BYNG, George (1764-1847), of Wrotham Park, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 17 May 764, 1st s. of George Byng† of Wrotham by Anne, da. of William Conolly† of Castletown, co. Kildare. educ. Westminster 1773-80. m. 26 June 1797, Harriet, da. of Sir William Montgomery, 1st Bt., of Macbie Hill, Peebles, s.p. suc. fa. 1789.
Capt. commdt. S. Mimms and Hadley vol. inf. 1803.
Byng joined the Whig Club and Brooks’s in 1786. On the death of his father, a former Member for Middlesex, in 1789, the Duke of Portland secured his adoption as prospective Whig candidate for the county. Returned for Newport in the final months of the 1784 Parliament, he duly stood and was elected unopposed for Middlesex at the general election of 1790.1 Despite a number of fierce contests, he was a fixture in the seat for the rest of his life. A substantial patrimony and further inheritances from uncles made Byng, who subscribed £500 to the fund organized to settle Fox’s debts in 1793, one of the wealthiest Whig commoners. According to Farington, writing in 1806, his annual income was £20,000.2
He was listed a supporter of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791, voted for Fox’s amendment to the address, 13 Dec. 1792, and consistently opposed the French war in the 1790s. A member of the Association of the Friends of the People, he voted for Grey’s parliamentary reform motions of 1793 and 1797 and joined in the Foxite secession between 1797 and 1801. He seems to have been comparatively inactive during Addington’s administration. He voted against them on the civil list, 29 Mar., and the proposed address of thanks for the removal of Pitt from office, 7 May 1802; but he did not support the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 31 Mar. 1802 and 4 Mar. 1803, or vote with Fox against the renewal of war, 24 May 1803. He voted against Addington on Ireland, 7 Mar., and in the divisions of 23 and 25 Apr. 1804 which forced his resignation. He was more regular in his opposition to Pitt’s second ministry, supported his Whig friends in power and, after their fall, voted for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr. 1807.
Byng voted against the Portland and Perceval ministries on all major issues. In January 1811 Lady Holland, who thought of him as one of the ‘second-rate sort of politicians’, numbered him among the ‘old Foxites’ who would rebel if the Whig leaders tried to bring Canning into their projected ministry.3 He voted for Whitbread’s third peace resolution, 29 Feb., in censure of Lord Wellesley’s conduct in India, 15 Mar. 1808, in support of charges of electoral corruption against ministers, 25 Apr. and 11 May 1809, and against the reinstatement of the Duke of York, 6 June 1811.
In January 1809 Major Cartwright named Byng among the handful of Whig Members who had responded favourably to his plan for a parliamentary reform meeting. He attended the Livery dinner in honour of Wardle, 21 Apr., when he stated his belief that a measure of reform was ‘absolutely necessary’, and was one of only seven Members present at Cartwright’s reform gathering, 1 May 1809.4 He did not go so far as to vote for Burdett’s reform motion, 15 June 1809, but he supported Brand’s moderate proposals, 21 May 1810. He was one of the Whig reformers who, led by Brand, met the Burdettite leaders in an attempt to reach agreement on reform, 30 Mar. 1811, but when Brand dropped out of the venture he followed suit and he was not listed among the stewards for the Freemasons’ Tavern reform dinner, 10 June. He nevertheless attended the meeting and, in a speech received with considerable disapprobation, declared his unaltered attachment to the reform principles of 1793 and his support for Brand’s scheme as a practical instalment, though ‘he wished to go further’: ‘As a Whig, he judged himself rigidly, and others with indulgence.’5 On 2 May 1810 he presented the contentious Middlesex petition for the release of Burdett, and the following day, in the resumed debate which ended in its rejection by 139 votes to 56, stated his concurrence in its argument that the House had no right of commitment for libel. His motion for the reception of a Middlesex reform petition, 13 June 1810, was negatived without a division.
Byng voted for Catholic relief, 13 and 24 May 1813, but between then and 28 Apr. 1815, when he voted against a war of extermination against Buonaparte, only two votes are recorded in his name, on the Speaker’s anti-Catholic prorogation speech, 22 Apr., and the court martial of Col. Quentin, 17 Nov. 1814. He voted against the peace settlement, 15 and 20 Feb. 1816, and joined in the parliamentary campaign for economy, retrenchment and low taxation, but his attendance seems to have lapsed again, for his name appears in none of the 34 surviving division lists between 8 May 1816 and 29 Apr. 1817. He voted for Burdett’s parliamentary reform motion, 20 May 1817, against the renewed suspension of habeas corpus the following month and divided against the domestic spy system and the indemnity bill early in 1818 before again apparently absenting himself from Westminster after Easter.
He signed the requisition calling on Tierney to take the Whig leadership in the Commons and in 1819 was evidently more assiduous in his attendance than in the previous two years. He voted for inquiry into Scottish burgh reform, 6 May, and was one of the minority of 58 who supported Burdett’s reform motion, 1 July, though he rebuked Burdett for his recent conduct, which in his opinion had alienated many of the respectable supporters of reform, and reminded him that ‘no great object had ever been obtained without the concurrence of the aristocracy of the realm’. He was averse to the promotion of a Middlesex county meeting to demand inquiry into the Peterloo incident, not wishing to make it a party question, but was prepared to attend and support the objects of such a meeting if it were called.6 He voted against the address, 24 Nov., for inquiry into the state of the nation, 30 Nov., and in five of the 13 divisions against the subsequent repressive legislation for which lists have been found, including that on the third reading of the seditious meetings bill, 13 Dec. 1819.
Byng’s bill to grant an additional allowance to coroners was defeated on its third reading, 10 May 1803, but his measures for the repeal of the St. Pancras Poor Act and the improvement of Bloomsbury Square passed into law in 1805 and 1806 respectively.
Farington wrote that Byng ‘has great pride, but good principles, and his temper is irritable and impetuous’. A sympathetic commentator described him in 1813 as
One of the old Whigs, a moderate reformer, and a man who has never acted an equivocal, but rather a manly, fair, and open part. It would be well for themselves, and well for the country, if many others possessed the moderation of Mr Byng; but it must also be added, that unless there were others more active, and more ardent, public affairs would receive but little attention.7
He died 10 Jan. 1847.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Ginter, Whig Organization, 255; Portland mss PwF9194; Alnwick mss 57, ff. 33, 37.
- 2. Farington, ii. 153; iii. 278; The Times, 3 May 1803; Blair Adam mss. Adam to Norfolk, 4 Jan. 1794.
- 3. Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 170, 286.
- 4. Whitbread mss W1/4434; The Times, 22 Apr. 1809; Procs. at Crown and Anchor, 1 May 1809 .
- 5. M. Roberts, the Whig Party 1807-12, pp. 287-9; Pol. Reg. 19 June; The Times, 11 June; Morning Chron. 11 June 1811.
- 6. Add. 51584, Tierney to Holland, 15 Sept. .
- 7. Farington, iii. 278; W. Playfair, Pol. Portraits, i. 198.