John Byron

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For other people named John Byron, see John Byron (disambiguation).
John Byron
John Byron-Joshua Reynolds-1759.jpg
Honourable John Byron, by Joshua Reynolds, 1758
Born 8 November 1723
Died 10 April 1786(1786-04-10) (aged 62)
London, England
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1731-1786
Rank Vice Admiral
Commands held HMS Siren
HMS Dolphin

Seven Years' War

American War of Independence

Vice Admiral The Hon. John Byron, RN (8 November 1723 – 10 April 1786) was a Royal Navy officer. He was known as Foul-weather Jack because of his frequent encounters with bad weather at sea. As a midshipman, he sailed in the squadron under George Anson on his voyage around the world, though Byron made it to southern Chile, and returned to England with the captain of HMS Wager. He was governor of Newfoundland following Hugh Palliser, who left in 1768. He circumnavigated the world as a commodore with his own squadron in 1764-1766. He fought in battles in The Seven Years' War and the American Revolution. He rose to Vice Admiral of the White before his death in 1786.

His grandsons include the poet George Gordon Byron and George Anson Byron, admiral and explorer, who were the 6th and 7th Baron Byron, respectively.

Early career[edit]

Byron was the son of William Byron, 4th Baron Byron and Frances Berkeley. He joined the Royal Navy in 1731.[1] In 1740, he accompanied George Anson on his voyage around the world as a midshipman aboard one of the several ships in the squadron. On 14 May 1741, HMS Wager under Captain Cheap (as Captain Dandy Kidd had died), was shipwrecked on the coast of Chile on what is now called Wager Island and Byron was one of the survivors.[1] The survivors decided to split in two teams, one to make its way by boat to Rio de Janeiro on the Atlantic coast; the other, including John Byron and the Captain, to sail north along the Spanish colonial coast.

Captain Cheap at Wager Island had a party of 19 men after the deserters rejoined the camp. This included the surgeon Elliot and Lieutenant Hamilton who had been cast adrift with him plus midshipmen John Byron and Campbell who had been on the barge. They rowed up the coast but were punished by continuous rain, headwinds and waves that threatened the boats. One night while the men slept on shore, one of the boats was capsized while at anchor and was swept out to sea with its two boatkeepers. One of the men got ashore but the other drowned. As it was now impossible for them all to fit in the remaining boat, four marines were left ashore with muskets to fend for themselves. The winds prevented them from getting around the headland so they returned to pick up the marines only to find them gone. They returned to Wager Island in early February 1742. With one death on the journey, there were now 13 in the group.

A local Indian guided the men up the coast to Chiloe Island so they set out again. Two men died and after burying the bodies, the six seaman rowed off in the boat never to be seen again while Cheap, Hamilton, Byron, Campbell and the dying Elliot were on shore looking for food. The Indian then agreed to take the remaining four on by canoe for their only remaining possession, a musket. Eventually they made it to be taken prisoner by the Spanish. Fortunately the Spaniards treated them well and they were eventually taken to the inland capital of Santiago where they were released on parole. The Spaniards heard that Anson had been generous in the treatment of the prisoners he had taken and this kindness was returned.

Byron and the other three men stayed in Santiago till late 1744 and were offered passage on a French ship bound for Spain. Three accepted the passage. Campbell elected to take a mule across the Andes and joined the Spanish Admiral Pizarro in Montevideo on the Asia only to find Isaac Morris and the two seamen who had been abandoned in Freshwater Bay on the Atlantic coast. After time in prison in Spain, Campbell reached Britain in May 1746, followed by the other three two months later.

In England, the official court martial examined only the loss of the Wager in which Baynes, in nominal charge at the time, was acquitted of blame but reprimanded for omissions of duty. Disputes over what happened after the wreck were instead played out as Bulkeley and Cummins, Campbell, Morris, the cooper Young and later Byron published their own accounts, the last of which was the only one that in any way defended Cheap who had since died. Twenty nine crew members plus seven marines made it back to England.

