Sir Thomas a’Beckett Travers was born in 1902 into a family with connections in British medicine, surgery, anaesthesia, ophthalmology, and rheumatology dating back over 200 years. A forebear, Benjamin Travers (1783-1858), had been an ophthalmologist at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, a fellow of the Royal Society, president of the College of Surgeons, and author of Diseases of the Eye, a text printed in 1820.
Thomas a’Beckett was born in Warragul and graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1926 with honours. Inspired by Dr Ringland Anderson (after whom the foundation chair of ophthalmology was named at Melbourne University), he set out for Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, and completed his MRCP and DOMS in 1930. After appointments at the Alfred and Austin Hospitals, he became a wing commander in the RAAF during WWII and on return was appointed an honorary ophthalmologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, a post he held until 1962.
He had already been retired a year from the Royal Melbourne before the dawning of the era of microsurgery. Before that, his surgical skills and innovation had gained him a place on the international stage with peers such as New York’s Ramon Castroviejo and London’s Harold Ridley (the pioneer of intraocular lens surgery). Sir Thomas is credited with performing the first artificial lens implant in Australia and pioneering corneal grafting in this country. Some of his corneal grafts from the early 1950s were still clear in the 1980s, when the donor material was over a century old. He achieved these results with naked eye surgery.
He was knighted in 1972 for services to medicine and that year ceased operating however, due to his love of patients, he continued consulting until the age of 89. He died in 1999, aged 96.