Biography

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Hon. Frederick Gerald Byng (1784-1871)

The Hon. Frederick Gerald (aka "Poodle") Byng was the 5th son of the of the 5th Viscount Torrington and his wife Bridget (bap. 1748, d. 1823), daughter of Commodore Arthur Forrest (d. 1770) and his wife, Frederica. The marriage produced five sons and eight daughters, one of whom died young. Three of the sons followed military or naval careers, with two attaining the rank of admiral. Their youngest son was known to Regency society as "Poodle" Byng.

"Poodle" Byng was born in 1784 and had been a cornet and ensign in the Army then a clerk at the Foreign Office. He became a vestryman of St James's and a member of the Westminster commissino of Sewers; on retiring from the Foreign Office in 1839, he devoted himself to the sanitary movement.

A number of stories exist for the nickname "Poodle". It was said that the name was given to him by George Canning on account of Byng's curly hair; Bynd told the Hon. F. Leveson Gower that it was given to him by "some charming lady he had courted". It is also claimed that Beau Brumell gave Byng his nickname. Byng was fond of letting his light hair curl around his forehead. He was one day driving in his curricle with a poodle at his side when the Beau hailed him with "Ah, how d' ye do, Byng? A family vehicle, I see."

Well known Bond Street Loungers, 1820.

Left to right: the Earl of Sefton, The Duke of Devonshire, Lord Manners, "Poodle" Byng, Byng's poodle and the Duke of Beaufort.

Byng claimed to have been a page of honour at the Prince of Wales' wedding in 1791 but all he could properly recall was the thickness of the Prince's calves. Byng was also one of the group who sat with Beau Brummell in the bow window at White's, judging the dress of passersby.

Poodle ByngGerard Frederick Finch Byng Esq, Page of Honour To His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.

The print is the property of Sarah Fletcher; my thanks to her for allowing me to use the image.

Click here for a larger image and more details.

Byng was an eccentric of the first order. He was intensely inquisitive and such a gossip that he was nicknamed "Paul Pry". Byng was famous among his contemporaries for his innumerable acquaintances and (according to him) his numerous love affairs. Stories abounded about his social gaffes, such as complaining to his hosts about the food that was served or giving opinions and advice about their establishments and servants. He married his mother's maid, Catherine Neville, after she had given birth to a his child.

As a Gentleman Usher of the Royal Chamber, he was appointed by George Canning to escort "their savage majesties" of the Sandwich Islands during an unexpected visit to London in 1824; the Hawaiian King Kamehameha II's given name Liholiho was thought by the British to mean "dog of dog" so the appointment of "Poodle" Byng as advisor and escort was a joke which some found amusing at the time. Byng escorted the three Hawaiian dignitaries around London in 1824, and was regarded as their "Chief Showman". Unfortunately, King Kamehameha II and Queen Tamehamalu died at Osborne's Hotel in July of measles and inflammation of the lungs.

Click here for a larger image

This Cruikshank cartoon shows Byng wearing a Hawaiian grass skirt, sitting on a pile of eggs from some of which chicks are emerging; facing him stand the three Sandwich Islanders in feathers and paint: the King and Queen and (presumably) the Governor, Boko, who is shorter, older, and less feathered than the royal pair; all stare and laugh. Byng wears a feathered Sandwich Island kilt, with his blue coat; in his hand is a paper on which is written, "To be seen in full operation the Apparatus for Hatching Poultry and Game Birds by Steam". Byng was an inveterate gambler at "Brooks", and a note at the base of the print refers to gambling losses of £500. Byng invested in a steam hatching invention.

The inscriptions read as follows:

Byng says: Egad these Breeches are a valuable present — I'll turn 'em to account — Dash my wig if I don't open a Concern in opposition to the Steam, & hatch Chickens by the Grose in the Natural way. I shall then be able to supply your Sandwich Majesties and other Majesties, Tables with the Real Poodle Poultry of the finest flavour in the Universe.

A goose, partly confined in an egg, flies behind his head, asking. "What will Barlow [1] say to all this?"

Centre: "To be seen in full operation the Apparatus for Hatching Poultry and Game Birds by Steam.

Byng's head is covered by tight little curls; at his feet a poodle, "Poodle Byng" on its collar, barks "bow, wow, wow, wow" at the Sandwich Islanders.

A duckling breaking from an egg says: "This is a rum go. Quack! Quack! Quack!"

Under Byng's foot is a paper: Lost £300 or more at B ks's — NB saw them all out, started at 5 in the Morning."

Behind him a cock crows: "Cock! a doodle doo!"

The Queen, holding a feather fan before her face, says: "Doga, Ducka, Oha!! Shocka, Shocka, Shagga!"

The King: "Poka! Poka! Papa! Poopa, Foula! Massa Bitiga Hacha Hooka Waker!!"

Boko: "Quacka, Kacka, Hatcha Egga Cocka Chicka Bidda Hala! Hoa!!!"


Pubd June 1824 by J Fairburn Broadway Ludgate Hill;
Beneath image: R C fecit  [that is, RC made me] ; A Favourite Poodle Hatching Poultry!! - or A present of Feather Breeches from the Sandwich Isles; Verso - in pencil: 30/-


[1] J. H. Barlow was an inventor of the incubator. He published Daily Progress of the chick in the egg during hatching on steam apparatus, 1824, and The Art and Method of Hatching and rearing all Kinds of Domestic Poultry and Game Birds by Steam, 1827. He successfully reared some 64,000 game birds annually.


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Last modified 11 November, 2013

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