BASTARD, John Pollexfen (1756-1816), of Kitley, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



8 July 1783 - Jan. 1784
1784 - 4 Apr. 1816

Family and Education

b. 18 Sept. 1756, 1st s. of William Bastard of Kitley, and bro. of Edmund Bastard*. educ. Eton 1766-74; M. Temple 1771. m. (1) bef. 1790, Sarah (d. 26 Apr. 1808), wid. of Charles Wymondsold of East Lockinge, Berks, s.p.; (2) 3 July 1809, Judith Anne, da. of Henry Martin I*, s.p. suc. fa. 1782.

Offices Held

Lt.-col. E. Devon militia 1787, col. 1798-d.; col.-in-chief, Devon vols. 1803.


In one of the last speeches of his parliamentary career, 5 June 1812, Bastard, demanding action to fill the current vacuum in government, asserted that ‘he had no predilection for one party more than another, but he had some predilection for his country’. It was no idle boast, for throughout this period he was tenaciously independent. No administration was able to rely on his unqualified support, nor was any organized opposition group able to call him one of their own, though with the passage of time his rooted hostility to profusion and waste in government and his passionate championship of the militia led him more often to blame ministers than to praise them.

By siding with opposition on the Regency question he created a stir among his constituents but, according to a ministerialist commentator, his ‘apology for his justification’ of his conduct and ‘strong declaration of attachment to the minister’ at a county meeting in January 1789 temporarily pacified most of his critics. The opposition to his re-election in 1790 came from a local Whig landowner. He was attacked as an enemy to religious toleration, but was in no danger of defeat and held the seat without serious disturbance until his death.1

Bastard made an early mark in the new Parliament by unsuccessfully opposing further proceedings against Warren Hastings, 17 Dec. 1790, when he recanted his original support for the impeachment. He tried again on 14 Feb. 1791, having three days earlier moved for papers concerning the dealings of Cornwallis and Medows with the nawab of Arcot which, he contended, would prove that Hastings was not alone in his alleged guilt. He had recriminatory exchanges with Fox and Burke, was called to order and acted as teller for the minority against continuing the trial. He questioned the wisdom of raising taxes to pay off the £500,000 debt and recommended instead the sale of crown lands, 15 Dec. 1790, opposed the corn bill as affording inadequate protection to agriculture, 4 Apr., and vainly moved, with Sheridan’s backing, 23 May 1791, for inquiry into inconsistencies between the finance reports of 1786 and 1791, suspecting either error or governmental prodigality. He voted for abolition of the slave trade, 18 Apr. 1791, and again on 15 Mar. 1796. He presumably supported the stand against domestic unrest and the war with France between 1792 and 1794, when his only known speeches were for inquiry into the Newfoundland trade, 26 Apr. 1792, and for better provision for wounded soldiers on their return, 3 Feb. 1794.

As lieutenant-colonel of the East Devon militia, raised by his father to defend Plymouth in the invasion scare of 1779, he proposed in April 1794 to raise a corps ‘entirely at his own expense with merely the continuance of his present rank, leaving the whole appointments of officers to government’, but the offer was declined.2 He voted for the taxation of placemen and pensioners, 8 Apr. 1794, but sided with government against Grey’s peace motion, 6 Feb., and Fox’s call for inquiry into the state of the nation, 24 Mar. 1795, though on each occasion he entered a caveat: ministers would be ‘highly culpable’ if they blindly refused to negotiate ‘on account of any particular form of government’ existing in France; and there were areas deserving investigation, notably bungled naval policy and the proliferation of pensions. He voted for Wilberforce’s peace motion, 27 May, spoke and voted against government on the question of financial provision for the Prince of Wales, 1 June 1795, voted for inquiry into the finances, 10 Mar., and attacked the real succession tax, 5 and 9 May 1796.

Marked ‘doubtful’ in the ministerial election forecast for 1796, Bastard voted with ministers to go into committee of supply, 8 Dec., but stated his objection to the proposed Austrian loan, and in 1797, as a member of the ‘armed neutrality’, showed considerable hostility to government. He divided against them on the Bank stoppage, 28 Feb. and 9 Mar., for inquiry into the French attack on Ireland, 3 Mar., for the reduction of sinecures, 13 Mar., on the question of seamen’s pay, 10 May, and for Grey’s parliamentary reform motion, 26 May, and was teller for the minority who voted for his proposed additional clause to the militia pay bill, 20 Mar. He made forceful calls for economy and retrenchment, 28 Feb. and 13 Mar., and, when opposing the Bank indemnity, spoke of a loss of public confidence in the integrity of Parliament and deplored the dominance of the ‘monied interest, bold in their projects, rash in their proceedings, and gigantic in their attempts’ to subvert the natural social order. He attacked the land tax redemption bill, 4 Apr. 1798, and voted steadily against it during the following weeks.

For all this, Bastard submitted to the War Office in April 1798 a plan for the defence of the south coast from the Dart to the Plym by co-ordinated bodies of local militia and offered to arm his tenantry at his own expense as part of it. Windham thought there was ‘not much in it’ and rejected it, but Bastard declared in the House, 8 May, that he bore no grudge.3 He is not known to have voted against Pitt’s first administration after 18 May 1798, though he complained of the proposal to assess farmers for the property tax according to the value of their leases rather than their profits in May 1800. He was gazetted colonel of the East Devon militia in November 1798 and the following year marched them not against the French but against the insurgent dockyard workers at Plymouth, to the approval of the authorities.

