James Bancroft of Ovenden & The Crimean War

From time to time I get correspondence from people who have been assisted in their research through the ‘Bancrofts from Yorkshire’ website, and here is a recent e-mail I received from Paul & David Branson, who live in Canada.

Dear Jar;
You do not know me, nor do I bear the Bancroft surname, but I owe you a great debt of gratitude. Allow me to explain;
When I was a teenager, my Grandmother gave me an old pocket watch with an inscription on the inside. All we knew was that it had been given to my Grandfather by one of his uncles, and ever since I have wanted to find out more about the man named on the watch. The inscription reads as follows:

Presented To
Grenadier James Bancroft,
by his Ovenden Friends
for his bravery
throughout the Crimean War.

Only last fall was I able to trace my family line to him, as he married Mary Ann Branson, the older sister of my Great - Great Grandfather. Ovenden is the town in Yorkshire where he was born about 1829, from parents Thomas and Jane (formerly Jagger). My brother David and I have made it our mission to uncover as much as possible about James and of late we have been very fortunate. This all culminated about a month ago when my brother David found your website and discovered the name Kate Taylor, a living person directly related to James Bancroft. This was a revelation !! We have been in touch with Kate and are now in the process of exchanging information, lots and lots of information. As you well know, in a hobby that demands much time and effort for what are often baby steps in forward progress, you can imagine the joy we are experiencing in sharing our research.
So the purpose of this Email is twofold. One is to thank you for maintaining the website to provide a means for us to have met. Secondly, we believe that after leaving the army in 1859, and before his death in 1884, James was present at a number of public functions. We suspect this because of a quote from the Newcastle Daily Journal, in an article covering the funeral of a former Grenadier Officer, Sir Henry Percy. In describing the various attendees the article said that James Bancroft was - "conspicuous as usual by the medals on his breast". This led us to think that maybe he became a bit of a local hero, and had been noticed before. If you, or any of your regular readers know anything about these events, we would love to hear about it.
with sincere thanks and best wishes
Paul Branson & David Branson

I have since had further details from Paul & David Branson as well as Kate Taylor who are all researching their ancestor James Bancroft. He had a very interesting military career, the brief details of which are as follows:

He first enlisted in Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards on 5th August 1847, based at Halifax and at that time was 18years & 11 months of age. His description on the attestation was “ 5 feet, 9 inches high, fair complexion, grey eyes, sandy hair, with a scar on his forehead” and his occupation was entered as Woolcomber.
He was present at the battle of Inkerman where he played a prominent role in the defence of the Sandbag Battery, and the charge down the Kitspur Ridge, both defining moments in the history of British Infantry. His presence there has been documented in several books on the War, namely, Battles of the Crimean War, (W. Baring Pemberton), Heroes of the Crimea, (Michael Barthorp), and A Bearskins Crimea, (by Algernon Percy).
He served under Cpt Edwyn Sherrard Burnaby in the 2nd Battle of Inkerman, on 5th November 1854 and was wounded.
In the charge out of the Sandbag Battery there is a graphic description of the hand-to-hand fighting which took place from a report by James describing the battle and eventually of him killing five Russians ‘by the sword’….
“I bayoneted the first Russian in the chest; he fell dead. I was then stabbed in the mouth with great force, which caused me to stagger back, where I shot this second Russian and thereupon run a third one through, and brought him to the ground. A fourth and fifth Russian then came at me and ran me through the right side. I fell, but managed to rise and run one of them through, and brought him down. I killed him, or either stunned him by kicking him, whilst I was engaging my bayonet with another. Sergeant-Major Algar called out to me not to kick the man that was down, but not being dead he was very troublesome to my legs; in fact I was fighting the other over his body. I returned to the battery and spat out my teeth in my hand. I found only two”
James appears not to have been a model soldier….being absent from duty, tried, convicted and punished a number of times. After the third time he was convicted of desertion, sentenced to four months imprisonment and to be marked with the letter 'D' on his entire term of service with five years 38 days forfeited. After this episode of imprisonment he was immediately tried again and sentenced to receive a corporal punishment of fifty lashes, which was then commuted to thirty-seven days imprisonment. Some of this imprisonment was later remitted.
Still in his entering rank of Private, he was later tried for “habitual drunkenness” and served a further sentence. After this episode he seems to have behaved himself and had all his forfeited days restored to him by letter from the War Office. He eventually had a total service in the army of almost eleven years and was discharged on 11th April 1859 at the age of 30.

After his army service James seems to have settled in London and married Mary Ann Branson on 28th November 1863.
On the 1881 census he is listed as a Cab Owner.
He died on 4th December 1884 at Hanover Square London. The cause of death was described as bronchitis, no doubt exacerbated by the terrible living conditions endured during the Crimean winter of 1854-1855.

If there is anyone out there interested in more information about James Bancroft, who was born October 1828 at Ovenden and baptised 24th May 1829 at Illingworth nr Halifax, the son of Thomas Bancroft & Jane Jagger, please contact me and I will pass the details on to other researchers.


Anonymous said...

Great story...all started from a pocket watch passed down through the family!

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