BYNG, George (1764-1847), of Wrotham Park and 5 St. James's Square, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 17 May 1764, 1st s. of George Byng† of Wrotham and Anne, da. of William Conolly† of Castletown. co. Kildare; bro. of Sir John Byng* educ. Westminster 1773-80. m. 26 June 1797, Harriet, da. of Sir William Montgomerie, 1st bt., of Macbie Hill, Peebles, s.p. suc. fa. 1789. d. 10 Jan. 1847.
Capt. commdt. S. Mimms and Hadley vol. inf. 1803.
The Whig Sir James Mackintosh*, writing in 1822, described the 6th Viscount Torrington’s cousin George Byng as an ‘honest, stupid Whig’. He had been brought in for Middlesex (which his father had previously represented) on the recommendation of the 3rd duke of Portland in 1790 and retained his seat for life.1 Arguably the wealthiest commoner in England, his long and childless marriage was considered a happy one and invitations to the couple’s lavish dinner parties were coveted.2 A conscientious pro-Catholic reformer, he had opposed the repressive legislation introduced by Lord Liverpool’s ministry after Peterloo and declared early at the general election of 1820, when his Tory colleague William Mellish was defeated by the Whig Samuel Whitbread in a 12-day poll. On the hustings Byng denied being in coalition with Whitbread, defended the ‘constitution of 1688’ and stated that as a reformer he merely sought to correct abuses in the representation and to transfer seats from rotten boroughs to large towns.3 He was fêted and was a speaker at the reformers’ celebrations at the Mermaid tavern, Hackney, 17 Apr., and attended the Middlesex Independence dinner at the Freemasons’ Tavern, 3 June 1820.4 The Westminster Member John Hobhouse, who had previously noticed how ‘pained’ Byng looked at the election, remarked: ‘The people feel no interest in Byng or anything Whiggish and that is the truth’.5
Byng remained a staunch supporter of the main Whig opposition in the 1820 Parliament and undertook by far the greater share of constituency business. He presented over 100 petitions, and spoke regularly on Middlesex and metropolitan matters; but he was not a good orator and frequently failed to grasp salient points in local legislation.6 Few of the many committees on which he sat were major ones, but his appointment to those on highways, 30 May 1820, turnpike trusts, 17 Feb. 1825, and policing the metropolis, 14 Mar. 1822, 28 Feb., 15 Apr. 1828, was considered important locally, as was his stance on the many metropolitan, transport, vestry and utility bills introduced in this period. His support for the 1820 and 1821 parliamentary campaigns on behalf of Queen Caroline was unstinting, but although he presented and endorsed his constituents’ petitions for the restoration of her name to the liturgy, 26 Jan. 1821, he held aloof from the extra-parliamentary clamour on her behalf.7 He failed to vote for parliamentary reform in 1821, but did so, 25 Apr. 1822, 24 Apr. 1823, 13, 27 Apr. 1826. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. A radical publication of that year noted that he ‘attended frequently, and voted with the opposition’, but described him as a ‘feeble’ speaker.8 He voted to receive the Lancaster convict Broadhurst’s petition, 9 Mar., for inquiry into Peterloo, 16 May 1821, and consistently for retrenchment and repeal of the assessed taxes (for which he presented petitions 9 Mar., 9, 14 Apr., 6 May 1824, 4, 23 Feb. 1825) and to end capital punishment for forgery, 23 May, 4 June 1821.9 He voted for criminal law reform, 4 June 1822, and in condemnation of the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824, and supported the many petitions for the abolition of colonial slavery he presented in 1824 and 1826.10
