Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Convict Ship Calder - 1822

Captain Peter Dillon
1st Officer Mr. Worth


The Hobart Town Gazette reported the arrival of the brig Calder from Calcutta on 28 September 1822.
The Calder made one of the quickest passages from India to the Derwent River that had ever before been heard of having been only 70 days from Bengal to Hobart Town and 35 days from the last port in India - Achceen, which she touched at on the way..

The Calder brought with her a valuable cargo and four prisoners - Andrew Reardon, James Aiken, Joseph Swailes and John Taylor


Passengers included Wesleyan Missionary Rev. G. Erskine from Ceylon and Captain Williamson of the Bengal Army.

Port Jackson

The Calder sailed from Van Diemen's Land bound for South America in November 1822, calling at Port Jackson on 20th November 1822. Captain Dillon was well known in Sydney....

We are happy to announce the safe return to these colonies, after the unfortunate disaster upon his last trip, of Captain Dillon, who commands a fine brig from Calcutta named the Calder. She has on board a choice and valuable cargo. [1]

Convicts Disembarked

The four prisoners were disembarked in Sydney.

On 21st November Thomas Dunne, Chief Constable was instructed to proceed on board the Calder and receive the convicts into his care and convey them to the Colonial Secretary's Office.

Notes and Links

1). Peter Dillon - Australian Dictionary of Biography

2). Joseph Swailes Inn at Morpeth

3). The Calder was almost wrecked at Newcastle in January 1823. A detailed description of the drama was sent by William Worth who was Captain of the ship at the time to owner Peter Dillon in Sydney. The account was published in the Sydney Gazette 6th February 1823............

'The following letter has been handed to us stating the loss of the Calder, one of the finest vessels of that class that ever entered this port. Captain Dillon, the owner has proceeded to Newcastle on the brig Fame, with the necessary assistance to get her off if practicable. Newcastle 28th January 1823........

I beg leave to inform you, that I sailed from Sydney Cove on Friday morning, the 24th instant, in the brig Calder, which you were pleased to give me charge of.

At a quarter past 10 o'clock, having cleared the Heads of Port Jackson, the Pilot left us, and I made all possible sail for Newcastle, in compliance with the instruction which I received from you. At 5pm, I stood in for the entrance of Newcastle, the wind being a S.E. by S and shortened sail and awaited the pilot. At a quarter after five
Mr. Eckford, the pilot, came on board, and took charge of the brig. As the vessel was rounding a reef and standing into the channel inside Nobby's Island, the wind head us off to the westward, which rendered it necessary to tack, and, at the moment the pilot was giving his orders for so doing, a very sudden heavy squall of wind took the brig and laid her over very much, and completely deadened her way through the water.

As soon as we got way on her, the helm was put a lee, but the wind unfortunately varying round with the vessel at that moment she missed stays, and there not being room to wear, the anchor was, by the Pilot's orders immediately let go, to prevent her drifting on a shoal to leeward, called the 'Oyster Bank'. At the same time the sails were hauled; but, the first anchor did not bring her up, a second anchor was also let go, and the brig then tailing close to the shoal, a warp was run out to the mooring in the channel, in the hope of being able to warp off into deep water, but I regret to say the warp - as soon as we began to heave upon it, and the brig soon after drifted in upon the shoal and began to take very heavily.

A violent surf breaking over at the time, the chain cable soon parted; the boat was hoisted out, to endeavour to carry out another anchor; but we found it impracticable to keep near the vessel, as she was every moment in danger of being stove to pieces. At this time we could not procure any assistance from the Settlement at Newcastle, and the brig still continuing to strike on the shoal and to labour excessively, and it being found impracticable to get any boat alongside for the purpose rendering any effectual assistance to her, it was thought by the Pilot, and myself, most advisable to leave the vessel (if possible), as from the appearance of the weather, and situation of the brig, we had no chance of her holding together till daybreak.

The boat was with some difficulty hauled alongside; after considerable risk, the whole of the crew got off her, and we hauled off to the mooring buoy, shortly after which the second cable broke, and the brig fell broadside on the breakers. She beat over the shoal upon the beach, where she lies in a good position for heaving her off; but every exertion that has been made to moor her has been unavailing, as the heavy surf that rolls in upon the beach prevents any boats getting near the vessel so to enable me to get our spare anchor out to try to get her off.

