William Archer’s father emigrated to Australia in 1811 and became a noted landowner and commissariat in Van Diemen’s Land. In 1820, he gave birth to his third (but second surviving) son, William.
After schooling in Campbell Town and Longford, William was sent to the old country to study architecture and engineering, and when he returned in 1842, he worked on a number of buildings that are today still standing and recognised as significant parts of Tasmania’s colonial heritage. Mona Vale, Woolmers, and Brickendon were all part of Archer’s portfolio. He also designed his two properties that remained in his family: ‘Fairfield’ at Cressy and ‘Cheshunt’ at Deloraine.
At the death of his father, William inherited the family’s extensive land holdings and was able to concentrate his attention on another hobby – botany.
Both of Archer’s properties had views of the imposing range to the west, the Great Western Tiers, and it was through here that he took most of his botanical excursions. Professionally, he worked closely with Ronald Campbell Gunn, one of the island’s foremost botanists. Politically, they were at odds; nevertheless, it didn’t at all get in the way of their study of local plants, and Gunn took most of Archer’s specimens back to Kew Gardens.
Archer also worked closely with Joseph Hooker, who produced the Flora Tasmaniae. Hooker gave much credit to Archer in his dedication of the book, crediting him for having ‘sedulously investigated the botany of the district surrounding his property.’
His work is memorialised in the nomenclature of several plants too, including the diselma archeri, known commonly as ‘cheshunt pine’ – a low-growing alpine conifer which, although it wouldn’t have grown around his property in Deloraine, is found in the Great Western Tiers.
“Sadly,” writes the botanical historian Wapstra, “and in contrast to his extensive contributions to society, Archer’s finances deteriorated,” partly through an unsuccessful political career, but also due to familial obligations. He was forced to give up the Cheshunt property and died at the age of just 54 years old. Twelve children, and his wife Ann, survived him.