BYNG, Sir John (1772-1860), of 6 Portman Square, Mdx. and Bellaghy, co. Londonderry
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Family and Educationb. 1772, 3rd s. of George Byng† (d. 1789) of Wrotham Park, Mdx. and Anne, da. of William Conolly† of Castletown, co. Kildare; bro. of George Byng*. educ. Westminster 1786. m. (1) 14 June 1804, Mary Stevens (d. 17 June 1806), da. and coh. of Peter Mackenzie of Grove House, Twickenham, Mdx., 1s.; (2) 9 May 1808, Marianne, da. of Sir Walter James James, 1st bt., of Langley Hall, Berks., 1s. 3da. (1 d.v.p.). KCB 2 Jan. 1815; GCH 1826; GCB 6 June 1831; cr. Bar. Strafford 12 May 1835; earl of Strafford 18 Sept. 1847; suc. bro. George to Wrotham 1847. d. 3 June 1860.
Ensign 33 Ft. 1793, lt. 1793, capt. 1794; maj. 60 Ft. 1799; lt.-col. 29 Ft. 1800; capt. and lt.-col. 3 Ft. Gds. 1804; brevet col. 1810; brig.-gen. 1811; maj.-gen. 1813; col. York infantry vols. 1815-16, 4 W.I. Reg. 1816-19, 2 W.I. Regt. 1822; lt.-gen. 1825; col. 29 Ft. 1828; c.-in-c. [I] 1828-31; gen. 1841; col. 2 Ft. Gds. 1850-d.; f.m. 1855.
PC [I] 9 Aug. 1828; gov. Londonderry and Culmore 1832-d.
When Byng rather belatedly began his army career, his eldest brother had been a Foxite Member of Parliament for over three years. He served in the Flanders campaigns of 1793-5, was active in the suppression of the Irish rebellion in 1798 and was stationed in Nova Scotia, 1802-4. He participated in the expeditions to Hanover (1805), Copenhagen (1807) and Walcheren (1809).1 In 1811 he joined the Peninsular army, recommended to Wellington by the duke of York, the commander-in-chief, as ‘an intelligent and excellent officer’.2 From then until 1814 he commanded a brigade in the second division under Lord Hill and was present at most of the major engagements of those years. For his intrepid conduct at Bayonne, 18 Dec. 1813, he was permitted to bear the colours of the 31st Foot, which he had planted in the enemy lines, as ‘an honourable augmentation to his arms’. At Waterloo, where he was slightly wounded, he commanded the second brigade of Guards and Captain Gronow later wrote that ‘no individual officer more distinguished himself’.3 He subsequently led the advance on Paris and occupied the heights of Montmârtre. In addition to his recent British knighthood, he also received those of Maria Theresa of Austria and St. George of Russia.4 He took the command of the Eastern district in October 1815 and soon afterwards transferred to the Northern, where he was confronted with unrest in the industrial areas. He had no direct role in the Peterloo incident, but endorsed his subordinate’s actions. In later October 1819 he conferred with the home secretary Lord Sidmouth and York over the precautions to be taken against an anticipated general rising; and before returning north he told Wellington, who had advised him how best to deploy his forces, that the Cato Street conspirator Arthur Thistlewood’s replacement of Henry Hunt* as the idol of the northern radicals was ‘a convincing proof of how anxious they are for immediate revolution’.5 It was reported in April 1820 that he was ‘heartily tired of and harassed by his command, but he does not feel it right to give it up’; in December 1821 he informed the duke of Portland that he was hankering to ‘get back into the service’, hopefully in his old corps.6
Byng was on good terms with Sidmouth’s successor Peel, to whom he suggested in 1822 that government might relieve distressed agriculturists by spending about £1,500,000 on the purchase of corn at the current low prices and warehousing it until the price reached 72s. Peel was ‘not very partial’ to the idea, which Byng promptly recanted. By the end of 1825 he could report on the manifestation of ‘every symptom of prosperity’ in the manufacturing districts.7 Earlier that year Charles Williams Wynn*, president of the board of control, had seen him as a contender for an Indian command, as ‘it appears to me that the government are in debt to Byng and that he is entitled to some good command’.8 Nothing came of this. In January 1827 Byng informed Peel of his wish for the command in Ireland, which he wrongly believed was about to fall vacant:
If I studied merely my own comfort, I could not be more happy or more satisfied than I am in my present situation, and I can truly say that my sole motive in wishing to remove to the one in Ireland is that it would give me more important duties to attend to ... I should not have wrote ... but that I am fearful it may be thought I am too partial to other amusements. I can assure you that much as I may have liked racing, I prefer much more the active duties of my profession. I sold last autumn all my horses at Newmarket as I found they interfered with my duty in this country.9
In August 1827, when he welcomed Wellington’s reappointment as commander-in-chief, he was prompted by rumours of intended army reductions to impress on Lord Lansdowne, home secretary in the Goderich ministry, the inadvisability of weakening the forces at his disposal:
