Black John, who had dwarfism and was under 4ft in height, was famous for his after-dinner tricks that included swallowing and retrieving several live mice tied to a string and stripping a live sparrow of its feathers while his hands were tied behind his back.
Black John was so attached to his master that, after his death, he built a shelter close to the church at Tetcott where, with an old hound as his sole companion, he reputedly grieved away the remainder of his life. It was said he died of a broken heart.
The 3ft 5in x 2ft 1in (1.03m x 62cm) oil on canvas that emerged for sale at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (23% buyer’s premium) in Exeter on January 21 with an estimate of £800-1200 was seemingly a copy of James Northcote’s (1746-1831) portrait of the same subject that is now in the Royal Cornwall Museum.
Admired for both its folk art charm, unusual subject matter and as a quirky piece of local history, it sold at £15,500 to a bidder using thesaleroom.com.