Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lyon, George Francis
LYON, GEORGE FRANCIS (1795–1832), captain in the navy and traveller, son of a colonel in the army, was born at Chichester in 1795. He entered the navy in 1808, served in the Milford off Cadiz in 1810, followed Rear-admiral Keats to the Hibernia in the watch off Toulon, and was afterwards taken by Lord Exmouth into his flagship, the Caledonia, and appointed to the Berwick as acting lieutenant. The commission was confirmed on 30 July 1814, and Lyon remaining in the Berwick was at the siege of Gaeta in 1815. In December he was moved to the Albion as flag-lieutenant to Rear-admiral (afterwards Sir Charles) Penrose, and took part in the battle of Algiers on 27 Aug. 1816. He was still in the Albion at Malta in September 1818, when Mr. Ritchie, secretary of the embassy at Paris, arrived there on his way to Tripoli to travel in Africa in the interests of the government. It had been arranged that Captain Frederick Marryat [q. v.] was to accompany him, but as Marryat was unable to do so Lyon volunteered to take his place, and in November joined Ritchie at Tripoli. He had already some knowledge of Arabic, and for the next four months studied assiduously, not only the language, but the religious and social forms of the Arabs. They left Tripoli towards the end of March 1819, and reached Murzuk on the thirty-ninth day. Here Lyon had a severe attack of dysentery, and he was barely convalescent when Ritchie was taken ill. The weather was extremely hot. On 20 June at 2 p.m. the temperature was registered as 133° F. in the shade; and the same extreme temperature was observed on other days in August and September. They were without funds, their stores were exhausted, and the sultan was greedy and suspicious. On 20 Nov. 1819 Ritchie died. Without resources, and still very feeble, Lyon pushed on towards the southern boundary of Fezzan, but he was obliged to return, and reached Tripoli more dead than alive in March. Thence he sailed for Leghorn on 18 May, and arrived in London on 29 July 1820. The account of his journey was published as ‘A Narrative of Travels in North Africa in the years 1818, 1819, and 1820, accompanied by Geographical Notices of Soudan and of the Course of the Niger’ (4to, 1821), illustrated with coloured plates of costumes, sports, &c., from Lyon's own drawings.
In December 1820 Lyon was recommended by Captain W. H. Smyth [q. v.] as a person peculiarly well qualified to assist him in the examination and survey of the coast of Tripoli and Egypt. Instead of sending him on this duty, however, the admiralty promoted him to the rank of commander (3 Jan. 1821), and appointed him to the Hecla, discovery ship, under the orders of Captain (afterwards Sir William Edward) Parry [q. v.] in the Fury. The expedition sailed on 8 May, entered the Arctic region through Hudson's Strait, examined Repulse Bay and the neighbouring coast of Melville Peninsula, and wintered at a small island to the eastward of the Frozen Strait. The next summer they went further north and entered Fury and Hecla Strait, but the season being then far advanced they turned back, wintered at Igloolik in 69° 21′ N., 81° 44′ W., and came home in the autumn of 1823. On 13 Nov. Lyon was promoted to the rank of captain, and the following year he published ‘The Private Journal of Captain G. F. Lyon of H.M.S. Hecla during the recent Voyage of Discovery under Captain Parry’ (8vo, 1824), with plates of costumes, dances, &c. On 16 Jan. 1824 he was presented with the freedom of Chichester, in a casket made of a piece of oak taken from the Hecla. A few days before this, he was appointed to the Griper, originally a gun brig, which had been strengthened for Arctic work, and had been with Parry in his voyage of 1819. Lyon's instructions were to get to Repulse Bay by whatever route he judged best, and from it to examine the coast of the mainland westward ‘to the point where Captain Franklin's late journey terminated’ [cf. Franklin, Sir John]. He sailed on 6 June, but the season proved unfavourable. He was unable to reach Repulse Bay, and returned to England in November, the only result of the voyage being the publication of ‘A Brief Narrative of an Unsuccessful Attempt to reach Repulse Bay through Sir Thomas Rowe's Welcome, in H. M. Ship Griper, in the year 1824’ (8vo, 1825).
In June 1825 the university of Oxford conferred on Lyon an honorary D.C.L.; and in September he married Lucy Louisa, daughter of Lord Edward Fitzgerald [q. v.] Shortly afterwards he went to Mexico as one of the commissioners of the Real del Monte Mining Company. Coming home by way of New York the packet was wrecked at Holyhead on 14 Jan. 1827. Most of Lyon's papers and collections were lost, as he mentions in the introduction to his ‘Journal of a Residence and Tour in the Republic of Mexico in the year 1826, with some Account of the Mines of that Country’ (2 vols. post 8vo, 1828). On landing he received news of the death of his wife four months before. He afterwards went to South America on mining business, but finding his sight failing—the result apparently of an attack of ophthalmia in Africa—he set out for England to obtain medical advice. He died on board the packet from Buenos Ayres on 8 Oct. 1832.
[The original authority for the life of Lyon is in his own writings named above. A good account of his service career, as well as of his travels, is in Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biog. ix. (vol. iii. pt. i.) 100, from which the memoir in Gent. Mag. (1833), pt. i. p. 372, has been abstracted.]