The present tranquillity is not to be too much relied on for the worst feeling exists between master and man ... I further stated that, as far as regards the manufacturing part of Lancashire, I was fearful the tranquillity of it could only be preserved by the military. That opinion is formed from having witnessed how much in awe the masters are kept by the combination of the workmen, the facility afforded by their unions for an early assemblage of numbers, when a destruction of private property is resolved on. The civil powers in those parts are not adequate for such a state of things.10
When the Irish command became vacant in May 1828 Byng was the unanimous choice of Wellington, the new premier, Peel, the reinstated home secretary, and Lord Anglesey, the viceroy, to succeed to it.11
Soon after his appointment, on being asked by the lord lieutenant where to place two new English regiments, Byng ‘said at once that he would send them among the Protestants of the North, who were much more violent and likely to disturb the peace than the Catholics of the South’.12 He served with professional competence in Ireland, though he had to be brought to heel to act as the civil authorities desired in operations to suppress disturbances in Tipperary in August 1829.13 By then, having inherited the significant Bellaghy estate in Londonderry through his mother, together with the electoral interest that went with it, he was being wooed by the Beresfords, who were dissatisfied with their county Member George Dawson. In October 1829 he informed Lord Beresford that he would remain neutral until Wellington had chosen whom to support, but that he wished Dawson would continue as the ‘family candidate’.14 He was instructed to support Dawson’s in fact abortive campaign at the general election of 1830,15 when his son George Stevens Byng, who had married one of Anglesey’s daughters the previous year, was brought in by him for Milborne Port. He still held the Irish command when Anglesey, who had been recalled by Wellington and had subsequently gone over to the Whigs, was reappointed viceroy by the Grey ministry in November 1830. The new Irish secretary Edward Smith Stanley was without a seat, but the king was agreeable to his return for New Windsor if Sir Richard Hussey Vivian* could be induced to vacate by the prospect of succeeding to Byng’s position. Anglesey, who anticipated that he would have to ask Byng’s son to place his seat at the disposal of the Irish government, initially shied away from broaching the matter, as ‘it would be too much to remove, nearly at the same time, the father and the son’. Yet when he did so, Byng ‘totally disarmed’ him by offering ‘in the handsomest manner’ to step down for Vivian ‘immediately’. Anglesey insisted that he should complete the customary three years’ service before resigning and to this arrangement Vivian, after making some difficulties, eventually agreed. False reports soon afterwards that he was to be replaced forthwith alarmed Byng, whose ‘uneasiness’ was conveyed to ministers by his brother, but Anglesey stepped in to reassure him. His son did have to give up his seat in February 1831, but fortuitous circumstances enabled Anglesey to reinstate him in it within three weeks.16 The previous month Byng, who attended the Dublin meeting of bankers and merchants in support of Anglesey’s suppression of repeal agitation, had reported to Smith Stanley that production would soon begin of a new pro-government Dublin daily newspaper, to which he had himself subscribed £50.17
At the general election of 1831 Byng stood as a reformer for county Londonderry, having been recommended by Anglesey to an ‘influential gentleman of the county’, who had asked him to nominate a candidate. Byng, the nephew of Thomas Conolly†, its representative for many years in the Irish Parliament, was confident of victory, but Dawson and other Tories opposed him with the result that, despite spending £2,000, he was beaten into third place by the sitting Members. Anglesey, who had ruled out Byng’s detailed plans for filling a seat for Caernarvon Boroughs on his interest, had earlier admitted that Byng ‘might expect’ to come in for Milborne Port with his son, but, pinning his hopes on success in Londonderry, he returned the Irish solicitor-general Philip Crampton instead.18 Smith Stanley informed Lord Grey, 22 May:
I saw Sir John Byng yesterday after his defeat for county Londonderry, where however he feels confident that he has established an interest which will bring him in upon a future occasion. He appears most anxious to come into Parliament, and somewhat annoyed at finding that the seat for Milborne Port should go to Crampton, as there was a sort of understanding between him and Lord Anglesey that he should be brought in for it in the event of his failing for Londonderry. I have therefore promised him to write to you to know whether it is possible to make any other arrangement, by which he may be brought in, as he exposed himself to the Londonderry contest on behalf of the government and also partly in consideration of his being removed from his post here for our accommodation.19
