Admiral John Byng had a reputation as a loyal and reliable naval officer, but he became famous on this day in 1757 for another reason, as this contemporary report reveals:
‘Admiral John Byng spent most of the time between 11 and 12 o’clock standing in the stern-walk of the Monarque watching the crowd with a telescope.
He said to one of his friends: ‘I fear many of them will be disappointed. They may hear where they are, but they can’t all see!’
‘On the stroke of eight bells, noon, he was informed that all was ready. To that he only replied by saying he was glad that the tide would serve for his body to be taken ashore in the afternoon, adding that he was also glad to understand that there was no disposition on the part of the Portsmouth people to insult it.
‘The admiral continued on his knees for rather more than a minute, amid an awful silence all round. He was quite composed and kept his head bent, apparently in earnest prayer.
‘The he gave the signal to fire, by dropping a second handkerchief which he had held in his hand.
‘The fatal volley went off in an instant. Five bullets struck Byng. The sixth passed over his head. He fell forward stone dead.’
Byng appears to have been executed to cover up the Admiralty’s incompetence in providing him with an inadequate fleet to relieve Minorca – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.