He introduced and endorsed Middlesex’s agricultural distress petitions, 12 May 1820, 6 Mar. 1821, and divided silently against the alterations in the corn duties proposed by the foreign secretary Lord Londonderry, 9 May 1822.11 He opposed the antimephitic bill on his constituents’ behalf, 20 Mar. 1821, likewise the contentious Stoke Newington select vestry bill on which he was outmanoeuvred in the committee, 5 Mar., 16 May 1821.12 Much of his time that session was taken up by the metropolitan gas light bill, which he carried by 93-87 in a noisy House, 9 May, and the metropolis road bill, against which he presented numerous petitions, 23, 27 Mar, 18, 23 May.13 He handled the Poplar gas, (St. Luke’s) Chelsea poor, Mile End improvement and Highgate road bills successfully and presented and endorsed petitions for improvements to the metropolitan magistracy, 2 May 1821.14 The 1822 Middlesex county treasurer and county rate bills were entrusted to him, and he objected to the poor removal bill on his constituents’ behalf, 21, 31 May 1822.15 His main preoccupation that session was the locally divisive Highgate Chapel bill, which he proceeded with against the advice of Hume, Whitbread and most metropolitan Members. He carried it by 57-29, 26 June, and 69-62, 5 July, before it foundered, 25 July.16 He presented petitions from publicans and others against the beer retail bill, 15, 27 July 1822, 23 May 1823, and the Excise Licensing Act, 20 Feb., 9, 19, 26 Mar. 1824.17 Unlike Whitbread, he opposed inquiry into the separate taxation of malt and beer, ‘on the ground that no description of persons would be benefited by it, while the agriculturists would be in a worse situation if it were adopted’, 28 May 1823. He opposed the repeal of the Spitalfields Acts under the silk manufacture bill and repeatedly voiced the hostility of poor law authorities of Bethnal Green and Mile End to the measure as a harbinger of mass unemployment, from which only ‘a few of the richer sort of master weavers’ could benefit, 21 May, 9, 11 June.18 He presented petitions from Brentford, Clerkenwell and elsewhere for repeal of the coal duties, 17 Mar., 10, 18, 25 Apr. 1823, and similar ones from Edmonton and Enfield, 6 Feb., Tottenham, 14 Feb. 1824, and Whitechapel, 25 Feb. 1825.19 He was a voluble opponent (24 Feb., 26 Mar., 24 May 1824) and minority teller, 25 Feb., against the St. Katharine’s Docks bill which failed that session, and successfully promoted the 1824 Hammersmith bridge bill.20 Hume ridiculed his attempt to defend the reputation of the beleaguered Kensington turnpike trust, 21 May 1824. He secured the committal of the St. Andrew’s (Holborn) poor bill by 39-23 in the teeth of strong opposition, 18 Mar., and contributed to discussions on the abortive London water works bill, 1 Mar., and the Isle of Dogs railway bill, 23 Feb., which received royal assent, 10 July 1825.21 He presented petitions against the importation of foreign silks, 21 Feb., supported inquiry into the trade, 24 Feb., and brought up a petition calling for corn law revision and repeal of the window tax, 20 Apr. 1826.22 Despite complaints that he was ‘unequal to the task’, he came in unopposed at the 1826 election. On the hustings he promised to attend to commercial, landed and trading interests and spoke of his investigations into Middlesex charities and of his regret at the recent economic downturn.23
Byng voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. Keeping a low profile during the ministerial uncertainty following Lord Liverpool’s stroke, he abandoned the Thames free watermen bill (introduced, 9 Mar.).24 However, on 30 Mar. he presented, as committee chairman, a special report on the Marylebone churches bill, which received royal assent, 14 June. As had been the case in 1803, he strongly supported the Middlesex coroners’ campaign for increased fees, 30 May, and the Dissenters’ pleas for repeal of the Test Acts, 30 May, 14 June.25 The bishop of London’s estate bill was entrusted to him, 19 June 1827.26 Following the formation of the duke of Wellington’s administration, he presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 14, 18, 22, 26 Feb. 1828, when he voted accordingly. He divided against sluicing East Retford’s franchise, 21 Mar., and for Catholic relief, 12 May. He presented petitions for repeal of the Malt Act, 22 Feb., abolition of the house tax, 31 Mar., and against the friendly societies bill, 18 Apr. His endeavours on 28 Mar., 22 Apr., 2, 12, 16 May secured the committal but not the passage of the county bridges bill, by which Middlesex sought exemption from its liability to maintain the approaches to bridges. Nor, as teller on 12 May, could he prevent the forfeiture (by 83-61) of the St. James’s (Westminster) vestry bill, on which he spoke authoritatively as a vestry member, 2 May. He voted against the archbishop of Canterbury’s registrar bill, 16 June, and the Buckingham House expenditure, 23 June 1828.
