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Admiral's plight told in new book

PUBLISHED: 10:05 10 December 2009 | UPDATED: 17:24 25 August 2010

A NEW book looks into the life of an admiral who paid a heavy price for failure.

A NEW book looks into the life of an admiral who paid a heavy price for failure.

University of Greenwich lecturer, Chris Ware, from Welling, has written about the life of Admiral Byng, who was held prisoner in Greenwich Hospital in 1756.

Admiral Byng was imprisoned in the southern end of Queen Anne Court, then of Greenwich Hospital, now part of the Old Royal Naval College.

He was tried and shot on the quarterdeck of his former flagship, Monarch, in Portsmouth harbour in March 1757. Early in the Seven Years War he had been ordered to stop the French siege of Minorca. After the defeat of his fleet by the French he was accused of cowardice and court-martialled.

Byng became a scapegoat for government and admiralty failure to prevent the loss of Minorca. His trial and execution were the hottest topic of the day and he was mercilessly lampooned in the press.

Chris Ware, a lecturer at the university's Greenwich Maritime Institute said: "On cold dark winter mornings I caught myself looking at the upper windows of Queen Anne Court, thinking of Byng bent over a table furiously scribbling another letter in his own defence, whilst marines stood guard in the stairwell."

Such was the public anger against Byng, effigies of him were burned or hanged throughout the country.

His fate prompted Voltaire's famous remark, in his novel Candide, that in England, "it is thought good to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others".

Mr Ware said: "Given that Byng was middle-aged and portly, the deputy governor of Greenwich Hospital, Isaac Townsend, was arguably overzealous in his efforts to prevent his escape.

"Not only was he guarded by a contingent of marines, the boatswain who supervised the wards and 12 of the more able bodied pensioners, but bars were also fitted on the chimneys and windows to prevent his escape."

Admiral Byng - His Rise and Execution - is published by Pen & Sword for £19.99, covering Byng's whole 40 year career at sea from 14-year-old captain's servant to Admiral of the Blue.

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