert Bertie, and Colonel Cornwallis, that I might collect their opinions upon the present situation of Minorca and Gibraltar, and make sure of protecting the latter, since it was found impracticable either to succour or relieve the former with the force we had. So, though we may justly claim the victory, yet we are much inferior to the weight of their ships, though the numbers are equal; and they have the advantage of sending to Minorca their wounded, and getting reinforcements of seamen from their transports, and soldiers from their camp; all which undoubtedly has been done in this time that we have been lying to to refit, and often in sight of Minorca; and their ships have mole than once appeared in a line from our mast-heads.
"I send their Lordships the resolutions of the council of war, in which there was not the least contention or doubt arose. 1 hope, indeed, we shall fid stores to refit us at Gibraltar; and, if I have any reinforcement, will not lose a moment of time to seek the enemy again, and once more give them battle, though they have a great advantage in being clean ships that go three feet to our one, and therefore have their choice how they will engage us, or if they will at all; and will never let us close them, as their sole view is the disabling our ships, in which they have but too well succeeded, though we obliged them to bear up.
"I do not send their Lordships the particulars of our losses and damages by this, as it would take me much time; and I am willing none should be lost in letting them know an event of such consequence.
"I cannot help urging their Lordships for a reinforcement, if none are yet sailed on their knowledge of the enemy's strength in these seas, and which, by very good intelligence, will in a few days be strengthened by four more large ships from Toulon, almost ready to sail, if not sailed, to join these.
"I dispatch this to Sir Benjamin Keene, by way of Barcelona; and am making the best of my way to cover Gibraltar, from which place I propose sending their Lordships a more particular account. I remain, Sir, your most humble servant,
"Hon. JOHN CLEVLAND, ESQ."
The above dispatch appears to have arrived in England on June 16th; but it was not published in the London Gazette until June 26th, and then only with the omission of those passages which are now printed in italics. The omissions, it is clear, were somewhat unfair, and, being calculated to prejudice Byng, they show the bias of the Ministry, which, previously inclined to underrate the importance of Minorca, at length seemed disposed to attach the utmost significance to it. The dispatch is, however, an unsatisfactory one, even as it stands. It is too full of excuses, too apologetic, to be the work of a strong and self-reliant man. It smacks, indeed, more of a Persano [Admiral C.P. di Persano?] than of a Nelson or a Saumarez.
To avoid a break in the narrative, it may here be said that the town of Port Mahon defended itself gallantly, but had to capitulate, on June 29th, on honourable terms. The garrison was sent to England.
Commodore Broderick, with the reinforcement, had reached Gibraltar on June 15th, and was there found by Byng on his arrival there on June 19th. The Admiral at once began preparations to return to Minorca; but, while he was still engaged in these, on July 3rd, the Antelope, 50, came in with Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, Rear-Admiral Charles Saunders, and the order for the supersession of the Commander-in-Chief and Rear Admiral West.
She had sailed from home on June 16th. Captains Gardiner and Everitt, Captain William Gough (who had been a lieutenant of the Ramillies, and who had since been appointed captain of the Experiment), and Commander Christopher Basset (who had also been a lieutenant of the Ramillies and had been appointed after the action to the command of the Fortune), were also recalled, besides other officers, who were required as witnesses in England. The original order to Hawke directed only the supersession of Byng; but after Hawke's departure from England and the receipt of Byng's dispatch of May 25th, the Admiralty decided to go further and to make prisoner of the late Commander-in- Chief. He sailed for England in the Antelope, on July 9th, and, upon arriving at Spithead on July 26th, he was put under arrest. He was landed on August 19th and sent to Greenwich. There he remained in confinement until December 23rd, when he was removed to Portsmouth. His trial began on board the St. George in Portsmouth Harbour on December 27th, and continued until January 27th, 1757. On that day sentence was pronounced, and the Admiral was transferred to the Monarch, then in harbour.
The court-martial, summoned to try Byng, consisted of Vice Admiral Thomas Smith, who was president, Rear-Admirals Francis Holburne, Harry Norris and Thomas Broderick, and nine captains. After hearing the evidence, the court agreed to thirty-seven resolutions or conclusions, which embodied, among others, the following:
In short, the court considered that Byng had not done his utmost to relieve St. Philip's Castle. It also considered that during the engagement he had not done his utmost to take, sink, burn, and destroy the ships of the enemy, and to assist such of his own ships as were engaged; and it resolved that the Admiral had fallen under the 12th Article of War; and the court decided that, as the 12th Article of War positively prescribed death, without leaving any alternative to the discretion of the court under any variation of circumstances, Admiral Byng should be shot to death, at such time and on board such ship as the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty should direct.