He presented a favourable petition from Dissenters of Hackney, 19 Feb., divided for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., and voted to permit Daniel O’Connell to sit without swearing the oath of supremacy, 18 May 1829. Clashing frequently with the commissioner for woods and forests Lord Lowther, 2, 11, 25 Mar., 2, 12 May, he again failed (by 32-5 on 12 May) to secure the passage of the county bridges bill. He presented numerous petitions against the Smithfield market bill, 25 Mar., 14 Apr., 1, 8, 11 May, which he criticized as too costly for the trade and was pleased to see killed, 15 May. He secured the passage of the St. Clement’s land tax bill, 10 Apr., and brought up petitions against the metropolis roads bill that day (and again 1, 4 May), and the St. James’s (Westminster) vestry bill, 14, 16 Apr. According to Hobhouse’s diary, Byng ‘had been expected to speak against the measure at its second reading, 14 Apr., but thinking of something else, [he] let the Speaker put the question without saying a word’.27 Confirming his initial hostility to the latter, 12 May, he explained that he had decided to support it, as he could not condone a select vestry that audited its own accounts and refused to publish them. He brought up petitions from both sides on the 1829 East London water works bill, 1, 8 May. His appointment in August 1829 as a metropolitan lunacy commissioner, with responsibility for inspecting and licensing asylums, became a lifelong commitment.28
Byng apparently did not vote on the controversial issue of distress in 1830. He divided for the enfranchisement of Birmingham Leeds and Manchester, 23 Mar., and Lord John Russell’s moderate reform proposals, 28 May, and sparingly with the revived Whig opposition: for inquiry into tax revision, 25 Mar., against the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 28 Mar., for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and returns of privy councillors’ emoluments, 14 May. He presented petitions, 29 Apr., and voted to end capital punishment for forgery, 24 May, 7 June. He was named to the locally sensitive committees on select vestries, 10 Feb., and the London coal trade, 11 Mar. As a member of the select committee on the St. Giles vestry bill, he defended their recommendations for a £30 ratepayer vote and annual elections, 2 Apr. The abortive Ratcliffe (collier) dock bill was entrusted to him and he clashed again with Lowther over the conduct of the turnpike road commissioners and the Haymarket removal bill, which ministers promoted and most Middlesex landowners opposed, 16, 26 Mar., 2 Apr. He presented and endorsed petitions against the parish watch bill from Paddington, 22 Mar., and Islington, 29 Apr., voiced his opposition to and urged further petitioning against the beer bill, 4 May, and criticized its provisions for on-consumption, 21 June, 1 July.29 He secured the committal of the Highgate grammar school bill, which its critics claimed breached standing orders, 10 May, and presented petitions against the proposed Waterloo Bridge road, 11 May, 23 June. He opposed legislating for the removal of Scottish and Irish paupers on the grounds that it would encourage relief applications and increase parish expenditure, 26 May, and was minority teller against reviving the committee on the Clyde Navigation bill, 28 May. He confirmed, before voting for inquiry, that the new church in the parish of St. Luke’s had been inappropriately sited, 17 June, and conceded, when pressed by Hume, 23 June 1830, that the cost of watching squares, including his own of St. James’s, which had previously been privately financed, now devolved on the parish. He was severely criticized at the general election for sanctioning the metropolitan police bill and select vestries, but came in unopposed with his new colleague Hume.30 That summer he added the manor of Old Ford, purchased from Thomas Allen of Finchley, to his Wrotham Park estate.31
One of the Wellington ministry’s ‘foes’, Byng presented John Halcomb’s† (unsuccessful) petition against his election defeat at Dover, 15 Nov. 1830, but he was absent later that day when they were brought down on the civil list. He considered a national contribution to the cost of the metropolitan police justified, 18 Nov., and although sympathetic to the ratepayers and overseers’ pleas to the contrary, he invariably praised the force’s efficiency, 23 Nov., 8, 18 Dec. 1830, 11 Feb., 10 Mar. 1831. He presented petitions for repeal of the assessed taxes, 18 Dec. 1830, 25 Feb., against Hobhouse’s select vestries bill, 21 Feb., 10 Mar., and complaining of mismanagement by the metropolitan road commissioners, 19 Mar. 1831. His chairmanship that session of the select committee on the Enfield Chase road bill was severely criticized by Lord Fordwich, who