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John Byron’s Narrative


Lord Byron’s grandfather, author of “one of the most thrilling accounts in the language.”

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John Byron [later Vice-Admiral Byron RN], The Narrative of the Honourable John Byron (Commodore in a Late Expedition round the World) Containing an Account of the Great Distresses Suffered by Himself and his Companions on the Coast of Patagonia, From the Year 1740, till their Arrival in England, 1746. With a Description of St. Jago de Chili, and the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants. Also a Relation of the Loss of the Wager Man of War, one of Admiral Anson’s Squadron. Written by Himself, and now First Published. London, printed for S. Baker & G. Leigh in York-street; and T. Davies, in Russel-street, Covent-garden, MDCCLXVIII [1768].

First Edition, octavo, scarce, viii + 257 pp, complete with all pp. present including the noted mispaginated p. 168 (as p. 167) and p. 169 (as p. 168), pagination corrected at p. 170, full contemporary tan calf with light tan spine and quartered on to darker tan calf board, light tan corners, decorated board edges, old Berkelouw Bookdealers Sydney small sticker on upper front pastedown, spine decorated with blind embossed anchors between raised bands, red gilt titling label, spine dated 1768 at bottom, engraved frontispiece by C[harles] Grignion (1721-1810) after a painting by S[amuel] Wale (1721?-1786). Association copy with contemporary ink dated signature of first owner “Robert Melvill[e] 1768” on half-title page, small ink initials of later owner [J.W.M.?], dated 13.5.08 (1808) below and also l.l. under frontis. Refs.: Sabin 9130 (Joseph Sabin’s Bibliography), Cox, Hill.

Condition: Very Good. Offsetting to title page from engr. frontis. as usual, pages quite lightly toned, reinforced blank pp. at front and back, decorated board edges a little faded, a little minor spotting on a few pp., brief small ink notations on pp. 67 and 227, some short n.b. ink rulings beside text on a few pp. in the latter part of the book.     

In 1740 John Byron (1723-1786) was a midshipman aboard HMS Wager, an old East Indiaman built in 1734, purchased by the Royal Navy in 1739 and refitted as a 28-gun square-rigged sixth-rater man of war and store-ship for assaults by Commodore George Anson’s Squadron on Spanish possessions along South America’s Pacific coast. Terrible weather scattered Anson’s ships as they rounded Cape Horn and Wager did not sail sufficiently west after turning north and found itself perilously near the coast of what is today southern Chile. Wager was wrecked on 14 May 1741 and its survivors were marooned during a Patagonian winter on a desolate island (which came to be known as Wager Island). Discipline broke down, resulting in a mutiny which saw 81 men take to small boats in an attempt to reach England from Rio de Janeiro, while 20 men, including Captain Cheap, remained for a time on Wager Island. Byron describes the extreme hardships endured by the survivors who remained with Captain David Cheap. They were made prisoners by the Indians and turned over to the Spanish authorities, undergoing many misadventures (and adventures) and unable to make their way back to England until 1746. After many disasters, only six of the larger mutinous group and four of Captain Cheap’s group succeeded in returning to England. The poet Lord Byron (George Gordon) used shipwreck events from John Byron’s Narrative in Canto II of his poem Don Juan. John Byron, known as “foul weather Jack” for his many encounters with bad weather at sea, commanded a voyage round the world in HMS Dolphin from 1764-1766 and was later Governor of Newfoundland, a noted Pacific explorer and promoted Vice-Admiral in 1775.

In his Narrative, described as “the most thrilling account in the language” (Sabin), Byron launches straight into the loss of the Wager: “By a great roll of a hollow sea, we carried away our mizen-mast, all the chain-plates to windward being broken. Soon after, hard gales as well coming on with a prodigious swell, there broke a heavy sea in upon the ship, which stove our boats, and filled us for some time. …We were soon obliged to cut away our best bower anchor to ease the fore-mast…and the ship in all parts in a most crazy condition. …[We] had now lost sight of our squadron [and found] ourselves bearing for the land on a lee-shore. …[The] straps of the fore jeer blocks breaking, the fore-yard came down; and the greatest part of the men [were] disabled through fatigue and sickness. …The weather, from being exceeding tempestuous, blowing now a perfect hurricane, and right in upon the shore, rendered our endeavours (for we were now only twelve hands [of a crew of at least 120] fit for duty) intirely fruitless. The night came on, dreadful beyond description, in which, attempting to throw out our topsails to claw off the shore, they were immediately blown from the yards. In the morning, about four o’clock, the ship struck. … [Several] poor wretches…in the last stage of scurvy, and who could not get out of their hammocks, were immediately drowned.” Byron’s account continues with much fascinating detail of the consequences and his Narrative became an instant best-seller, going into many editions until the present day.