Anglesey, too, was anxious for Byng to be seated but Grey, though sympathetic, could do no more than suggest that Byng should sound his close friend Lord Milton* about a seat for Higham Ferrers or Malton. Nothing came of this, nor of Byng’s bid for a vacant berth at Tavistock, which turned out to be spoken for. Smith Stanley, who thought that if he could be brought in ‘he would be of use to us, particularly in Irish matters’, tried, apparently in vain, to get him £500 compensation from the government election fund.20 When Byng relinquished the Irish command in June 1831, Anglesey wrote to Hill, the commander-in-chief, of ‘the perfectly satisfactory and cordial manner in which he has conducted himself in everything which respects our relative situations’.21
Thanking Smith Stanley, 26 June 1831, for rebutting his Londonderry opponent Bateson’s allegations in the Commons on the 21st, Byng privately denied that he had instructed half-pay officers to vote for him, had paid the electors or encouraged mob violence.22 However, in evidence to the Dublin election committee, 1, 2 Aug., he publicly admitted that the lord lieutenant had instructed Irish officials to vote for the reform candidates.23 He was mentioned as a reserve reform candidate at the ensuing Dublin by-election, but Anglesey suspected that he ‘would not like to spend more money now’ and he did not stand.24 The following month his brother, whose marriage was childless, declined the offer of a peerage ‘unless with remainder’ to Byng, ‘which could not be granted’; Byng’s request for a peerage for himself was refused.25 In October he successfully contested a vacancy for Poole (where he soon became a free burgess) as a reformer, with the backing of the corporation, and at last joined his son in the House.26 He took his seat in time to vote for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, generally for its details, and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He was in the ministerial majorities for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and against producing information on Portugal, 9 Feb. He was appointed to the select committee on the East India Company, 27 Jan., but, as chairman of its military subcommittee, was condemned as ‘incapable’ by his colleagues.27 He voted against Hunt’s call for inquiry into military punishments, 16 Feb., and on 2 Apr. opposed his bid to end army flogging which, he argued, was inflicted only in cases of ‘absolute necessity’. He advised ministers, 17 Feb., not to reduce the army without first consulting ‘practical men’ like himself, who would advise them that ‘the present establishment is too small rather than too large’. He paid a handsome tribute to the work of Sir Henry Hardinge* as Wellington’s secretary at war and laughed off Hume’s demand for a reduction of 20,000 men. He opposed Hunt’s motion for inquiry into Peterloo, 15 Mar., having satisfied himself at the time that the troops had ‘not exceeded the strict line of their duty’. Byng voted for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May. As he made clear at the subsequent election, he paired for Buxton’s motion for inquiry into colonial slavery, 24 May.28 He divided for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against increasing the Scottish county representation, 1 June. That day he defended the conduct of General Sir John Hamilton Dalrymple† in addressing a turbulent Edinburgh reform meeting. He again sided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July. His appointment that month to the governorship of Londonderry, worth some £1,200 a year, was attacked in the House by Dawson, 18 July, but his brother spoke up for him and so did Hardinge, who was perhaps repaying Byng’s compliment of February. The sinecure also displeased his Poole constituents, whom he canvassed that month.29 When Hume drew attention to the recent affray at Clitheroe, where cavalry had charged a mob hostile to the anti-reform candidate, 10 Aug., Byng observed that the magistrates had been ‘perfectly right’ to call out troops as a deterrent, but had erred in sending them into such a ‘close and narrow town’, where violent contact with the civilians was inevitable. He was attacked in The Times the following day for his ‘military pedantry’. In the House he good-humouredly denied the inference that ‘though I might object to a massacre of the people by the troops in a narrow space, I would not have the same objection in a more extended sphere’. The newspaper printed a full retraction, 13 Aug. 1832.