Byron's account of his adventures and the Wager Mutiny are recounted in The Narrative of the Honourable John Byron (1768). His book sold well enough to be printed in several editions.

Byron was appointed captain of HMS Siren in December 1746.[1]

Seven Years War[edit]

In 1760 during the Seven Years' War, Byron commanded a squadron sent to destroy the fortifications at Louisbourg, Quebec, which had been captured by the British two years before. They wanted to ensure it could not be used by the French in Canada. In July of that year he defeated the French flotilla sent to relieve New France at the Battle of Restigouche.

Commodore, governor and vice admiral[edit]

Between June 1764 and May 1766, Byron completed his own circumnavigation of the globe as captain of HMS Dolphin. This was the first such circumnavigation that was accomplished in less than 2 years.[2] During this voyage, in 1765 he took possession of the Falkland Islands on behalf of Britain on the grounds of prior discovery.[citation needed] His action nearly caused a war between Great Britain and Spain, as both countries had armed fleets ready to contest the sovereignty of the barren islands. Later Byron encountered islands and extant residents of the Tuamotus and Tokelau Islands, and Nikunau in the southern Gilbert Islands; he also visited Tinian in the Northern Marianas Islands.[3]

In 1769 he was appointed governor of Newfoundland off the mainland of Canada, an office he held for the next three years.[1]

He was promoted to rear admiral on 31 March 1775. In 1778 and 1779, he served as Commander-in-chief of the British fleet in the West Indies during the American War of Independence. He unsuccessfully attacked a French fleet under the Comte d'Estaing at the Battle of Grenada in July 1779.[1] Byron was briefly Commander-in-Chief, North American Station from 1 October 1779.[4] He was made vice admiral of the white in September 1780.[1]


John Byron Death Notice

On 8 September 1748 he married Sophia Trevanion, daughter of John Trevanion of Caerhays in Cornwall, by whom he had two sons and seven daughters, three of whom died in infancy. Their eldest son, John "Mad Jack" Byron, in turn fathered the poet George Gordon Byron, the future 6th Baron Byron. John Byron was also the grandfather of George Anson Byron, another admiral and explorer and later the 7th Baron Byron. He was the brother of Hon. George Byron, married to Frances Levett, daughter of Elton Levett of Nottingham, a descendant of Ambrose Elton, Esq., High Sheriff of Herefordshire in 1618 and a surgeon in Nottingham.[5][6]


John Byron died on 10 April 1786 at home in London. His remains were buried in the Berkeley family vault situated beneath the chancel of the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Twickenham.[7]

In fiction[edit]

John Byron's experiences in the Anson voyage form the basis of the novel The Unknown Shore by Patrick O'Brian. It closely follows Byron's account in The Narrative of the Honourable John Byron (1768).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f W. A. B. Douglas (2015). "Byron, John". Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Retrieved 27 June 2015. 
  2. ^ "Circumnavigation: Notable global maritime circumnavigations". Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  3. ^ Officer on Board the Said Ship. (1767). A voyage round the world in His Majesty’s Ship the ‘Dolphin’, commanded by the honourable commodore Byron. London: J. Newbery and F. Newbery.
  4. ^ James Gambier, "John Byron", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  5. ^ The Genealogy of the Existing British Peerage with Brief Histories of the Family Histories of the Nobility, Edmund Lodge, London, 1832. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  6. ^ A Genealogical Account of the Mayo and Elton Families of the Counties of Wilts and Hereford, Charles Herbert Mayo, London, 1882. 2006-06-26. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  7. ^ "At Twickenham Park, Lord John Berkeley". The Twickenham Museum. Retrieved 27 June 2015. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Hugh Palliser
Commodore Governor of Newfoundland
Succeeded by
Molyneux Shuldham
Military offices
Preceded by
James Gambier
Commander-in-Chief, North American Station
Succeeded by
Mariot Arbuthnot