Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Isobel Dieudonnée Travers (1898–1982)

by Gillian Winter

This article was published:

Isobel Dieudonnée Travers (1898-1982), educationist, was born on 12 March 1898 at Walmer, Kent, England, younger daughter of Adrian Dieudonné Ouchterlony Travers, engineer, and his wife Janet Ingram, née Travers, who was his cousin. Donnée’s father died shortly after her birth and in 1901 her mother returned with the girls to Hobart, where she had grown up. Donnée attended Wahroonga School, Hobart, and in 1911 spent two terms at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, England. Equal eleventh in the Tasmanian junior public examination (1912), she performed well at the senior public examination (1914), sharing the Sir Richard Dry prize and winning the (William Robert) Giblin scholarship to the University of Tasmania (BA, 1918). In 1918-19 and 1929-30 she taught classics and mathematics at the Collegiate School, Hobart. Her recreations included bushwalking and skiing—she was an early member of the Ski Club of Tasmania—and she developed a lifelong concern for the environment.

In 1920 Travers entered Somerville College, Oxford (BA, 1923; MA, 1944), where she read modern history. Moving to Sydney in 1925, she taught for a year at Abbotsleigh, Wahroonga. In 1926 she began a science degree at the University of Tasmania (B.Sc., 1929) under Theodore Flynn. She was awarded a university research scholarship in biology in 1929 and was appointed a lecturer in botany in 1930, after the retirement of Leonard Rodway. In 1934, while teaching at Canberra Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, she met Audrey V. Morphett (1891-1967).

Travers and Morphett shared many educational goals. Undaunted by limited financial resources and the Depression, they established Fahan School at Sandy Bay, Hobart, a non-denominational, independent school for girls, both boarding and day students, from kindergarten to leaving age. It opened in February 1935 with nineteen pupils. The two women intended that the enrolment should not exceed three hundred, in order to maintain a family atmosphere and to develop every girl’s potential. Morphett had taught (1927-33) under Winifred West at Frensham School, Mittagong, New South Wales; West’s influence was apparent in the emphasis Fahan placed on the arts, the environment and sport (particularly hockey), as well as on academic subjects.

Soon becoming active on independent school education committees and the School Certificate examination board, Travers shared and tested her educational philosophy in the wider community. Morphett’s remarkable dramatic skills, showcased in the annual school plays, were much admired. Student numbers steadily increased and in 1948 Fahan moved to new buildings on the Travers family property, a 30-acre (12-ha) former dairy farm in lower Sandy Bay with a large house, Nateby, which accommodated the boarders.

Travers and Morphett retired as co-headmistresses in 1956 but retained control of Fahan until 1960, when it was sold with 13.5 acres (5.5 ha) of land to the Presbyterian Church. They retired to a cottage on land they had retained, enjoying visits from old scholars and watching developments within the school. Highly intelligent, capable and dignified, Travers possessed a delightful sense of humour and demonstrated remarkable courage in enduring the painful arthritis of her later years. She died on 9 April 1982 at Sandy Bay and was cremated with Anglican rites. Portraits of Fahan’s founders, painted by Jack Carington Smith, hang in the Travers-Morphett Hall at Fahan. A scholarship at the school is awarded annually in their names.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Winter, Sixty Years of Endeavour (1995)

  • Fahan Magazine, 1967, p 4, 1975, p 4, 1982, p 3
  • Mercury (Hobart), 12 Apr 1982, p 15
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Gillian Winter, 'Travers, Isobel Dieudonnée (1898–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 March, 1898
Walmer, Kent, England


9 April, 1982 (aged 84)
Sandy Bay, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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