John Byron was appointed Captain of HMS Syren in 1746. In 1760 he defeated the French flotilla at the Battle of Restigouche, sent to relieve New France after the fall of Quebec—a victory which effectively ended French colonisation. From 1764-1766 John Byron, as Captain of HMS Dolphin, circumnavigated the globe, the first to be accomplished in less than two years. During this voyage he took possession for Britain of the Falkland Islands and made discoveries in the Pacific. Byron was promoted Rear-Admiral of the Blue (1776) and Vice-Admiral of the White (1778). In 1778-1779, he served as Commander-in-chief of the British fleet in the West Indies during the American War of Independence. His attack on a French fleet at the Battle of Grenada in 1779 was unsuccessful. Byron was briefly Commander-in-Chief, North American Station, from October 1779.

Title: The narrative of the Honourable John Byron: (commodore in a late expedition round the world), containing an account of the great distresses suffered by himself and his companions on the coast of Patagonia, from the year 1740, till their arrival in England, 1746: with a description of St. Jago de Chili, and the manners and customs of the inhabitants: also a relation of the loss of the Wager, man of war, one of Admiral Anson’s squadron.Author: John ByronPublisher: Gale, Sabin Americana Description: Based on Joseph Sabin’s famed bibliography, Bibliotheca Americana, Sabin Americana, 1500–1926 contains a collection of books, pamphlets, serials and other works about the Americas, from the time of their discovery to the early 1900s. Sabin Americana is rich in original accounts of discovery and exploration, pioneering and westward expansion, the U.S. Civil War and other military actions, Native Americans, slavery and abolition, religious history and more.Sabin Americana offers an up-close perspective on life in the western hemisphere, encompassing the arrival of the Europeans on the shores of North America in the late 15th century to the first decades of the 20th century. Covering a span of over 400 years in North, Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, this collection highlights the society, politics, religious beliefs, culture, contemporary opinions and momentous events of the time. It provides access to documents from an assortment of genres, sermons, political tracts, newspapers, books, pamphlets, maps, legislation, literature and more.Now for the first time, these high-quality digital scans of original works are available via print-on-demand, making them readily accessible to libraries, students, independent scholars, and readers of all ages.++++The below data was compiled from various identification fields in the bibliographic record of this title. This data is provided as an additional tool in helping to insure edition identification: ++++SourceLibrary: Huntington LibraryDocumentID: SABCP04023000CollectionID: CTRG02-B599PublicationDate: 17680101SourceBibCitation: Selected Americana from Sabin’s Dictionary of books relating to AmericaNotes: Error in pagination: p. 167 repeated.Collation: viii, 257 [i.e. 258] p., [1] leaf of plates: ill.; 22 cm

This First Edition carries the bold ink signature, dated 1768—the year the book was published—of General Robert Melvill[e] (1723-1809) on its half-title. In his youth, he spelled his name Melvil, later as Melvill and in his declining years as Melville. The signature here may be read as Melvill with a hint of a final ‘e’. Melville was born in Fife, Scotland. He briefly attended Glasgow University and began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where a close relative was Professor of Medicine, but left to join the Army. Melville fought at the Battle of Fontenoy, in which one-third of his Regiment was killed, and at the Battle of Culloden (both 1745), and subsequently in battles in Flanders. By 1756 he was a Major in the 38th Foot, serving in the West Indies in the Seven Years’ War, where he was involved in the capture of French islands including Martinique and St Lucia, and also Guadeloupe where his wounds eventually led to his blindness at the end of his life. In 1760 General Melville was appointed “Grand Master within the Tropics” of the “Beggars Bennison and Merryland”, a Scottish hellfire club and in 1764 became “Patron of all the Hob and Nob Societies in his government”. (A Hob or Nob Society or School of Temperance was pledged to drink seven toasts in bumpers at each of its meetings.) Melville was Lieut.-Governor of Guadeloupe in 1759-61, promoted to Brigadier-General (1761), and under the Treaty of Paris became Governor-in-Chief of Grenada (his centre of government), the Grenadines, Dominica, St Vincent and Tobago, establishing the St Vincent Botanic Gardens. A good organiser, Melville was praised by the Lords of the Admiralty, writing to Lord Shelburne (Whig Leader of the House of Lords and Prime Minister 1782-83), for his “activity and vigilance” contributing to the “flourishing condition” of Britain’s Caribbean possessions. Melville was promoted to Major-General (1766) and Lieut.-General (1777). He returned in 1771 to Scotland where in the 1770s he invented the carronade, short ordnance of large calibre used on ships. General Melville was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Fellow of the Royal Society. Melville lived in London for some time, but worsening health persuaded him to move to Edinburgh, near relatives, in 1807. Before his death in 1809 he disposed of this 1786 book. A small set of initials which may be read as J.W.M. and dated 13.5.08 (1808) on the half-title and below the book’s frontispiece, could refer to the General’s cousin, John Whyte Melville, of Bennochy, to whom he left his estate. At his death Robert Melville, who never married, was the second-oldest serving General in the British Army.