Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Calvert, James Snowden (1825–1884)

by A. H. Chisholm

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

James Snowden Calvert (1825-1884), by unknown photographer, c1881

James Snowden Calvert (1825-1884), by unknown photographer, c1881

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11305 [with John Murphy (middle) and John Roper (right)]

James Snowden Calvert (1825-1884), explorer and botanist, was born on 13 July 1825 at Otley, Yorkshire, England, the son of William Calvert, leather manufacturer, and his wife Ann, née Coates. He was educated at Liverpool, where his parents had moved, and later at Manchester and Birmingham. As a youth he travelled widely and in 1841 this experience extended to migration to Australia with his brother William.

On the voyage in the Sir Edward Paget, young Calvert met and became friendly with Ludwig Leichhardt, whose plans in regard to Australia were then as airy as Calvert's. Sydney was reached on 14 February 1842, and for the next two years Calvert occupied himself in indeterminate fashion; then he met Leichhardt again and agreed to join him on an overland journey from Brisbane to Port Essington. The party undertaking that enterprise, when reorganized on the Darling Downs in September 1844, was essentially a 'scratch' collection, with Calvert as its second youngest member, next to John Murphy, a lad of 15, whom Leichhardt had also met on the ship. Within fourteen months, however, the party struggled through to its objective, meanwhile making important geographical discoveries, and in spite of a serious affray with Aboriginals of the Gulf country in June 1845, an encounter in which John Gilbert was killed and Calvert and John Roper were seriously injured.

Clearly Calvert was fortunate to have survived such an arduous journey, for he was not physically strong and he suffered severely from being lost in hot weather on one occasion and from the impact of natives' spears and waddies. These experiences affected him in later life. His part in the expedition was necessarily minor but he made himself generally useful and, probably through his amiable disposition, was excepted from the criticism which Leichhardt, in a letter to Germany, directed at his companions: 'The only one who behaved perfectly, with few exceptions, was a young man, Mr. Calvert, who came in the same boat with me from England'.

Calvert made no further sorties in exploration but later became the manager of Cavan station, near Yass. He also developed a keen interest in plants and close association with leading botanists, an interest that was to win him medals for botanical entries at exhibitions in London and Paris. On 11 March 1869 at Oldbury, near Berrima, he married Caroline Louisa Waring Atkinson, a distinguished naturalist and writer. After her death in April 1872 Calvert led a retired life. He died in Sydney on 22 July 1884.

The child who lost her talented mother at birth and her father when she was only 12 became Dr Louise Cosh, of Moss Vale, New South Wales; she died on 16 December 1956.

Calvert is commemorated, through the medium of Leichhardt, by several place names in Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • L. L. Politzer (ed), Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt's Letters from Australia … March 23, 1842 to April 3, 1848 (Melb, 1944)
  • A. H. Chisholm, Strange New World (Syd, 1955).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

A. H. Chisholm, 'Calvert, James Snowden (1825–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/calvert-james-snowden-3143/text4687, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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