Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Calvert, Albert Frederick (1872–1946)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Albert Frederick Calvert (1872-1946), author, traveller and mining engineer, was born on 20 July 1872 at Kentish Town, Middlesex, England, son of John Calvert, mining engineer, and his wife Grace, née Easley. He was brought up principally by his grandfather John Calvert (1814-1897), a widely travelled mineralogist who claimed extensive gold discoveries in Australia in the 1840s. Leaves from the Calvert Papers (1893) by Albert's secretary G. Hill is a misleading account of his family history.

Calvert first visited Western Australia early in 1890 and in April undertook an expedition from Lake Gairdner in South Australia to the upper Murchison River. In April 1891 and December 1892, he practically repeated the trip on behalf of the General Exploration Co. of London and the British Australian Exploration Co. His most important discovery was the rare spinifex parakeet. Before the third journey, Calvert circumnavigated Australia collecting material for his book, The Discovery of Australia (London, 1893). Returning to London, he married Florence Holcombe at Kentish Town on 28 March 1894.

In November 1895 Calvert landed at Albany with his fourteen-year-old brother Leonard and two menservants. He was joined by a journalist, an artist, his private secretary and a mining engineer. They visited Perth and the eastern goldfields, were fêted socially, sailed for Roebourne and, leaving the ailing Leonard at the port, visited the inland diggings. Calvert returned to Roebourne on 4 January 1896 with sunstroke; Leonard died of typhoid on the 11th. Calvert visited Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney before returning to London where he published My Fourth Tour in Western Australia (1897).

In January 1896 the Royal Geographical Society (South Australia) accepted his offer to finance an expedition to search for Leichhardt and open a stock route from the Northern Territory to the western goldfields; L. A. Wells was appointed leader. Although new country including the Calvert Range was examined, Charles Wells and George Jones were lost in the desert and died. When Calvert was unable to meet the expedition's expenses, he was publicly derided.

As a mining investment consultant and as a prolific writer, for a decade he was obsessed with Western Australia. Described in London as 'Westralia's golden prophet', Calvert was courted, wined and dined, and indulged in yachting, motoring and racing. His West Australian Review, published in London in 1893-94, dealt mainly in mining information, commentaries and forecasts. His fourteen other Australian books covering forests, Aboriginals, pearls, history, minerals and his own travels were cheap, readable and topical, but often careless.

Calvert was managing director of Big Blow Gold Mines and Consolidated Gold Mines of Western Australia on the Pilbarra goldfields, and consulting engineer for the Mallina gold-mines. Management difficulties, his distaste for Federation and a bankruptcy caused by racing losses in 1898 killed his interest in Australia and he turned to a new area. Thirty-six books on Spain and Spanish art published by 1924 won him appointment as a knight of the Orders of Alfonso XII and of Isabella the Catholic.

After a visit to Nigeria in 1910, Calvert published two books on that country followed by five on German Africa published during World War I. In 1923 a sister of the late Czar of Russia accused him of conspiracy to swindle her out of her jewels, and won substantial damages; a criminal prosecution threatened by the trial judge did not eventuate. Initiated as a Freemason in 1893, he became something of an authority on Masonic history in later life, though his work is not now highly regarded. Depending on Masonic help in his last years, Calvert died of cerebro-vascular disease in the Archway Hospital, Islington, London, on 27 June 1946, survived by his wife and four sons.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Western Australia), 1895, 1 (7), 1901-02, 3 (46)
  • Masonic Secretaries' Journal (London), no 4, May 1918
  • Mining Journal (London), 4 Sept 1894
  • British Australasian, 5 Jan 1899
  • Morning Herald (Perth), 10 Jan 1896, 12 Jan 1897
  • Sheffield Daily Telegraph (England), 28 Aug 1898
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 1 Oct 1898
  • 7 Jan 1899
  • Argus (Melbourne), 10 Apr 1923
  • 'High Court of Justice: The Grand Duchess Xenia's Jewels', Times (London), 18 Apr 1923, p 5
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Calvert, Albert Frederick (1872–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/calvert-albert-frederick-5469/text9293, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 30 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014