BANCROFT, JAMES FREDERICK, educator and office holder; baptized 5 Aug. 1855 in Chester, England, son of James Bancroft and Susannah Fleetcroft; m. August 1880, in St John’s, Mary Jane Metcalfe (d. 1930) of Chamberlains, Nfld, and they had three sons and three daughters; d. 3 Sept. 1929 in St John’s.
Educated in Chester, Frederick Bancroft moved to Newfoundland, where in 1877 he began teaching in the Methodist school at Little Bay Islands. He subsequently taught in Church of England schools at Pass Island, English Harbour, Chance Cove, and (for six years) Bay Roberts. By 1890 he held a first-class teaching certificate and earned an annual salary of $382. Though he had consistently received glowing reports from the superintendent of Church of England schools, the Reverend William Pilot*, his certificate was downgraded to second class in 1891 and his salary dropped to $332.
On 18 Oct. 1890, in Bancroft’s school at Bay Roberts, a meeting of teachers had been held at which it was decided to work for the establishment of an association for “united action.” Bancroft chaired the meeting, and it was likely he who had called the participants together. Other meetings followed, and on 22 November in Spaniard’s Bay, with Bancroft again in the chair, the Newfoundland Teachers’ Association was formed. When its constitution was approved and its first officers were elected in January, Bancroft became president. His activities in establishing an organization that had as its first goal “the protection of teachers” had thwarted the efforts of Pilot, who had been striving to organize the same group into a teachers’ institute, aimed primarily at improving teaching methods and promoting professionalism. In Bancroft’s view, such institutes, which flourished in England and Canada at the time, were designed to control teachers. In Canada, where they were often termed education associations, they typically included government officials and were under the aegis of provincial departments of education. In fact, of all the provincial teachers’ associations operating in what is now Canada, only the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association was founded on trade union principles.
Since Bancroft had grown up in an area of England in which both the Industrial Revolution and labour unions had had their beginnings, it is not surprising that he followed trade union precepts and desired an association in which only practising teachers would be members and officers. Although the constitution of the NTA, in 1891 as today, listed among its objectives the improvement of education in general, the fledgling association, in its first petition to government that year, highlighted requests for salary increases, minimum salaries, and state-aided pension and insurance plans. This petition was heard sympathetically by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Sir William Vallance Whiteway*. According to mha Alfred Bishop Morine*, Bancroft had worked well for the party in the election of 1889 and deserved well of the party in return. In 1892 a pension plan was set up and an increase was made in the grant for teachers’ salaries.
Thirteen months after founding the NTA, Bancroft had quit the teaching profession. In December 1891 he left Bay Roberts en route to Bonne Bay, where he had obtained a position as sub-collector of customs at a salary of $600 plus 21 per cent of duties received (the total not to exceed $1,000). After his departure the NTA fell dormant and, an attempt to revive it as a teachers’ institute in 1898–99 having failed, it remained inactive until 1908.
In 1904 Bancroft had been transferred to the customs service at St John’s. There he worked until 1912, when he was retired because of poor health on a pension of $667, many times what he would have received on the teachers’ pension plan. He subsequently worked as a land surveyor and, after World War I broke out, as a recruitment officer. Eventually, he withdrew to his estate at Topsail, The Hermitage, where he engaged in experimental farming until his death in 1929 at the General Hospital in St John’s. He is buried in the Church of England cemetery in Topsail.
Bancroft’s name is still well known in NLTA circles, and each year since 1980 this organization has bestowed Bancroft Awards on outstanding members.
Cheshire Record Office (Chester, Eng.), Vital statistics for the Bancroft family. Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Assoc. (St John’s), NTA minute-books. Evening Telegram (St John’s), 28 Aug. 1880; 1899–1929. Harbor Grace Standard (Harbour Grace, Nfld), 1890–1900. H. A. Cuff, A history of the Newfoundland Teachers’ Association, 1890–1930 (St John’s, 1985); “The Newfoundland Teachers’ Association, 1890–1930: its founding; and its establishment as a stable, influential, and permanent professional organization” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Nfld, St John’s, 1971); “Prominent figures from our recent past: James Frederick Bancroft,” Newfoundland Quarterly (St John’s), 86 (1990–91), no.2: 27–28; “Recently-discovered information on the family of James Frederick Bancroft, 1855–1927, founder of the Newfoundland Teachers’ Association,” Newfoundland Quarterly, 73 (1977), no.4: 39–44. Christopher English, “A history of the Newfoundland Teachers’ Association, 1890–1930” [book review], Newfoundland Quarterly, 82 (1986–87), no.4: 43–44. Newfoundland Teachers’ Association, N.T.A. Journal (St John’s), 1909–80.