Thomas Draper, gardener, arrived in South Africa aged thirty-three, accompanied by his eight year old son, also named Thomas, in a party of 1820 settlers. In England he was married to Sarah Hill, but she did not come to South Africa with him, probably because she died shortly before his departure. In South Africa, in 1846, he married Eleanor, born Loxton, who had formerly been married to William Roach. One of the children of this second marriage was the geologist David Draper*.
By October 1843 Thomas was employed by Baron von Ludwig* as gardener in his famous Ludwig's-burg gardens in Cape Town. He worked there until the Baron's death in December 1847, after which he became the first head gardener (or curator) of the newly established Government Botanic Garden in Cape Town. This venture was funded partly by public subscriptions and in December 1849 Draper himself donated one pound sterling, which shows that he was not poor. He resigned from this post in 1850 and was succeeded by C.L.P. Zeyher*. Draper then settled in Grahamstown where he became the first curator of the Grahamstown Botanic Garden from 1855 to 1860. He left Grahamstown in the latter year.