Wandering amongst the pictures of unidentified graves I made at the Old British Cemetery I was attracted by one which seemed to me, since I’ve seen it first a few months ago, quite tricky and looking like a sort of puzzle or enigma. The grave in itself is quite good looking and, luckily, entire when you look at it from a distance… but when you get closer you start seeing a number of blurred lines on the surface of what would be its inscription.

I had shot a little set of pictures of the grave including some close-ups when I noticed that, sometimes, the text seemed a little less unreadable depending on the orientation of the sunrays, but after trying a few times to decipher it, I decided to class it under the “unidentified” category.

The marble seems to have been slowly eaten and rendered friable to the touch by acid rains, the once smooth surface has become rough and dusty and the inscription that was possible to read a hundred years ago is now completely faded.

I began “playing” on my image viewer (Irfanview) with one of the close-ups and decided to maximize the contrast and saturation of the image, obtaining a very yellowish result which looked quite promising, so I corrected a little bit the brightness and the Gamma and reduced the Red and Green values, finally I applied the “Negative” effect and with much surprise…

…I noticed I could almost read the first, larger line. A few moments of adaptation of the eyes to this high contrast negative image were needed and by looking it at a greater-than-usual distance from the computer screen made the trick! I was reading… “…EXFEN BASTARD ESQ.”, such a particular name that I instantly remembered I was still missing his grave, but here it was, back from the past  through a couple of simple editing techniques!

I’m paying tribute to this newly discovered person by writing here his inscription taken by the now well known book by Carmichael:

John Pollexfen Bastard Esq. | aged 61 . died at Leghorn | on the 4th of April 1816 | late Member of the British Parliament | in Sidence Kitley in Devonshire | & Hockhinge in Berkshire.

Wikipedia informs us that:

John Pollexfen Bastard (18 September 1756 – 4 April 1816) was a British Tory politician and colonel of the East Devonshire Militia.

He married Sarah Bruton about 1780 who died in 1808. On 2nd July 1809 he married at Portland Chapel Judith Anne Martin, daughter of Sir Henry Martin, naval commissioner at Portsmouth and Comptroller of the Navy. He left no children of either marriage.

As colonel of the East Devonshire Militia his father, William Bastard, saved the arsenal of Plymouth from the French Fleet in August 1779 and was gazetted a baronet on 4th September but he declined to assume the title. In 1799 as colonel of the same regiment John Pollexfen Bastard quelled a riot of workmen and prevented the destruction of the Plymouth docks and dockyards. In 1815 he was conveyed by the Royal Navy to Leghorn for his health where he died the next year. His body was returned to Devon in a man-of-war.

He was elected Member of Parliament for Truro in 1783 and for the Devonshire Constituency from 1784. He stood down in 1812 and was succeeded by the eldest son of his younger brother, Edmund (1758-1816), also Edmund, who held the seat until 1830.

According to the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, Bastard indirectly inspired the familiar form of the children’s rhyme “Old Mother Hubbard…” after instructing its author Sarah Catherine Martin, his sister-in-law, to “run away and write one of your stupid little rhymes.”

Bastard owned several houses and large tracts of land in western England including his main residence Kitley House.

He can be spotted in Karl Anton Hickel‘s William Pitt addressing the House of Commons on the French Declaration of War, 1793 in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery (England).

I found some other references to him that add some more details:

The Gentleman’s magazine“, vol.119, p.474 (May 1816) says:

“April 4. At Leghorn, whither he had gone for the recovery of his health, John Pollexfen Bastard, esq. M.P. for Devon and Colonel of the 1st battalion of militia of that county, which he has represented ever since the year 1780. In his parliamentary career Mr. Bastard uniformly manifested perfect independence, and a warm attachment to the interests of his country.”

Moreover, the “Report and Transactions”, by Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, vol. 18, publ. 1886, p. 299 confirms that he was then removed from Livorno and taken back to Yealmpton in Devonshire.

The book “A history of Yealmpton (Devonshire)” by H.J. Warner, p.54 reports the burial inscription at the Church of that place:

Sacred to the Memory of John Pollexfen Bastard of Kitley, Esq., Colonel of the first or East Regiment of Devon Militia and representative of this County in seven successive Parliaments. He died at Leghorn iv April MDCCCXVI in the LX year of his age and on XVII June was interred in this Church. And on the same day the remains of his only brother Edmund who died at Sharpham x June MDCCCXVI were deposited in the Church of Ashprington.”