on 23 Feb. accused him of failing to realize that the measure was intended solely for the benefit of his neighbour Lord Salisbury. He was added to the select committee on the Colne river water works bill, 19 Mar., and presented a petition against it from the proprietors of the West Middlesex Water Works, in which he had invested, 15 Apr. He had been under pressure to declare firmly for radical reform since a Middlesex reform meeting on 15 Dec. 1830 had refused to hear his reservations concerning their all-embracing petition.32 He spoke of his 40-year commitment to reform and the recent tide of opinion in its favour when presenting petitions favourable to the Grey ministry’s bill from Uxbridge and Whitechapel, 19 Mar., and divided for its second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. He declared unreservedly ‘for the bill’ at the ensuing reform dinner in Southwark, 4 May, and at the Middlesex election, 10 May 1831, when he was unopposed.33
Byng divided for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, voted silently for it in committee, and wrote to The Times to confirm his majority vote for retaining Merthyr Tydfil in the Cardiff group of boroughs, 10 Aug. 1831.34 He was refused a coronation peerage, partly on account of the remainder to his brother that he sought.35 He voted for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. His conduct was commended at Middlesex meetings that month.36 He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, steadily for its details, and for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. On 10 Feb., in his only intervention on reform that Parliament, he disputed claims made on behalf of the Hertfordshire anti-reformers and testified to the strong support for the ministerial bill in Barnet and Elstree. He was absent when the House divided on the address requesting the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May, but called for this at a Kensington meeting chaired by Lord Teynham, 15 May, when resolutions for the bill and against Wellington’s appointment as premier were carried.37 He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 21 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June 1832. He divided with administration on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., the Liverpool election writ, 6 Sept. 1831, the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. 12, 16, 20 July, and Portugal, 9 Feb., but he was in the minority of 51 for printing the Woollen Grange petition for Irish tithe abolition, 16 Feb. 1832.
Before voting against a government amendment to the vestries bill, 30 Sept. (the subject of hostile petitions he had presented, 18 Aug. 1831), he stated:
It is an unfortunate truth that governments never reform themselves; and this holds good particularly with regard to select vestries. I am sure, that if this bill had passed last year, the parishes would have been satisfied if every person rated at £25 had had a vote, but now nothing will satisfy the people but allowing all the persons rated to have a vote.
He as usual brought up numerous petitions on local and private legislation. He carried the contentious Islington church rates bill without a division notwithstanding protests from radical reformers within and without doors, 28 Feb., 7, 15, 20 Mar., likewise the St. Andrew’s, Holborn, improvement bill, 15 Mar. His failure on 3 Apr. to carry the Highbury Place road bill unamended (by 42-15 and 56-9) prompted Hume to accuse him of knowing nothing about the measure. He presented petitions against the abortive Birmingham-London railway bill, 20, 23 Mar., and was instrumental in preventing the passage of the Golden Lane burial ground bill, 8 June. In his last intervention that Parliament, he insisted, when goaded by Hume, that he had played no part in securing the governorships of Londonderry and the fort of Culmore for his brother John, 18 July 1832. He had recently paid off the gaming debts of John’s son George Stevens Byng*.38
Byng polled second to Hume in a bitter contest at the general election in December 1832, when the Tory Lord Henley* was the challenger.39 He was successfully operated on for cataracts in December 1834, and died ‘Father of the House’ in January 1847, shortly after announcing his intention of retiring on health grounds.40 His wife was amply provided for and the main beneficiaries of his will of 11 Sept. 1844, which was proved in the province of Canterbury 19 Feb. 1847, and in York, 9 Sept. 1848, were his brother John (created earl of Strafford, 18 Sept. 1847) and his heirs, upon whom Wrotham Park and his town house in St. James’s Square devolved.41
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. Add. 52445, f. 99; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 258-63; iii. 353-5.
