Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V27, Page 64 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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VISCOUNT GEORGE BYNG TORRINGTON (1663-1733), 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 knight-hood. 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 of 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 Com- fairs, and a great market " furnished from far on every quarter, being the most convenient place for occasions of king or county in those parts." The Saturday market is still maintained, but the fairs have been altered to the third Saturday in March and the first Thursday in May. In 1643 Colonel Digby took up his position at Torrington and put to flight a contingent of parliamentary troops; but in 1646 the town was besieged by Sir Thomas Fairfax and finally forced to surrender. The borough records were destroyed by fire in 1724. See Victoria County History: Devonshire; F. T. Colby, History of Great Torrington (1878).

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