Royal Reels: Gambling


The cover is addressed to J. E. Calder Esq, Surveyor General, Hobarton. At the left hand border there is a manuscript ‘Swansea 1861′, and there is a vertical pair of the imperforate slate green Van Diemens Land (1860 printing) canceled with the second allocation BN ‘94′, paying the 4d per ½ oz. inland letter rate. There is a red handstrike of PRE-PAID/ 21 MY 21/ 1861 on arrival at Hobart. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

James Erskine Calder, sketcher and surveyor, was born on 8 June 1808 at Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire, ninth of eleven children of Alexander Calder, the quartermaster of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. After being educated at Sandhurst, he joined the Ordnance Survey and was appointed assistant surveyor in Van Diemen’s Land. He arrived at Hobart Town aboard the Thames at the end of 1829 and there worked under Surveyor-General George Frankland, who is vividly recalled in Calder’s series of newspaper reminiscences (published as Recollections of Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin in Tasmania in 1984). Calder became one of the colony’s most distinguished early surveyors. Big of frame, with a strong physique, he was tireless in the bush, he drove himself hard and quickly won repute for tackling difficult tasks.

On 8 January 1838 Calder married Elizabeth Margaret Pybus of Bruny Island and they had three daughters and two sons. He worked as a surveyor in Tasmania for more than forty years, exploring, measuring land, drawing up plans and official reports and making roads. After his marriage Calder’s field-work continued, but his duties became much more of a special than of an ordinary nature, as he was given tasks that required much discrimination. In 1834 he had carried out a survey of Maria Island and submitted a comprehensive report on it. Now his reports became more numerous and varied. By 1851 he had submitted some 130 official reports, many of them leading to new legislation. However, the long years of arduous work and exposure ruined his constitution; he was attacked by rheumatism, and became largely tied to office work. In 1852 his wife became very ill and he had to take leave for eighteen months on half-pay. 

He was Surveyor-general from September 1859 until June 1870 (when the position was abolished), and he was then granted a pension and the office of sergeant-at-arms at the House of Assembly, Hobart. As well as writing for the press about the personalities and early history of the colony late in life, Calder was the author of many reports on local conditions and industries. He published The Woodlands, etc. of Tasmania (London 1874) and wrote on the Tasmanian Aborigines, their language and customs, pleading for the use of their place-names. He died at Hobart on 20 February 1882. 

Calder was a subscriber to the Hobart Town Art-Treasures Exhibition in 1858, but lent only an oil painting of Ben Lomond (Scotland) by the British artist Clarkson Stanfield. He was, however, both artist and exhibitor of a plan of Hobart Town at the 1866-67 Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition. Surviving sketches of Tasmanian scenery which relate to his training and experience as a surveyor, represent the height of his artistic ambitions; an attributed, undated oil painting of Port Phillip Bay signed ‘J. Calder’ was undoubtedly by John Calder. A picture of James Calder is seen in Figure 2.

I am indebted to the Australian Dictionary of Australia for part of the text and the picture of Calder. The cover came from a paper written in The Informer Vol 73 No 2 April 2009, in an article written by John Shepherd, Hobart.