Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

TRAVERS, William Thomas Locke

(1819–1903).

Lawyer, politician, and naturalist.

A new biography of Travers, William Thomas Locke appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

William Thomas Locke Travers was born on 19 January 1819 at Castleview, County Limerick, Ireland, the son of General Boyle Travers, once of the 56th Regiment, and of Caroline, nèe Brockman. He was educated at the College of St. Servan in France. During the Spanish Carlist Wars (1835–38) Travers served with the British Foreign Legion, being a lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment of Lancers and, for a short time, A.D.C. to General Espartero, Duke of Vittoria. He returned to England in 1838, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1844. From then until 1849 he practised first at Chipping Campden and, afterwards, at Evesham in Gloucestershire. In the latter year he emigrated to Nelson where he continued his profession. He represented Nelson Town in the first Parliament and was listed as a member of the abortive ministry of T. S. Forsaith. In 1855 he contested the Nelson Superintendency unsuccessfully against Stafford and, shortly afterwards, was appointed Resident Magistrate. He was returned to Parliament for Waimea in 1856, but was obliged to retire three years later following the passing of the Disqualification Act of 1858. During these years Travers explored several possible overland routes between Nelson and Canterbury. In 1860 he moved to Christchurch. He served on Bealey's Executive for a few months in 1864 and campaigned, unsuccessfully, against Moorhouse for the superintendency two years later. Early in 1867 Travers was returned to represent Christchurch City in Parliament and Heathcote in the Provincial Council. He resigned from the latter in December 1867 when he moved to Wellington permanently, but remained in the House until 1870. In 1877 he entered Parliament for a third term, this time as member for Wellington City and, in his year there, collaborated with Sir James Hector and W. B. D Mantell to have Wellington Botanical Gardens transferred to the city council.

Besides his political and legal interests, Travers was a skilled observer in many branches of natural history and always kept himself informed on the latest developments. The geographical distribution of plants interested him particularly, and he made a special study of the flora of Nelson, Marlborough, and Canterbury. Hooker considered the contributions of Travers to the Kew Herbarium especially valuable because he always noted at what elevation the specimens were found. Travers, who was a fellow of the Linnean Society, also spent much time trying to discover an easy way to process Phormium tenax (q.v.). Baron Mueller dedicated his Vegetation of the Chatham Islands to him, while Hooker named a small shrub of the daisy order, Traversia, in his honour. Very interested in ethnology and Maori-European relationships, Travers made a point of trying to understand the Maori attitude. His Stirring Times of Te Rauparaha (1872) seeks to explain the reasons behind the Maori troubles of the 1840s. In 1877 he contributed the letterpress for C. D. Barraud's portfolio of lithographs, New Zealand – Graphic and Descriptive. A founder of the New Zealand Institute (1872), Travers drafted the original rules and was president for a term. He also contributed many papers to the Natural History Review and to the Transactions of the Ethnological Society. In 1888 he published From New Zealand to Lake Michigan, which is an interesting account of a trip he made through the north-western and central United States. For some years he acted as Vice-Consul for France and was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Cambodia.

Travers was twice married: first, in 1843, at Cork, Ireland, to Jane Oldham (who died on 2 January 1888); and, secondly, on 9 April 1891, at St. Peter's, Wellington, to Theodosia Leslie, daughter of Captain William Barclay. He had one son and one daughter by his first marriage. In 1893, at the instance of his close friend, John Ballance, Travers tried to re-enter Parliament as a Liberal. He continued to practise law in Wellington until his death on 27 April 1903, following a tram accident.

As Travers was one of the earliest explorers who penetrated the upper Wairau region of Nelson Province, his name has been commemorated on several features about Lake Rotoiti (Nelson). He himself bestowed a number of place names with Crimean War associations in this vicinity. Travers' son, Henry (1844–1928), was also a well-known botanical explorer who made a special study of the Chatham Islands.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Botanical Explorers of New Zealand, Glenn, R. (1950)
  • Evening Post, 27 Apr 1903 (Obit)
  • New Zealand Times, 28 Apr 1903 (Obit).


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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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