George Tryon

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Vice-Admiral SIR George Tryon, K.C.B., Royal Navy (4 January, 1832 – 22 June, 1893) was an officer of the Royal Navy in the Nelsonian vein, who advocated that the service adopt a more flexible command philosophy which would de-emphasise central command in favour of independent command initiative harmonised by a strong doctrine reinforced by frequent drill.

Tryon lost his life in the infamous loss of H.M.S. Victoria in 1893, an accident he precipitated while using the stringent command patterns he disdained.

Early Life & Career

George Tryon was born at Bulwick Park, Northamptonshire, on 4 January, 1832. He was the third of four sons born to Thomas Tryon and Anne, daughter of Sir John Trollope, Bart. His two elder brothers, Thomas and Henry, both served in the army; Thomas fighting at Alma, Inkerman and in the Indian Mutiny before retiring as a Lieutenant-Colonel; Henry fighting at Alma, Inkerman and Balaklava before being killed in action on 20 November, 1854. Tryon was a bright child, and after prepatory school was sent to Eton College. It is family tradition that at the age of sixteen Tryon informed his father of his desire to join the navy.[1] His father obtained Tryon a nomination and he passed the examination, and in the Spring of 1848 he went to sea in H.M.S Wellesley, a two-decker then fitting out at Plymouth as Flagship of the North American Station.[2] Tryon's knowledge of mathematics was apparently deficient, for he had to receive tuition from a naval schoolmaster, as he recounted in a letter to his mother:

Only fancy, I have to pay my own schoolmaster £5. per annum. But if no one else does, I shall get my shilling's worth out of him, as he will have to teach me almost from the beginning—instead of which most cadets know.[3]

After a year and a half in Wellesley, he headed the list of eight men who took an examination in algebra, trigonometry, navigation and nautical astronomy, taking 814 marks. The lowest number was 47.[4] On 25 March, 1848 Wellesley departed for Bermuda, arriving there on 3 May by way of Fayal. Tryon suffered from sea-sickness, and wrote to his mother, "the best thing you can do when you are sea-sick is to eat plenty and walk about."[5] He was a supernumerary Midshipman in Wellesley, and there was a possibility that he might have been transferred to the hulk Imaum, then lying at Port Royal.[6] He took action to avoid this, as he explained to his mother in a letter of 30 May, 1848:

I am sure of remaining in the Wellesley. I asked Lieutenant Cochrane to speak to the Admiral [Lord Dundonald, Cochrane's father] about it, which he did; but there was some difficulty, as I knew there would be, owing to there being no vacancy in this ship, but it has been overcome, and I—still having the Imaum for my ship—am permanently lent to the Wellesley. Lieutenant Cochrane was very good-natured about it.[7]

The Wellesley spent three years as Flagship on the North America Station and visited most places of interest within the West Indian and Canadian areas.[8] In 1850 Tryon visited the United States with a party of shipmates, travelling to Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Niagara and Washington, D.C. and other places.[9] While in Washington, he and his associates visited the United States House of Representatives and were invited onto the floor of the House, meeting a number of Congressmen. The visit coincided with the controversy surrounding the admission of California into the Union, as a "free" state and not a "slave" state. On slavery Tryon commented, "It is a very difficult question to settle, as especially as the Southern States say they will separate themselves from the Union if slavery is abolished, and there is little doubt that they will."[10] He also noted, "One thing remarkable is that there are no beggars; we have not seen one, and only heard two organs. There are no lean horses, and no starving dogs, and the Irishmen seem well contented."[11]

At the end of the Wellesley's commission in June, 1851, Tryon was appointed to the Vengeance, fitting out for service in the Mediterranean.[12] The commander was William R. Mends, later an admiral. He later wrote:

He [Tryon] served with me, when I was commander of the Vengeance, for two years as a midshipman, and a better young officer never existed; ever full of energy and zeal. As a boat midshipman and signal midshipman he was unrivalled. On my becoming flag-captain to the late Admiral Lord Lyons, I applied, with his permission, for Tryon as one of the lieutenants of the Royal Albert, and as such he more than fulfilled the opinions I had formed of him in the former ranks.[13]


After seven months promising service as a Mate during which he was slightly wounded on shore in the Crimea, Tryon was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant with seniority of 21 October, 1854.


Tryon was promoted to the rank of Commander with seniority of 25 October, 1860. In mid 1861, he was appointed to the armoured frigate Warrior as executive officer. He spent three years in this role before being appointed in command of the gun vessel Surprise, vice Whyte, on 5 August, 1864.[14] In May of 1865, Surprise was ordered to Gibraltar to replace the Racoon.[15]


On 4 April, 1866 Surprise sailed from the Mediterranean for Plymouth, where she arrived on the 12th. Tryon then discovered that he had been promoted to the rank of Captain on the 11th, at the comparatively early age of thirty-four, after only five and a half years in the rank of Commander.[16][17] having paid off Surprise, which had been in commission for five years, Tryon then went on half pay. He went to the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth to study steam engineering, was certified in it and the following year travelled to Norway for a fishing holiday, from where he was recalled for service as "additional captain" borne on the books of the Octavia, Flagship of the East Indies Station. He was detailed to act as transport officer at Annesley Bay for duty with Sir Robert Napier's expedition to Magdala to secure the release of Britons taken hostage by Theodore, King of Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia).[18]

In June, 1877, Tryon was relieved in command of the screw frigate Raleigh by Captain Jago, after three and a half years' service. The officers of the ship gave Tryon a farewell dinner the night before his departure, at Athens. "A big affair on the upper deck, under awnings, &c. All very nice in tone and feeling," he recalled in a letter to his wife.[19] He felt unable to personally address his men upon leaving, and wrote a note which was posted on the mess deck:

I wish to write what it would have been difficult for me to say: it is 'good-bye' to a ship's company with whom I have been associated for three and a half years, and to wish all and every individual long life and happiness; and that in years to come, when they look back and recall the time we served together in the Raleigh, it may be with as kindly a reminiscence of their captain as I shall through my life retain for them.