The Government here have given me the assistance in their power, but to no effect. I landed all the small stores and some of the iron and have struck yards and topmasts and have got on shore, together with the running rigging sails, and
Major Morisset has stationed a military guard on the beach for the protection of everything that may be landed.

Up to the present time the weather has been such as to frustrate every attempt we have to get her off; added to which there are not effectual means at this place to move her, Government having neither anchors nor cables fit for the cause. I have already swept for the brig's anchors, without success. I shall try again, but I fear we may not be able to find them. The brig has sunk in forward about six feet. I am not aware that she has received any other damage. She has not as yet made any water, her rudder is off; and the pintles are all broke; but I cannot sufficiently clear of the counter to unhang it. There is no possibility of moving her till the next tides, and only then by such assistance as you send or bring from Sydney.

The master of the cutter Sally (Mr. Simpson) is the bearer of this; he has given me every assistance; and I refer you to him for other particulars. He has sent me an anchor and cable, for which I have given him a receipt. I propose setting the spare anchor out astern to prevent her being driven higher upon the beach; every exertion being made by me for the care of the brig in her present disastrous situation. I am Sir, your most obedient servant 'William Worth

Peter Dillon proceeded to Newcastle without delay. His scathing letter regarding William Worth and the crew of the Calder was later published in the Sydney Gazette.......

'On board the Brig Calder off Newcastle, Wednesday, February 26, 1823'

'Dear Sir, I feel much pleasure in informing you, that at 8am on Monday last, I succeeded in getting the Calder out of her perilous situation. I have her now safely moored in Hunter's River, and will proceed to Sydney with her in about ten days. She does not appear the least injured, not having made two inches water from the time of first getting on shore. She is a good specimen of the Calcutta builder's workmanship. The vessel got on shore in working into Hunter's River on a sand, called the 'Oyster Bank' which lies in mid channel, with deep water on both sides. The pilot and crew of the Calder got alarmed for their safety, and left my vessel to the mercy of the sea, taking care each man to secure his personal baggage from which latter circumstance I leave you to judge whether or not personal safety was much in danger. After all hands deserted the Calder, she found her way off the oyster Bank into deeper water, on the west side of it; where, if the crew had remained on board, and let go the third anchor, it would have done them much credit, and saved me the great expense to which I have been put be this ill-judged retreat of theirs.

To Major Morisset, of His Majesty's 48th Regiment, Commandant of this place, I stand much indebted in grateful remembrance for the prompt assistance which he rendered to the underwriters and myself in rescuing this fine new vessel from destruction; as without this Gentleman's aid, the crews of the Fame and Calder, would not have been able to get her off.

I am Sir, Your obedient servant

'Peter Dillon

Something About Old Colonists

Written by J. E. Calder........


The subject of the following notice was, I beg to inform you, one of the old sea-kings, trading to the port of Hobart Town, more than half a century ago.

Closely associated as his name once was with this place, it was best known to our fathers by two remarkable events, which connect his adventurous career with Tasmania ; firstly, the wreck of his ship the Phatisalam, of 259 tons, on our coasts, and secondly, his discovery during a future voyage of the remains of the ill-starred expedition of Admiral de la Perouse, which he proved to have been lost amongst some islands of the North Pacific, now about 92 years ago, which discovery is connected with this town by the termination, whilst in our port, of many unhappy scenes that disquieted his voyage.

As a ship commander, he was unfortunate, having, according to the Colonial Times of April, 1827, wrecked three vessels in his day, namely, the Calder, St. Patrick, and now, at Hunter's Island, Bass' Straits (on the 9th of July, 1821), the Ship Phatisalam.