- 2. Add. 52445, f. 99; Lady Holland to Son, 27.
- 3. County Chron. 7, 21, 28 Mar.; The Times, 29 Mar. 1820.
- 4. The Times, 18 Apr., 5 June 1820.
- 5. Add. 56541, ff. 21-23, 39.
- 6. Mdx. and Herts. N and Q, iv (1898), 122.
- 7. The Times, 27 Jan. 1821.
- 8. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 454.
- 9. The Times, 10 Mar., 10, 15 Apr., 7 May 1824, 5, 24 Feb. 1825.
- 10. Ibid. 10 Apr., 12 May 1824, 11 Feb. 2, 4, 14, 18 Mar., 18, 26 Apr., 9 May 1826.
- 11. Ibid. 13 May 1820, 7 Mar. 1821.
- 12. Ibid. 6, 21 Mar., 17 May 1821.
- 13. Ibid. 10, 24, 28 Mar., 10, 19, 24 May, 7 June 1821.
- 14. Ibid. 3 May 1821.
- 15. Ibid. 15, 22 May, 1, 4 June 1822.
- 16. Ibid. 21, 27 June, 6 July 1822.
- 17. Ibid. 16, 18 July 1822, 24 May 1823, 21 Feb., 10, 20, 27 Mar. 1824.
- 18. Ibid. 22 May 1823.
- 19. Ibid. 18 Mar., 11, 19, 26 Apr. 1823, 7 Feb. 1824, 15, 26 Feb. 1825.
- 20. Ibid. 19, 26 Feb., 27 Mar., 14 Apr., 25 May 1824.
- 21. Ibid. 24 Feb., 2 Mar. 1825.
- 22. Ibid. 21 Apr. 1826.
- 23. Ibid. 14 Feb., 21 June; Courier, 7, 20 June 1826.
- 24. The Times, 20 Feb., 10 Mar. 1827.
- 25. Ibid. 31 May, 15 June 1827.
- 26. Ibid. 31 Mar. 1827.
- 27. Add. 56554, f. 1.
- 28. Gent. Mag. (1829), ii. 172; P. Bartlett, Poor Law of Lunacy, 37.
- 29. Add. 56554, f. 102.
- 30. John Bull, 4 July; Courier, 9 July, 6 Aug.; Morning Herald, 5, 6 Aug. 1830; Add. 27789, f. 82.
- 31. VCH Mdx. v. 288.
- 32. Add. 56555, f. 74; The Times, 16, 18 Dec. 1830.
- 33. Morning Chron. 5 May; Courier, 10, 11 May; The Times, 11 May 1831.
- 34. The Times, 11 Aug. 1831.
- 35. Grey mss, Grey to Holland, 7 Sept. 1831; Holland House Diaries, 136.
- 36. The Times, 11, 15 Oct. 1831.
- 37. Ibid. 16 May 1832.
- 38. Add. 51671, Bedford to Lady Holland, 21 June .
- 39. Add. 40403, ff. 71, 83; 51680, Lord J. Russell to Lady Holland, 2 Dec.; Brougham mss, Henley to Brougham [20 Oct.]; The Times, 20, 28 Dec. 1832.
- 40. The Times, 12 Dec. 1834, 17 Apr., 14 May 1835, 11, 19 Jan. 1847; VCH Mdx. ii. 58; Gent Mag. (1847), i. 307-8.
- 41. PROB 11/2049/100; IR26/1760/142; The Times, 21 Jan. 1847; LMA, 4259/01/020; VCH Mdx. v. 289; A. D’Asent, Hist. St. James’s Square, 227.