Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tryon, George
TRYON, Sir GEORGE (1832–1893), vice-admiral, third son of Thomas Tryon (d. 1872) of Bulwick Park, Northamptonshire, by his wife Anne (d. 1877), daughter of Sir John Trollope, sixth baronet, was born on 4 Jan. 1832. The Tryons are believed to have been of Dutch origin, but have been seated at Bulwick since the reign of James I. After a few years at Eton he entered the navy in the spring of 1848, as a naval cadet of the Wellesley, then fitting for the flag of Lord Dundonald as commander-in-chief of the North American station. He was somewhat older than was usual, and a good deal bigger. When he passed for midshipman he was over eighteen, and was more than six feet. His size helped to give him authority, and his age gave him steadiness and application; zeal and force of character were natural gifts, and when the Wellesley paid off in June 1851 he had won the very high opinion of his commanding officer. A few weeks later he was appointed to the Vengeance, with Captain Lord Edward Russell [q. v.], for the Mediterranean station, where he still was at the outbreak of the Russian war. On 15 March 1854 he passed his examination in seamanship, but continuing in the Vengeance, from her maintop watched the battle of the Alma, in which his two elder brothers were engaged. Shortly after the battle of Inkerman he was landed for service with the naval brigade, and a few days later was made a lieutenant into a death vacancy of 21 Oct., the admiral writing to him, ‘You owe it to the conduct and character which you bear in the service.’ In January 1855 Tryon was re-embarked and returned to England in the Vengeance; but when he had passed his examination at Portsmouth, he was again sent out to the Black Sea as a lieutenant of the Royal Albert—flagship of Sir Edmund (afterwards Lord) Lyons [q. v.], whose captain, William Mends, had been the commander of the Vengeance. The Royal Albert returned to Spithead in the summer of 1858, formed part of the queen's escort to Cherbourg in July, and was paid off in August. In November Tryon was appointed to the royal yacht, from which he was promoted to be commander on 25 Oct. 1860.
In June 1861 he was selected to be the commander of the Warrior, the first British seagoing ironclad, then preparing for her first commission, considered to be somewhat of the nature of a grand and costly experiment. Tryon remained in her, attached to the Channel fleet, till July 1864, when he was appointed to an independent command in the Mediterranean, the Surprise gun-vessel, which he brought home and paid off in April 1866. He was then (11 April) promoted to the rank of captain. During the next year he went through a course of theoretical study at the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth, and in August 1867 was away fishing in Norway, when he was recalled to go out as director of transports in Annesley Bay, where the troops and stores were landed for the Abyssinian expedition. The work, neither interesting nor exciting, was extremely hard in a sweltering and unhealthy climate. His talent for organisation, his foresight and clearheadedness, his care and his intimate knowledge of details strongly impressed all the officers, naval and military, with whom he came in contact, and won the esteem and regard of the masters of the transports—men not always the most amenable to discipline—who after his return to England presented him with a handsome service of plate in commemoration of their gratitude for his influence and management, his justice and general kindness, his perseverance and forbearance, to which they considered the success of the work largely due. His health, however, was severely tried, and for some months after his return to England he was very much of an invalid. On 5 April 1869 he married Clementina, daughter of Gilbert John Heathcote, first lord Aveland, and went for a tour in Italy and Central Europe, settling down in the autumn near Doncaster.
In April 1871 he was appointed private secretary to Mr. Goschen, then first lord of the admiralty; and, though his want of time and service as a captain might easily have caused some jealousy or friction, his good-humoured tact and ready wit overcame all difficulties, and won for him the confidence of the navy as well as of Mr. Goschen. In January 1874 he was appointed to the Raleigh, again an experimental ship, and commanded her for upwards of three years in the flying squadron, in attendance on the Prince of Wales during his tour in India, and in the Mediterranean. In June 1877 he was appointed one of a committee for the revision of the signal-book and the manual of fleet evolutions, and in October 1878 took command of the Monarch, again in the Mediterranean, one of the fleet with Sir Geoffrey Hornby in the sea of Marmora, and in the autumn of 1880 with Sir Frederick Beauchamp Paget Seymour (afterwards Lord Alcester) [q. v.] in the international demonstration against the Turks in the Adriatic. During the summer and autumn of 1881 Tryon was specially employed as senior officer on the coast of Tunis, and by his ‘sound judgment and discretion’ gained the approval of the foreign secretary and the lords of the admiralty. In January 1882 the Monarch was paid off at Malta, and shortly after his return to England Tryon was appointed secretary of the admiralty, which office he held till April 1884, and was in the autumn of 1882 largely concerned in the establishment of the department of naval intelligence.