This last disaster occurred whilst making the voyage from Calcutta to Hobart Town. He quitted the former on the 25th of January, but very bad weather coming on, the ship began to leak badly in the early part of her protracted voyage hitherwards, and long before sighting this land she was making 20in. of water per hour. Her voyage was disastrous throughout. Her crew of Lascars suffered so severely from the combined effects of excessive cold, overwork, and semi-starvation, that several of them died. With a diminished and sickly crew, Dillon made the Hunters early in July, after a tedious passage of over five months. The weather was still as dreadful as ever, and the gale most violent. In this state of things, and with a leaky vessel under him, he made for the land, but the gale still hardening, the ship went ashore. This was on the 9th of July. The nook in which he beached her must have been a well sheltered one, for she lay there over three months, without suffering further damage. After great privations, and the loss of several more of his hands by drowning, the captain and crew quitted the wreck, and reached George Town, in one of the ship's boats, after a stormy passage of twelve days. As soon as the loss of the ship was reported to the authorities of Port Dalrymple, a survey of her was ordered, but which did not take place until 11th of October, and on the 18th she was condemned. In the official report of the ' Condemnation of the Phatisalam,' as it was headed, the surveyors state that, with 'the view of preserving as much as possible of her remaining cargo,' they condemned her' to the flames,' a curious process as it seems to me-a poor ignorant landsman-of saving a ship's cargo by burning her hull. The report is signed by W. G. Phillips, T. Griffiths, and Robert Brown.

They fired her in five places. It will not be improper to state that the condemning surveyors did not quite escape suspicion of improper practice in thus destroying Dillon's ship ; for in a volume published here in 1826, containing the report of an important enquiry, one of the witnesses Captain Laurie-stated that 'the Attorney General' Mr. J. T. Gellibrand, '' frequently repeated at Mr. Murray's and elsewhere that I should have plenty of the Phatisalam's guineas to recompense me for my misfortunes.

That was a vessel that was wrecked, out of which the defendant,' one of the three surveyors, ' obtained a considerable property. ' With this same Captain Dillon rests the great and entire merit of clearing up the long-lived mystery that had concealed the fate of the ill destined French discovery ships Boussole and Astrolabe, commanded by La Perouse and del Angle, which were lost, as now ascertained, in 1788. Perouse, after effecting several important services to geography, in widely different parts of the globe, steered for New Holland ; and entered Botany Bay almost simultaneously with the 'First Fleet,' January, 1788, under the command of Governor Arthur Phillip, to whom must be assigned the proud title of the Founder of the Australian Empire. After a few weeks' sojourn at the camping place of Phillip, Perouse put to sea (on the 11th of March), from which day all trace of him was lost, for the long period of 21 years, when a faint ray of light was revealed to us of his after proceedings, by a discovery made in Adventure Bay (some five and thirty miles from Hobart Town), of a tree, marked with the words 'Dig underneath,' in French, which was accordingly done, and a bottle disinterred, containing despatches signed by Perouse, and dated one month after he sailed from Botany Bay, which proved that he had visited our coasts. This discovery was made by the ship Venus (Gazette, 21st April, 1827), in 1809 ('Bent's Chronology'). This was the last substantial intelligence of Perouse and his companions for one long while, and of whom nothing further was heard, until their fate was ascertained by Dillon in 1826-'27, the intelligence of which was first disclosed at Hobart Town.

I must now skip over about forty years from the time of the loss of the French discovery ships, to note that on Friday, the 6th of April, 1827, there arrived in the port of Hobart Town, the East India Company's armed cruiser Research, mounting 10 guns, and carrying a crew of 78 men, whose nationalities were about as various as those of the phantom privateer Genil, whose departure from Aden was lately telegraphed to us by the Chief Secretary of Bombay (see Mercury, 26th May, 1880), for six- teen languages were spoken on Dillon's ship (Gazette, 21st April, 1827). From the above day - 6th April, 1827 - it is that our information dates, of the origin and progress of Dillon's enquiries into the fate of the missing ships. A short notice appeared in the Colonial Times of the date last given, announcing the arrival of the Research, and giving an outline of the previous career of her captain ; and further, promising a full report of Dillon's proceedings, in connection with his long search after tidings of the French navigator and his companions, which it redeemed.

The following is the substance of a long paper on the subject. It commences with the account of a most deplorable transaction at the 'Feegees,' as it is spelled, which happened on September of 1813, in which Dillon was defensively an actor. At this time Dillon was master of the cutter Elizabeth, sailing with the Bengal ship Hunter as tender, last from Calcutta to New South Wales, Fiji, etc. Many sailors, either deserters or castaways, were living at this time peaceably at Fiji, whom Captain Robson, of the Hunter, employed to cut sandal wood. Dillon had charge of the shore party, when a misunderstanding arose between the sailors and savages, which soon took the form of a fight, in which the former defended themselves with their guns for several hours against more than fifty times their number, but fell one by one, until all perished, except Dillon and two others - a Prussian and Lascar- who fought their way to their boat and escaped. This massacre occurred on the 7th of September. After this disaster, Robson and Dillon left Fiji, and a week later sighted Barwell Island, called Tucopia by the natives, where the Prussian (Martin Buchert) and the Lascar, who, not- withstanding recent events, seemed enamoured of savage life, were landed and left at their own request.

