Royal Navy Officer Admiral John Byng was born on 29th October 1704 and was controversially executed by gun fire on 14th March 1757 on the quarterdeck of his former flagship, ‘Monarch’  for failing to "do his utmost" to prevent Minorca falling to the French following the Battle of Minorca.

Admiral Byng’s harsh sentence was opposed by many, including Admiral Forbes who refused to sign his death warrant. 

The Society is pleased to have a written explanation by Admiral Forbes explaining his reasons for not signing the death warrant of Admiral Byng. This document can be found in the ‘Herbert’ Special Collection.

Professional genealogists Geoff Swinfield has kindly transcribed this 253 year old document for ease of understanding.

alisa3 thumb Rare Find: Admiral Forbes explanation for refusing to sign Admiral Byng’s death warrant.


Adml Forbes’s reasons for not signing Adml Byng’s

Dead Warrant.

It may be thought great presumption

in me to differ from so great Authority as that of the

Twelve Judges but when a man is call’d upon to sign

his name to an act, which is to give Authority for the

shedding of blood, He ought to be guided by his Conscience,

& not by the Opinion of other men.

In the Case before us, it

is not The merit of Adml Byng that I consider whether

he deserves Death or not, is not a Question for me to decide; but whether, or not, his Life can be taken away by the Sentence pronounc’d upon him by the Court Martial, and

after having so clearly explain’d their motives for pronouncing such a Sentence, is the point alone has imploy’d my most serious attention.

The 12th Art. of War, upon

wch Adml Byng’s Sentence is grounded, Says ___ According to

my understanding of its meaning, “That every person who

shall in time of action withdraw, or keep back, or not

come into fight, or who shall not do his utmost &

through Motive’s of Cowardice, Negligence, or Disaffection,
shall suffer Death. The Court Martial does, in Express

Words, acquit Adml Byng of Cowardice & Disaffection, & does

not name the word negligence. ____ Adml Byng does not, as I

conceive, fall under the letter, or description of the 12th Art of

War _____ It my be said, that negligence is implied, the(n)

word is not nam’d, otherwise the Ct Martial wou’d not

have brought his offence under the 12th Art of War, having

acquitted him of Cowardice, & Disaffection.

But it must be acknowledg’d,

that the negligence imply’d cannot be wilfull negligence;

for wilfull negligence in Adml Byng’s situation must proceed

either from Cowardice, or Disaffection, & he is expressly acquited

of both these crimes, besides crimes wch are imply’d only

& are not nam’d may indeed justify suspicion, &

private opinion, but cannot satisfy the Conscience in a case

of Blood.

Adml Byng’s fate was reffer’d to a Court Martial

his Life & Death was left to their opinions; The Ct Martial

condemn him to Death, because as they expressly say they

were under a necessity of doing so by reason of the letter of the

law; the severity of wch they complain of, because it

admits of no mitigation. ________ The Ct Marl expressly say,

that the prisoner, they do, in the most earnest manner, recommend

him to his Majts mercy; it is then evident, that in the

opinion, and Consciences of the Judges, he was not deserving of


The Question then is, shall the opinion, or necessities

of the Ct Marl determine Adml Byng’s fate. If it shou’d be

the latter, he will be Executed contrary to the intentions, & the

meaning of the Judges; who, to do justice, do most earnestly

recommend him for mercy; and if it shou’d be the former, his Life

is not forfeited. His Judges declare he is not deserving of Death;

but mistaking either the meaning of the Law, or the nature of

his offence, they bring him under an Article of War, which

according to their own description of his offence he does not

I conceive fall under; and then they condemn him to death,

because, as they say, the law admits of no mitigation. Can

a Man’s life be taken away by such a Sentence. I wou’d not

willingly be understood, & have it believ’d, that I Judge of

Adml Byng’s deserts; that was the business of the Ct Marl; & it is

my Duty only to Act according to my conscience; which,

after deliberate consideration, & assisted by the best lights that

a poor understanding is capable of attaining, it remains

still in doubt; and therefore I cannot consent to Sign a

warrant, Whereby the Sentence of the Ct Marl may be carried

into execution; for I cannot help thinking, that however

criminal Adml Byng may be, his life is not forfeited

by that Sentence. I don’t mean to find fault in the

least with the Opinion of other men; all I endeavour

at, is to give reasons for my own; and all I desire, or

wish is, that my meaning may not be misunderstood.

