Ailsa and Roger Bishop Bursary

Roger J. Bishop served Victoria College and the University of Victoria from 1945 to 1971 as a long-time member of the English department.

It all began back in 1941. Having completed his BA Honours and Certificate in Education at UBC and a library degree from the University of Toronto, Roger was invited to teach English at Victoria College, still at that time situated in Craigdarroch Castle. 

Roger spent most of the winter up on the top floor where the "library," its books supplied primarily by the Carnegie Foundation, doubled as the study hall. The next three winters were spent in graduate studies at the University of Toronto and teaching at the University of Saskatchewan, while he waited for the call to return.

The year 1945 was a bumper year for Victoria College; “the student body tripled thanks to the returned servicemen, but the library did not." With customary energy and the realization that "you can't have a college without a library," Bishop urged the administration to budget for books. While some heads restricted their purchases to immediate needs, he moved beyond “searching out catalogues" (the complete works of Shelley came from an anniversary sale advertised by Columbia University Press), roaming the few city bookstores, trying always to "fill the gaps."

Finally, in 1953, there was a trip to Britain where, claimed his wife Ailsa, Roger travelled through Edinburgh "from basement to basement." There he found the first edition of Raleigh's History of the World, known to collectors for its missing frontispiece which was not allowed to circulate with the disgraced author's name; it cost a guinea.

In another bookshop, stacked in the middle of the floor where customers had to detour around it, were the folio edition of Grafton's Chronicles: The History of England, and the entire six-volume folio edition of Holinshed's Chronicles, that massive history of England, Scotland, and Ireland which served as the source material for many of Shakespeare's plays; the owner was only too willing to get rid of the "damned nuisance," charging him only 16 pence including shipment.

To his lasting chagrin, Roger missed out on a second edition of Robert Burns' poems, but Liverpool provided the first editions of Charles Dickens, and London the collected edition of Frederick Marryat, while a sale at the Athenaeum yielded a complete run of The Times Literary Supplement. That year, the entire Library budget was $1500, of which, having canvassed his colleagues for any leftover funds, Roger happily spent two-thirds.

Building a collection for the university he was certain would eventually come kept Roger, by now head of a growing department, busy. The McPherson Library is rightly known for its strength in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, thanks in great part to Roger Bishop's sleuthing skills. But, since retirement he has also been generous with many works from his own collection, including the first edition of Captain Cook's Voyages and the accompanying volume of Plates (discovered at a bookstore in Glasgow) and the Cartoons with plates of Max Beerbohm (found here in Victoria).

Roger Bishop could be said to be the father of Special Collections. Augustine Birrell's quote "Libraries are not made, they grow," was embraced by Roger and his determination and foresight carved out the foundation for UVic's rare book collection.

In its these early years, the University of Victoria was situated on the Lansdowne Campus, now the home of Camosun College.  During this time, Professor Bishop, Chair of English for the university, began Theatre studies within his department.  Another legacy of his remains as the namesake for the Roger Bishop Theatre, the current department’s proscenium stage.

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