On 1 April 1884 he was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, and in December left England to take the command-in-chief of the Australian station, where, during the war ‘scare’ of 1885 and afterwards, he distinctly formulated the scheme of colonial defence which has been subsequently carried into effect. In June 1887 he returned to England; on the 21st he was nominated a K.C.B. (one of the jubilee promotions); and after a few months' holiday, including a season's shooting, he was appointed in April 1888 to the post of superintendent of reserves, which carried with it also the duty of commanding one of the opposing fleets in the mimic war of the summer manœuvres. This Tryon performed for three years, bringing into the contest a degree of vigour which, especially in 1889, went far to solve some of the strategic questions then discussed in naval circles (Edinburgh Review, January 1890, pp. 154–62). He also at this time wrote an article on ‘National Insurance’ (United Service Magazine, May 1890), in which he put forward a scheme for the protection of commerce, and especially of the supply of food in time of war. This scheme was not favourably received by shipowners and merchants, and, indeed, Tryon's principal object was probably rather to lift the discussion out of the academic or abstract groove into which it had got, and to force people to consider the question as one of the gravest practical importance.
On 15 Aug. 1889 he became a vice-admiral, and in August 1891 he was appointed to the command of the Mediterranean station, where, as often as circumstances permitted, he collected the fleet for the practice of evolutions on a grand scale. About his methods much was afterwards said, and especially about one—manœuvring without signals—which has been freely denounced as most dangerous, and, in fact, suicidal. But Tryon conceived it to be the best and most fitting training for the manœuvres of battle. It was, too, repeatedly practised by the fleet without any untoward incident, and it had nothing to do with the dreadful accident which closed Tryon's career. The manœuvre which resulted in that calamity was ordered deliberately, by signal.
On the morning of 22 June 1893 the fleet weighed from Beyrout, and a little after 2 p.m. was off Tripoli, where it was intended to anchor. The ships were formed in two columns twelve hundred yards apart; and about half-past three the signal was made to invert the course in succession, turning inwards, the leading ships first. The two leading ships were the Victoria, carrying Tryon's flag, and the Camperdown, carrying the flag of the second in command, Rear-admiral Markham. It was clear to every one in the fleet, except to Tryon himself, that the distance between the columns was too small to permit the ships to turn together in the manner prescribed, and by some, at least, of the captains, it was supposed that Tryon's intention was for the Victoria and the ships astern of her to turn on a large circle, so as to pass outside the Camperdown and the ships of the second division. That this was not so was only realised when it was seen that the two ships, turning at the same time, both inwards, must necessarily come in collision. They did so. It was a question of but two or three seconds as to which should give, which should receive the blow. The Victoria happened to be by this short time ahead of the Camperdown; she received the blow on her starboard bow, which was cut open; as her bows were immersed her stern was cocked up, she turned completely over and plunged head first to the bottom. The boats of the other ships were immediately sent to render what assistance they could, but the loss of life was very great. Tryon went down with the ship, and was never seen again. The most probable explanation of the disaster seems to be a simple miscalculation on the part of the admiral, a momentary forgetfulness that two ships turning inwards needed twice the space that one did. As the two ships were approaching each other and the collision was seen to be inevitable, Tryon was heard to say ‘It is entirely my fault.’
A portrait, after a drawing by C. W. Walton, is prefixed to the ‘Life’ by Admiral Fitzgerald (1897), while at p. 72 is a reproduction of a miniature painted by Easton in 1857.[Tryon's life, both public and private, is fairly and sympathetically described in the Life by Rear-admiral C. C. Penrose-Fitzgerald, London, 1897, 8vo. A more detailed narrative of the loss of the Victoria is in the Blue-book, containing the minutes of the court-martial; cf. Brassey's Naval Annual, 1894 (art. by Mr. J. R. Thursfield). See also the article by Vice-Admiral Colomb in the Saturday Review, 27 Feb. 1897.]