- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Joseph Bancroft

Born  1836
Died  1894

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English physician, born 1836, Stretford, near Manchester; died summer 1894.

Biography of Joseph Bancroft

Joseph Bancroft was brought up on his father’s farm and apprenticed to Dr. J. Renshaw of Sale, Cheshire, «to serve in and be taught the arts, mysteries and profession of a surgeon, apothecary and man-midwife.» He completed his medical studies at the Manchester Royal School of Medicine and Surgery. In 1859 he graduated M.D. at the University of St. Andrews. He practiced in Nottingham for five years, during which time he became an ardent naturalist, and president of the Nottingham Naturalist Society.

Ill health, probably renal in origin, since he noted «dropsy better, but still some albumin in the urine» led him to migrate to Australia as a ship’s doctor on the paddle steamer Lady Young from Glasgow in 1864. He was still in poor health when he arrived in Brisbane, bought land and built a house that he called Kelvin Grove where he established gardens and commenced his extensive plant studies.

As his health became restored, he entered into active medical practice and became well known in all aspects of medical and scientific life. He investigated the properties of a number of Australian native plants and one of these he found to have potent mydriatic properties that he used in his practice. This was Duboisia mycoporoides. During the Second World War it was found to be rich in hycosine, hyoscyamine and atropine and was used at that time as a source of these alkaloids for the Allies.

Bancroft made contributions to the establishments of rust-free wheat in Queensland, but his chief work for which he is remembered was his investigations on filaria. He was the first to discover the adult worm in an abscess and later in fluid which he tapped from a hydrocele during his surgical practice. He was one of the first to suggest that disease was transmitted by mosquitoes, although it was Patrick Manson (1844-1922) who reported the development of filarial embryos in the mosquito. Both Manson and Bancroft thought that the method of transmission was by drinking water into which the infected mosquitos had released the parasites.

In another capacity as public health officer he had been for many years warning against drinking unboiled water in Brisbane because of the risk of typhoid and dysentery, and added filariasis to this. He thought that the fall in filarial incidence in Brisbane was due to these precautions. As public health officer he often joined in public debate and apparently did not react kindly to criticism of his public health measures. In one instance he brought to the public’s attention the adulteration of milk by vendors with roadside water which could be "proven by the naked eye" evidence of small fish, tadpoles, and mosquito larvae». He said that such water should be made safe by boiling, and inspection of milk should be enforced. This led to an editorial in the local newspaper suggesting that Bancroft was begging suppliers to use clean water for adultering the milk. He thereupon attacked the newspapers and was accused by the editor of having no sense of humour!

He was a pioneer in meat preservation and commenced a factory near a property he had purchased at Deception Bay, where he not only undertook this process, but also examined the possibility of tinning other foods such as fish and vegetables. He was a prominent member of the Royal Commission, which examined means of control of the rabbit plague. He died suddenly of a coronary occlusion.

We thank Angela Mitton for informaton submitted.


  • Harry Wain:
    The Story Behind the Word. Some Interesting Origins of Medical Terms.
    Springfield, Illinois, Charles C. Thomas, 1958.
    Published simultaneously in the British Commonwealth of Nations by Blackwell Scientific Publications, Ltd, Oxford, England.
    Published simultaneously in Canada by the Ryerson Press, Toronto.
  • Barry G. Firkin and Judith A. Whitworth:
    Dictionary of Medical Eponyms.
    The Parthenon Publishing Group. 1989. New edition in 2002.
  • Isidor Fischer, publisher:
    Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte der letzten fünfzig Jahre.
    Berlin – Wien, Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1932.
  • Gottlieb Olpp (1872-1950):
    Hervorragende Tropenärzte in Wort und Bild.
    München, Otto Gmelin, 1932, page 27.
We thank Patrick Jucker-Kupper, Switzerland, for information submitted.

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