13th February 1795
Guernsey’s last duel
Major William Byng was a member of the 92nd Regiment of Foot. According to some accounts, he was a very patriotic man. It was probably this patriotism that led to the duel that cost him his life.
There are several different version of what happened. What we do know is that he and a man called James Taylor fell out. Taylor was a surgeon attached to the same company as Byng. In one telling, Taylor had failed to stand quickly enough during the national anthem, and an outraged Byng had challenged him to a duel. Another suggests it was Taylor who’d challenged Byng, after Byng himself had failed to stand.
Either way, the dice was cast, and the men were unwilling or unable to stand down. They met in Cambridge Park the following morning – 13 February – and there, the matter was settled.
Short, sharp duel
It didn’t take long. Taylor shot Byng through the head. Byng was killed instantly, and was buried in the Cimitiere des Freres (the Brothers’ Cemetery), which is to the north of St Peter Port. He had been just 31 years old when he died.
A stone in Cambridge Park still marks the spot where the duel took place, but that hadn’t always been the only evidence of the fight. Someone had carved Byng’s name and the date of his death on a tree. The tree is no longer there. It was removed when it became dangerous, but until that point the marks were still clearly visible on its bark.
Duelling wasn’t common on the island, even in the eighteenth century. It was outlawed in Guernsey at the time, perhaps not surprisingly and anyone breaking the law (and suriving) would be sentenced to serve time in prison at Castle Cornet (below).
Perhaps considering incarceration to be a fate worse than possible death many duellers took their pistols to Jersey and settled their arguments there instead.