While Bastard generally regarded the Addington government more favourably than their predecessors, welcoming their economies and St. Vincent’s overhaul of the navy,4 he was no slavish supporter and voted against them on the Irish master of the rolls bill, 19 Mar. 1801, the civil list arrears, 29 Mar., and the Prince’s claims to the duchy of Cornwall revenues, 31 Mar. 1802. He objected to the admission of men without property qualifications to the militia, 22 Mar., and quibbled with the property tax proposals, 5 July 1803. Speaking against Patten’s censure motion, 3 June 1803, he advocated aggressive prosecution of the necessarily renewed war, praised ministers for their conduct under unparalleled difficulties, but called for a union in government of ‘all the great talents of the country, forming but one party, and acting for the benefit and interest of the state’. He spoke and voted against the Irish militia offer bill as a further infringement of the original constitution and natural function of the militia, 6 and 10 Apr., and voted with opposition on the question of Irish salaries, 12 Apr., but defended the army of reserve suspension bill in the critical debate of 25 Apr. 1804. Placed under ‘Addington’ in the ministerial lists of May and September 1804, he spoke strongly against the additional force bill, 8 June, and contrasted the ‘neglect and tardiness’ of the new government with the quiet efficiency of the late one. While he remained basically hostile to Pitt’s second administration, his only recorded opposition votes in 1805 were against Melville, 8 Apr. and 12 June. He spoke against the agricultural horse duty, 12 Mar.; violently attacked the militia enlistment bill and complimented the ‘late economical and constitutional ministry’ for declining ‘to lay a sacrilegious hand on the militia’, 21 Mar.; demanded fairer treatment of farmers under the property tax, 5 Apr., and on 10 May 1805 called for inquiry to determine how to restore the navy to the position of supremacy attained under St. Vincent’s admirable administration. He was classed as ‘Opposition’ in the government analysis of July.

He was no better disposed towards the ‘Talents’. He voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, but only after he had damned Windham’s defence proposals and their central principle of reliance on a standing army. He accordingly spoke against the training bill, 3 July, and the militia officers bill, 16 July. He supported Buxton’s unsuccessful attempt to mitigate the burden of the property tax on the landed interest, 12 May, backed calls for inquiry into the barrack system, 16 May and 16 July, and voiced alarm at the proposal to make the malt and sugar duties permanent, 14 July 1806, as a threat to Parliament’s role as a financial watchdog.

Bastard, who ‘never approved of the discussion of abstract propositions’, announced that he would vote against Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr. 1807, but neither the Portland government nor its successor was able to reckon him a friend. All his known votes in the 1807 Parliament were against government and on 2 Jan. 1810 Rose described him as ‘adverse’.5 He attacked the militia transfer bill, 27 July 1807, calling at the same time for the exploitation of new and less oppressive means of raising revenue, and condemned subsequent measures designed to effect the transfer of men from the militia to the line in 1809 and 1811. He was a supporter of reforms in the Admiralty court, 14 June 1808, and voted against government on the convention of Cintra, 21 Feb., the Duke of York scandal, 15 and 17 Mar., and the corruption charge against Castlereagh, 25 Apr. 1809. He did not vote on the Scheldt question, but the Whigs were ‘hopeful’ of his support in mid March 1810 and he was listed among absentees from the division of 30 Mar. who were critical of ministers.6 He voted to reduce sinecures, 17 Mar., after urging the House to be honest ‘from necessity’, even if not inclined to be so ‘from principle’, as the ‘surest way to disarm those actuated by improper hopes was to afford reasonable indulgence to the body of the people’, but did not vote in the division on parliamentary reform, 21 May. He voted with opposition against the Regency resolutions, 1 Jan. 1811, spoke and voted for the offices in reversion bill, 7 Feb. 1812, voted for the abolition of the sinecure paymastership, 24 Feb., supported the sinecure offices bill, 4 May, threatened opposition to the new taxes unless economical reforms were effected, 17 June, and duly opposed the leather tax, 26 June and 1 July, advocating instead the sale and cultivation of waste lands. On the other hand, he spoke in favour of the war with America, 13 Feb., the framework knitters bill, 17 Feb., though not without accusing the government of negligence in their failure to suppress disturbances earlier, and the Sicilian subsidy, 25 Mar. 1812.

Bastard was re-elected for Devon after a token contest in 1812, but he is not known to have spoken or voted in the new Parliament and it seems likely that declining health, which forced him to go abroad in 1815, put this abrupt end to his career. He died at Leghorn, 4 Apr. 1816.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Winifred Stokes / David R. Fisher


  • 1. PRO 30/8/146, f. 151; Devon RO, Bastard mss, handbill [June 1790].
  • 2. PRO 30/8/173, f. 48.
  • 3. Add. 37877, ff. 306, 308; Windham Diary, 393.
  • 4. Add. 31170, ff. 41, 50.
  • 5. Add. 49185, f. 55.
  • 6. Morning Chron. 4 Apr. 1810.