I do not pretend to Judge of Adml Byng’s desert nor to

give my opinion of the propriety of the Act.

John Byng1 thumb Rare Find: Admiral Forbes explanation for refusing to sign Admiral Byng’s death warrant. 503px John Forbes portrait Rare Find: Admiral Forbes explanation for refusing to sign Admiral Byng’s death warrant.

Admiral Byng                                          Admiral Forbes

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Civil Service Evidence of Age

The Civil Service Evidence of Age documents were for established civil servants and civil service examination candidates, collected by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) in order to establish accurate birth dates for the purpose of either ensuring that an examination candidate was of the required age, or for granting a pension.

By the 1980s, the CSC still held original documents for approximately 60,000 individuals, consisting largely of items that it would be impractical to replace, such as personal testimonials or documents from overseas. This important genealogical collection was deposited at the Society of Genealogists (SoG) and provides unique and often irreplaceable evidence of birth for which other sources are unlikely to be available. It might more properly be titled the Remains of the Civil Service Evidences of Age, as it is estimated that it constitutes only 2% of the papers originally held by the Civil Service. The remaining 98% were destroyed by the Civil Service.

This collection spans evidence of birth from 1752 up until the twentieth century, though the great majority of births recorded took place in the nineteenth century.

The Society indexers transcribed not just the civil service post-holder or candidate, but also any relatives named in the same document where a date of birth was given for them.

The below example is of David Gross born 15 January 1885 in Constantinople Turkey.

image thumb3 Civil Service Evidence of Age

Suggested lecture:

My Ancestor was a Policeman. Wednesday 3rd November 2010 2pm

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Apprentice Indentures

Apprentice Indentures are legal documents that were signed by apprentices and their masters to agree the conditions of an apprenticeship. Apprenticeship dates back to the later Middle Ages (1300-1500). Master craftsmen, such as cobblers, blacksmiths, tailors and weavers, benefited from cheap labour by taking on an apprentice, usually a child in their early teens, offering board and lodging and training in return.

Below is the original indenture for Thomas Eyre a “poor child” aged 12 in 1736, issued by the church wardens and overseers of the poor of the parish of St Margaret in the City of Westminster. These documents were obtained by document collectors from parish chests in the nineteenth century before the establishment of record offices. It is now held in the Crisp and Clench Collection of apprentice indentures purchased by the Society in about 1919. Not only does the collection hold many original apprenticeship indentures for Westminster parishes but there are also original indentures for children from the orphan’s asylum in the parish of St Mary’s Lambeth.

This indenture is on one piece of paper but indentures were originally drafted on a single piece of paper that was cut in half so that an apprentice’s legitimacy could be proved by putting the two pieces back together

image thumb Apprentice Indentures


Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Pre 1800’s Book Collection

The Society’s archives hold over 500 pre 1800 book titles. One of the oldest books within this collection is John Speed’s ‘Historie of Great Britaine under the Conquest of the Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans’ Printed by John Dawson for George Humble, London, 1632. The third edition was published after Speed’s death in 1629. Although the binding, leather spine and marbled paper boards, are in advanced state of deterioration, it is a very valuable book which has some claim to being the first history of England, first published in 1611. See images below.

Pre 1800 books are always an interesting read as many of the spellings are different to how we spell them today. Until 1755 when Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary was published there was no set way of spelling and so it was up to the writer to decide how they thought the word should be spelt, leading to many variations of the same word.

Included within the collection are poll books (of which some are the only known copies), army lists and almanacs. Poll books from this period are particularly interesting as most list voters’ names, occupations, addresses and even whom they voted for. Our poll book collections have been researched and mentioned in many academic publications as one of the most extensive in the world.

It is the Society’s intention to individually enter each book on to the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) including a description of the content and any unique or unusual features i.e. original binding, extra pages, manuscript additions etc. The ESTC holds information on British printed material before 1801 held by the British Library and by over 2000 other institutions worldwide. This is a very time consuming project and will need the expertise of a qualified librarian. The Society is currently applying to trusts for a grant to employ a part time librarian for one year.


image thumb Pre 1800’s Book Collection clip image002 thumb Pre 1800’s Book Collection


Suggested lecture:

Saturday 9th October at 2pm. The Georgians: Sources for the 18th Century by Else Churchill.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,