It had been thought possible earlier that summer that Byng would stand for county Londonderry as a ministerialist reformer, but he persevered at Poole, despite his unpopularity, and was returned as a Liberal after a contest at the general election of 1832.30 He became a member of Brooks’s in February 1833. He sat until the Melbourne ministry raised him to the peerage as Lord Strafford, a title he took from his maternal grandmother’s father and which greatly angered the representative of another branch of the family, Earl Fitzwilliam (as Milton had become).31 Byng was more successful as a soldier than as a politician: in 1835 Lord Hatherton complained that he was unfit for his allotted work of whipping in the ministerial peers, being ‘a perfect old woman, totally devoid of the address and tact requisite for the task’.32 He died, the second oldest member of the Lords, in June 1860, ‘after a very short illness’, being succeeded as 2nd earl of Strafford by his son George.33
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Authors: David R. Fisher / Stephen Farrell
- 1. Oxford DNB.
- 2. Wellington Supp. Despatches, vii. 177.
- 3. Wellington Despatches, vi. 641; vii. 134, 200; viii. 147, 150; HMC Bathurst, 357; Gronow Reminiscences, i. 76.
- 4. Oxford DNB.
- 5. Add. 40254, f. 105; Wellington Despatches, viii. 287; n.s. i. 80-82, 84-86; Pellew, Sidmouth, iii. 254, 293-5.
- 6. Colchester Diary, iii. 127; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland mss PwH 410.
- 7. Add. 40345, ff. 60, 62, 98; 40384, f. 92.
- 8. Wellington Despatches, n.s. ii. 425; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 215, 218.
- 9. Add. 40391, ff. 137, 139, 143.
- 10. Wellington Despatches, n.s. iv. 99-100.
- 11. Ibid. 455, 474-5; Add. 40325, f. 51; 40397, f. 19; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/26A/20; 26B/27.
- 12. Marquess of Anglesey, One-Leg, 207, 373; Ashley, Palmerston, i. 184.
- 13. Wellington Despatches, n.s. vi. 93, 110; Add. 40337, f. 138.
- 14. PRO NI, Carr Beresford mss T3396, H. B. Beresford to Lord Beresford, 20 Aug., 13 Sept. 1829; PRO NI, Primate Beresford mss D3279/A/4/28; PRO NI, Pack-Beresford mss D664/F/1, pp. 78-80, 84-86.
- 15. Wellington mss WP1/1123/33; 1130/5.
- 16. Anglesey mss 28A-B/28, 32-34, 36; 28C, pp. 19-24, 32-33, 36-40; 29B, pp. 39-40; 29C, p. 24; 31D/13; 32G, p. 11; NLW, Vivian mss A1137, 1138.
- 17. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 124/5, Byng to Smith Stanley, 29 Jan. 1831.
- 18. Ibid. same to same, 15 May; The Times, 13, 16, 23 May; Belfast News Letter, 20, 24 May 1831; UNCW, Plas Newydd mss i. 551, 555, 558, 561, 566, 568; Anglesey mss 28A/55, 59; 28C, pp. 111-12; 32G, pp. 67, 93-99; 33B/28; Pack-Beresford mss A/239.
- 19. Grey mss.
- 20. Anglesey mss 28C, p. 118; Derby mss 117/5, Grey to Smith Stanley, 27 May; Grey mss, Smith Stanley to Grey, 22 May, 3 June, reply, 6 June 1831.
- 21. Anglesey mss 32G, pp. 93-99.
- 22. Derby mss 124/5.
- 23. PP (1831), iv. 453-4, 456-8, 461-2.
- 24. Anglesey mss 31D/52; Derby mss 119/2, Anglesey to Smith Stanley, 10 Aug. 1831; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1833.
- 25. Holland House Diaries, 49-50; W. Suss. RO, Goodwood mss 1434/157-8.
- 26. The Times, 23 Sept., 1 Oct.; Sherborne Jnl. 6, 13 Oct. 1831; Dorset RO, Poole borough recs. DC/PL CLA45.
- 27. Three Diaries, 189.