Who was that bastard?

March 8, 1949

On March 8, 1949, a poem was published in the St. John’s newspaper The Evening Telegram, in honour of Sir Gordon MacDonald (Governor of Newfoundland from 1946 to 1949). The poem sang the praises of the Governor and of his work in Newfoundland. But it was a poem that had a twist.

Governor MacDonald had many detractors; there were many that disliked him and his politics. As Governor of Dominion Newfoundland, on arrival in 1946 he also took responsibility as Chair of the unelected Commission of Government that governed the dominion. It was he that oversaw the election of the Newfoundland National Convention in 1946, and the holding of two referendums in 1948, which led to Newfoundland becoming a province of Canada in March 1949.

There  were also suggestions that  he violated the principle of vice -regal impartiality  as the crown’s representative  and promoted sectarianism  by getting up in the pulpit at George Street United Church in St. john’s  and instructing the congregations  that “Last time (referendum) the Roman Catholics had their say; this time (the second referendum) it’s our turn.”

The poem was published two days after MacDonald left the Island:

The poem titled   “A Farewell!” reads:

The prayers of countless thousands sent

Heavenwards to speed thy safe return,

Ennobled as thou art with duty well performed,

Bringing peace, security and joy

Among the peoples of this New Found Land.

So saddened and depressed until your presence

Taught us discern and help decide what’s best for

All on whom fortune had not smiled.

Remember if you will the kindness and the love

Devotion and the respect that we the people have for Thee – Farewell!

A few weeks after the poem was published The Evening Telegram editors discovered that the poem was actually an acrostic with the first letters of each line spelling “THE BASTARD”

The reading public in St. John’s in 1949 would have been amused  that the word found its way into print.   Most were also shocked that a writer or writers  had been able to pull the wool over the eyes of the usually eagle eyed Telegram Editor CEA Jeffries.

Editors typically hold strict standards on profanities; it was not for example until 2014 that the prestigious New York Times updated of its style guide allowing for even the mildest vulgarities.

There has been much speculation about who wrote the poem  but credit is now attributed to  Gracie Sparkes  working with her friends  Jack Higgins  and R.S. Furlong.   Gracie  Sparkes  (1908 – 2003)  was  fierce anti-Confederate  as were her  friends Jack Higgins and Furlong.

What is a bastard?

There was a time that bastard was not an insulting term . Around the time when bastard first appeared in English William the Conqueror was known also as William the Bastard. No insult was intended, he was William the Bastard because his parents hadn’t been married.

Bastard first made it into print as an insult in 1830.

The root of the word (bastard) is from Old French and grew out of bast, the name for a packsaddle, which was the structure used to load packs onto a mule. Travelers with romantic intention and opportunity may not have had a convenient bed nearby so the blankets and saddle would serve as bedding and pillow. Thus children, who were not conceived in the marriage bed, were said to be conceived “on the bast” and were therefore bastards.