Frances Charlotte Slater ('Francis Bancroft')

Frances Charlotte Slater Born: 27 August 1862, Carnarvon Dale farm
Parents: John Francis Slater and Sarah Ann Slater (nee Bland) (born 14 August 1826, Cape of Good Hope)
Siblings: John Edward Slater, 24 July 1845
                Samuel Carey Slater, August 1846 (father of Francis Carey Slater)
                Thomas George Slater, 22 March 1849
                Caroline Bland Slater, 30 December 1850
                Emma Sophia Slater, 16 February 1853
                Sarah Ann Slater, 26 December 1854
                Richard Slater, 1857
                Elizabeth (Lilly) Rachel Slater, 16 February 1859
                Susanna(h) (Susie) Hobson Slater, 1860
                (Frances Charlotte Slater, 27 August 1862)
                Arthur William Slater, 1865
                Charles Guybon Slater, 24 July 1867
                Alice Mary Bright Slater, 1870
Died: 19 May 1947, Carnarvon Dale
Buried: Sidbury, Eastern Cape, South Africa, Coordinates: 3325'23"S and 2610'07"E, elevation 472m

Frances Charlotte Slater

Frances was the tenth child of John and Sarah. Educated in Grahamstown at DSG, she taught in various schools but later trained as a nurse. Going to Matabeleland she joined the ambulance department of the army serving in the Matabele war of 1896 both there and at Francistown until after the Anglo Boer war. Moving to England she wrote novels under the pen name of F. Bancroft. She later returned to South Africa, continuing to write novels and articles, following her interest in 1820 Settler history. She died at Carnarvon Dale in 1947.

Frances Charlotte Slater wrote extensively under the pseudonym 'Francis Bancroft'. Her work The Settler's Eldest Daughter has her protagonist, Anne Ashe, arriving in Salem shortly after its establishment. The book, published a century after the events it describes, is at times weighed down by sentiment and sermonising, but it does evoke the early years of the Salem settlement with clarity and skill, particularly when dealing with the place itself.

The pseudonym 'Francis Bancroft' intentionally deceived many readers of her day into thinking Frances Charlotte Slater was a man. Born in 1862 on the family farm Carnarvon Dale on the Bushmans River, near Sidbury, she was the grand-daughter of an 1820 Settler, and aunt of the writer Francis Carey Slater. After nineteen years as a teacher, Frances Slater trained and worked as a nurse. Exhausted by the rigours of nursing in Francistown during the South African War, she retreated to the family farm to recover before moving to England, where her literary career commenced with the publication of novels and the writing of reviews and articles for magazines. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 saw her back in South Africa, living in Port Elizabeth and writing for the Eastern Province Herald, all the while keeping up her literary work as a novelist and short story writer. It continued after she retired to Carnarvon Dale, where she died in 1947.

In all, she wrote seventeen novels, a number of short stories, and two plays. A romantic novelist, 'Bancroft' reveals serious themes, but ones no longer fashionable. In her own day, particularly in England, she was quite well regarded, perhaps because she had a good visual imagination as well as an ability to unfold a plot in an interesting way, attributes that enabled her to paint scenes in a far-off land which many found intriguing. Her personification of Africa in The Settler's Eldest Daughter shows both the attractive and the threatening sides of a land which drew many to its shores and converted them into devotees.

The Methodist chapel referred top in The Settler's Eldest Daughter is the first of three churches built during Salem's early years. It no longer exists, but the second, built in 1832, and the church of 1850 remain. In front of the 1832 church, and on the brow of the opposite hill, are monuments reminding us of a well-known settler story which underlines the meaning of Salem's name. Richard Gush, a carpenter with Quaker leanings, did not believe in using violence even in defence. When he saw a large party of Xhosa, decked for war and approaching the settlement, he rode out to meet them, unarmed and accompanied only by his son-in-law and a Dutch interpreter. The outcome of his parleying with them was gifts from the settlers of bread, tobacco, and some pocket knives, and the departure of the impi, leaving Gush and his fellow settlers unharmed. This was in 1835, during a war which left many farmsteads in ruins, and crops and herds decimated. Guy Butler dramatised this story in Richard Gush of Salem, first performed in 1970. Butler says of it, 'I chose the story of Gush because it is an astounding story by any standard; and because it touches issues which still torment and move us, not merely in Africa, but in Vietnam, Northern Ireland, and Israel'.

A literary guide to the Eastern Cape: places and the voices of writers
by Jeanette Eve and Basil Mills, 2003, pages 153-154, courtesy of Google Books.
Copyright © 2011, Rodney Jones,, Randburg, South Africa (Last updated on 9 April 2011)