"G. Tryon"[20]

He took a Greek steamer to Corfu, in the company of his friend Captain (later Admiral Sir) Frederick Richards (latterly in command of Devastation), and then an Italian steamer to Venice. On the overland journey between Venice and Paris Richards fell ill. Despite having been away from his family for so long, Tryon elected to remain in Paris while Richards recovered.[21]

Flag Rank

Tryon was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral on 1 April, 1884, vice Waddilove.[22] He left Britain in a P. & O. steamship on 4 December to become Commander-in-Chief on the Australian Station, hoisting his flag in the Nelson at Sydney on 22 January, 1885, in succession to Commodore, Second Class James Erskine.[23]

In September, 1885, Captain (later Admiral) Francis S. Clayton wrote of Tryon:

I hardly know whether I like the admiral or not, he is an odd fellow, very brusque in his manner but I think good at heart. He is the most tiresome man to talk to on service matters. You go up to his office, he is always smoking a very big cigar which fills his mouth well up. He talks first of one matter, then of another, so that it is all but impossible to follow him, everything so jumbled up and then when you ask some question to clear matters up a little, he said 'I have just told you that'. Fortunately he puts things into writing.[24]

On the occasion of Queen Victoria's golden jubilee, Tryon was appointed an Additional Member of the Second Class, or Knight Commander, in the Military Division of the Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) on 21 June, 1887.[25] In July, having returned from Australia, he was invited to contest the Spalding Division of Lincolnshire.

He was promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral on 13 August, 1889, vice Greive.[26]


Prince Louis of Battenberg, then a Commander, wrote to Queen Victoria:

He was extremely masterful, marvellously quick of perception, and proportionately impatient with others less quick and above all that he would never put up with any contradiction. On all executive matters he was an absolute autocrat, taking no man's advice, feeling himself head and shoulders above his subordinates in all matters … We all had blind confidence in him … He may have argued: "It is risky but we can just do it."[27]

Sir James Thursfield later claimed that, upon the loss of the torpedo cruiser Serpent in 1890, Tryon had opined, "An error of judgement I fear; but we are all liable to it, and those poor fellows have paid for it with their lives."[28]


  • Allen, Matthew (July 2008). "The Deployment of Untried Technology: British Naval Tactics in the Ironclad Era". War in History 15 (3): pp. 269–293.
  • FitzGerald, Rear-Admiral C. C. Penrose (1897). Life of Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon, K.C.B.. London: William Blackwood and Sons.
  • Gordon, Andrew (2005). The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command. London: John Murray (Publishers). ISBN 0719561310. (on and
  • Hough, Richard (1959). Admirals in Collision. New York: The Viking Press.

Service Records


  1. FitzGerald. pp. 11-13.
  2. FitzGerald. pp. 13-14.
  3. FitzGerald. p. 15.
  4. FitzGerald. pp. 12-13.
  5. FitzGerald. p. 13.
  6. FitzGerald. p. 14.
  7. Quoted in FitzGerald. p. 15.
  8. FitzGerald. p. 23.
  9. FitzGerald. p. 20.
  10. Quoted in FitzGerald. p. 21.
  11. Quoted in FitzGerald. p. 22.
  12. FitzGerald. p. 25.
  13. Quoted in FitzGerald. p. 27.
  14. "Naval & Military Intelligence." The Times (London, England), Monday, August 8, 1864, Issue 24945, p.9.
  15. "Naval & Military Intelligence." The Times (London, England), Friday, May 12, 1865, Issue 25183, p.12.
  16. The London Gazette: no. 23101. p. 2393. 13 April, 1866.
  17. FitzGerald. p. 97-98.
  18. FitzGerald. pp. 99-100.
  19. FitzGerald. pp. 151-152.
  20. FitzGerald. p. 152.
  21. FitzGerald. p. 130.
  22. The London Gazette: no. 25338. p. 1562. 4 April, 1884.
  23. FitzGerald. Life of Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon. p. 165.
  24. Clayton letter to his wife (September, 1885). Quoted in Gordon. p. 194.
  25. The London Gazette: no. 25712. p. 3362. 21 June, 1887.
  26. The London Gazette: no. 25965. p. 4460. 16 August, 1889.
  27. Prince Louis to Queen Victoria. R.A., E56/111. Quoted in Hough. Louis and Victoria. p. 170.
  28. The Naval Annual, 1894. p. 177.
  29. Tryon Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/37/1308.
  30. Tryon Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/13/401.
  31. A List of the Lords High Admiral and Commissioners for executing that Office, which have been from time to time appointed, since the year 1660. p. 41. Tudor Papers. Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. King's College London. Tudor 1.
  32. Tryon Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/13. f. 394.
  33. Clowes. The Royal Navy. Vol. VII. p. 89.
  34. Tryon Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/13. f. 394.
  35. Tryon Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/13. f. 394.
  36. Tryon Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/37. f. 1322.
  37. Tryon Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/13. f. 394.
  38. Clowes. The Royal Navy. Vol. VII. p. 87.
  39. Tryon Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/37. f. 1322.