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.

Castle Cornet, St Peter Port, Guernsey, where someone who survived a duel might be imprisoned


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Other events that occured in February

Mail ship wrecked on Black Rock 1st
Oil rig stranded at Grandes Rocques
Birth of Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann 2nd
Death of Sir Charles Hayward 3rd
St Martin’s parish church consecrated 4th
Guernsey suffers its worst storm in 35 years 5th
Guernsey watchmaker helps Stone of Scone manhunt 6th
Guernsey Language Commission formed 7th
Queen Mary executed while wearing Guernsey stockings 8th
Guernsey gets its first postbox
Guernsey Society celebrates its 70th anniversary 9th
Guernsey’s last execution didn’t go according to plan 10th
The last issue of GUNS was distributed 11th
Alderney gets its first full-time radio station 12th
Guernsey’s last duel 13th
Specsavers’ Mary Perkins was born 14th
Blue Islands takes to the skies
Guernsey gets its own flag 15th
Birth of concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houedard 16th
HMS Guernsey launched in Aberdeen 17th
Guernsey’s first Methodist minister arrives 18th
Aurigny Air Services founded 19th
Guernsey Railway Company runs its first services 20th
The Channel Islands were cut off from the outside world 21st
St Sampson was ordained a bishop 22nd
Death of Thomas Fiott de Havilland 23rd
Murder inquiry ends with suicide 24th
Death of occupation resister Marie Ozanne 25th
Guernsey’s first banker dies 26th
Release of Reverend Harry Samuel 27th
Plans for St Sampson power station approved 28th
Second World War bomb detonated 29th