"But," concludes the thirty-seventh resolution, "as it appears by the evidence of Lord Robert Bertie, Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, Captain Gardiner and other officers of the ship, who were near the person of the Admiral, that they did not perceive any backwardness in him during the action, or any marks of fear or confusion, either from his countenance or behaviour, but that he seemed to give his orders coolly and distinctly, and did not seem wanting in personal courage, and from other circumstances, the court do not believe that his misconduct arose either from cowardice or disaffection; and do therefore unanimously think it their duty most earnestly to recommend him as a proper object of mercy."
The court forwarded the sentence to the Admiralty, with an accompanying letter signed by all the members. In this the officers represented the distress of mind which had been occasioned to them by being obliged to condemn to death, under the 12th Article of War, a man who might have been guilty of an error of judgment only; and, for the sake of their consciences, as well as for Byng's sake, they warmly pleaded for an exercise of clemency.
In consequence of this letter, and of the recommendation to mercy, the opinion of the twelve Judges was asked for as to the legality of the sentence which had been pronounced. The decision was given on February 14th, 1757, and was to the effect that the sentence was legal. Some of the members of the court then made an effort to save Byng by applying to Parliament to release them from the oath of secrecy, by which they were bound not to reveal the votes or opinions of individual members, upon the allegation that they had something vital to disclose relative to the sentence. Byng was respited, and a Bill for the desired purpose passed the Commons, but was thrown out by the Lords, it not appearing to that House that there was anything material to be divulged. The fact is, that certain members simply desired to be able to make public the fact that, had they realised that the result of their sentence would be the infliction of the death penalty, their sentence would have been other than it was. The severity of the punishment caused Vice-Admiral the Hon. John Forbes, one of the Lords of the Admiralty, to refuse to sign the sentence, and it also induced Rear-Admiral West, who had been offered a command, to decline it, on the plea that although he could answer for his loyalty and good intentions, he could not undertake to be held capitally responsible on all occasions for the correctness of his judgment.
Byng, both during his trial and after his sentence, behaved like a brave man. It was at first ordered that he should be executed on the forecastle of the Monarch. This ignominy was, however, spared him at the solicitation of his friends. On March 14th, 1757, the day appointed for the carrying out of the sentence, the Marines of the Monarch were drawn up under arms upon the poop, along the gangways, in the waist, and on one side of the quarterdeck. On the other side of the quarterdeck was spread some saw-dust, on which was placed a cushion; and in the middle of the quarterdeck, upon the gratings, a platoon of nine Marines was drawn up in three lines of three. The front and middle lines had their bayonets fixed, as was customary on such occasions. The captains of all the ships in Portsmouth Harbour and at Spithead had been ordered to attend with their boats; but, to avoid crowding, they were directed to lie abreast upon their oars, without coming on board. A little before twelve o'clock, the Admiral retired to his inner cabin for about three minutes, after which the doors of the outer cabin were thrown open, and the Admiral walked from his after cabin with a dignified pace and unmoved countenance. As he passed through the fore cabin, he bowed to his acquaintances there, and, saying to the Marshal of the Admiralty "Come along, my friend," went out upon the quarterdeck. There, turning to the Marshal, he politely bowed and gave him a paper containing a sober vindication of his position, adding: "Remember, sir, what I have told you relative to this paper." He next went to the cushion and knelt down. One of his friends, following him, offered to tie the bandage over his eyes, but Byng declined the service and blindfolded himself. The Marines, in the meantime, advanced two paces and presented their muskets, waiting for the Admiral to give them the signal to fire. He remained upon his knees for about a minute, apparently praying, and then dropped a handkerchief, the signal agreed upon. Six of the Marines fired. One bullet missed; one passed through the heart; and four others struck different parts of the body. The Admiral sank to the deck, dead.
A little later the corpse was put into a coffin; and in the evening it was sent on shore to the dockyard, whence it was forwarded to the family burial place at Southill, in Bedfordshire. His monument bears this inscription: " To the Perpetual Disgrace of Public Justice, the Hon. John Byng, Esq., Admiral of the Blue, fell a Martyr to Political Persecution, March 14th, in the year MDCCLVII; when Bravery and Loyalty were insufficient Securities for the Life and Honour of a Naval Officer."
The tragedy, viewed from nearly every aspect, is to be most heartily regretted. Byng was neither traitor nor coward; but he was not an original genius, and, having seen Mathews punished for doing a certain thing, he believed that under no circumstances was it his duty to do anything even remotely of the same kind. His chief fault was that he was not independent enough, where a great object was to be gained, to shake himself loose from formulae and precedents, and to dash in when occasion allowed him. Yet, in one way, the sentence may have been productive of good. It may have taught the admirals who followed the unfortunate Byng, that they must pay more attention to victory than to red tape, and that not even the most honest devotion to conventional methods is so great a merit in a naval officer as success against the enemies of his country.