Time rolled on, and we find Dillon in 1826 the owner and commander of the ship St. Patrick. In this vessel he had made several voyages, and in May of the year last named, when sailing from Valparaiso to Pondicherry, he again sighted Tucopia ; and his thoughts naturally reverted to the two men whom, thirteen years before, he had assisted to establish themselves here, and whom he found still living, and quite happily, amongst the savage islanders of Tucopia.

It was during this visit, of a few days' duration only, that he lighted on the first trace of the lost ships, by accidentally finding amongst his own people, the silver guard of a sword, which he, with seer-like sagacity, at once divined had belonged to La Perouse. It had been purchased from the Lascar for a few fish-hooks. His suspicions were confirmed by the discovery of a monogram 'stamped' on it, containing, says the Colonial Times (which gives a well-executed sketch of it) 'every letter of the Admiral's name.' Thus excited to enquiry, he learned from the natives, with the aid of his interpreters, the Prussian and Lascar, that at a distance of two days' sail (of their canoes), there existed a group of islands, called collectively ' Malicolo,' where there might be had a multitude of articles, originally obtained by the blacks from the wreck of two vessels, which he made no doubt were relics of the lost French ships.

The story of the wreck, as told by the Malicolons to the Lascar, who had twice visited them since he first settled at Tucopia, was that ' many years ago, two large vessels arrived at these islands, one of which anchored at the island of Whanoo, and the other at Paiow' and that both were driven ashore and wrecked in a gale. With the perfidy that seems to be inherent in the Polynesian savage, the natives of Whanoo instantly attacked the seamen of the ship wrecked on their shores. The Frenchmen, half defenceless as they were at the moment, resented the aggression, and slew several of their assailants. But they were ultimately overpowered by multitudes too numerous to be successfully resisted, and, says Dillon, 'not a single soul escaped out of this vessel.' The ship wrecked at Paiow did better, and though attacked in like manner by the blacks, the crew, instead of fighting, made peace with them, of which the terms were kept by both sides. But the Frenchmen seemed soon to have sickened of the wild life they were leading, and set to work to escape from their seclusion ; and before long, had built and rigged a small vessel from the remains of the wrecks, and sailed off with as many of the survivors as she would accommodate, the rest remaining behind until assistance could be sent them ; but she was heard of no more, either there or elsewhere.

With this intelligence, Dillon sailed direct for Malicolo, to follow up the enquiry. But the owner of the ship's cargo being on board, he so objected to further delays, that Dillon pursued his voyage. He was at Calcutta in the latter part of 1826 ; and the subject of the loss of Perouse was still uppermost in his thoughts, to which he tried to attract public attention by appeals through the Indian papers. But his project for an official enquiry into the fate of Perouse was for a while but coldly received. But the Asiatic Society at Calcutta at last took it up ; and the Government being appealed to, the company, at the cost of £15,000, fitted up the Research, and despatched her under Dillon to Malicolo. The result of his enquiries at the islands was the accumulation of such a vast stock of relics of Perouse's expedition, as cleared away all doubt about the fate of the ships. With those vestiges he returned to India, and was in Paris with the proofs of his success early in 1828. He was received at Paris with the distinction that his perseverance deserved, and the French King, Charles X., personally congratulated him on his achievements. He was next rewarded with a pension of 4,000 francs, and I believe ennobled, a style of reception quite antipodal of that with which our own country rewards meritorious services of this nature.

Of the distressing incidents that cast a dark shadow over the last voyage of Dillon to Malicolo, of the four days' trial in our own Supreme Court, at Hobart Town, that, ensued on his return (all arising from a temporary deprivation of reason), I shall not trouble the reader of this notice. Of the future career of Captain Dillon I know nothing. - The Mercury 29 January 1881


[1] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842) Fri 18 Oct 1822