Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

James Callam

First Fleet Surgeon

James Callam was employed as Surgeon on the First Fleet vessel HMAT Supply.

The First Fleet consisted of two Royal Navy escort ships, HMS Sirius and HMAT Supply accompanied by six convict transports - Alexander, Charlotte, Friendship, Lady Penrhyn, Prince of Wales, Scarborough and three store ships, the Borrowdale, Fishburn and Golden Grove.

James Callam composed the following letter to his brother in London giving an account of the voyage of the First Fleet -

Botany Bay - A Letter from Mr. James Callam Surgeon of His Majesty's Armed Tender Supply

to his brother Mr. Alexander Callam, of East-Smithfield, London; containing an account of a voyage from the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay, Jackson's Bay, etc. in New Holland, with a short description of the inhabitants, and settlement of the colony -

Port Jackson, Sidney Cove, New South Wales,

July 12th, 1788.

Dear Brother, This letter will be delivered to you by a very worthy and respectable acquaintance of mine, a Mr. Reen, who commanded the Burrowdale. One of the victuallers employed on the expedition to New South Wales, who intends employing you to make him a watch,—I have not only recommended this gentleman, but several others of my acquaintance at this Port, who will for similar motives wait upon you on their arrival in London River.—I have engaged with the request of these, gentlemen, the more readily from a conviction that both your integrity in dealing with mankind, as well as the intimate acquaintance you have of your profession, must enable you to do justice to the recommendation, and add to the establishment of your character in the walk of life you have made choice of.

As you will naturally expect me to say something more - I shall only add, that after compleating our stock, which consisted of every species of provisions we were in want of including live Cattle for the intended Colony, such as Horses, Mares, Colts, Cows, Sheep, Hogs, Sec. etc. for government, besides what belonged to private persons, which was considerable, and the last European Settlement, (being a Dutch Colony) we could stop at, having now to encounter a passage of 5987 miles through a sea but little known.

Leaving the Cape

Wednesday the 13th of November, we left the Cape of Good Hope, with the wind from the South East, and stood to the Eastward to clear the land—the wind continued unfavourable, with a heavy Southerly swell, till Wednesday the 21st, being in Latitude South 39, Longitude 14 East, it shifted to the North-west quarter.

Governor Phillip Transferred to the Supply

On Sunday the 25th (November), Latitude 380 42 South, Commodore Phillip divided the Fleet into three divisions, - he came on board of the Supply - accompanied with Lieutenant King, and Mr. Dawes, Astronomer, with all the Shipwrights, Carpenters, Sawyers, Farmers, Gardeners, Sec. and that could be selected from the different Transports, - and made sail ahead of the Fleet, with orders for the Alexander, Scarborough, and Friendship Snow, under the direction of Lieutenant Shortland, to keep company with us if possible, and the rest of the Fleet to make every dispatch under Captain John Hunter, of his Majesty's Ship Sirius.

That evening lost sight of the last division, and the next day of the three other Ships, during the whole passage to Van Diemen's Land, we in general had a fair wind, with a heavy rolling Sea from the Southward - if at any time foul, its duration was short - when it blows from the Northwest quarter, it is generally warm, and if it does not commence with thick weather and rain, it is sure to terminate so after a day or two's duration, when it shifts to the South-west quarter, accompanied with a heavy Sea, and piercing Cold from the vast track of Ocean and Ice surrounding the South Pole, where it proceeds from, - in Latitude 440 10 South, 144, 48 East, owing to a sudden shift having taken place with rain, one of the hardiest Seaman dropped down while curing the Ship, (here I had great reason to lament the loss of my Thermometer, which was broke a few days before making some experiments, which loss was afterwards, made up by my friend, Lieutenant John Watts, on his arrival in Botany Bay) but may take upon me say, from being long accustomed to make observations in different quarters of the globe, that it fell from 10 to 15 degrees on this occasion from the supposed point.

Van Diemen's Land

December the 28th, Latitude 42, 45, saw large flocks of Aquatic Birds flying in a South-west direction, and the Sea much discoloured, of a reddish yellow cast, this we found by drawing some water along side, to be large fields of live Animalculæ, the spawn of fish, which upon examination with the best of glasses, resembled in shape that of a shrimp, Rock-weed was likewise frequently seen, - Whales seem plenty in this hemisphere, seldom passed a day without seeing one or more: the Blue Petterel, and wandering Gull accompanied us, more or less in number from the Cape of Good Hope, till we made the land on January the 3d, which proved to be the South-west Cape of Van Dieman's land, bearing Northeast, distant about ten Leagues, at Noon, Latitude observed 43, 39, Longitude 146°, 53 East.

Botany Bay

On Saturday the 19th anchored in Botany Bay, at half past two o'clock, - Ship's Company all healthy; we were off the Bay sixteen days before we got to an Anchor, so powerful and rapid are the Currents on this Coast, that we have been carried to the South, ward of our reckoning, upwards of thirty Miles in course of a night. - We had but little opportunity of judging of the Country to the Southward of the Bay, as we in general kept a pretty good offing, The most distinct we saw were Tasman's Head, Marias Islands, and Hat-Hill,' the face of the Country within eight Leagues of the Bay we were pretty near, presented a very favorable appearance; but this I have ever held as a very fallacious mode of judging, therefore liable to mislead.

Entering the Bay

On the Supply's entering the Bay, the alarmed Natives ran along the Beach, shooting and hallowing, seizing their wretched Canoes, and carrying them to the Woods,— together with their Fishing-tackle and Children; we brought up pretty close to the North Shore, open to the Sea,—to be seen by the Fleet, which we daily expected.—Seven of them came opposite to the Ship, brandishing their implements of War, such as Spears of an amazing length, armed with Fish-bone, Lances, Clubs, etc. etc. throwing their bodies in threatening Postures, called out in harsh notes, Warraw! Warraw! Warrawi!

After dinner, his Excellency Governor Phillip, with Lieutenants Ball, and King, Lieutenant Dawes, of the Marines, myself included, rowed towards them in two Boats, as we approached, one or two of them seemed to retreat a little, but the others continued to threaten us, as if they meant to dispute our landing, we rowed along shore and landed a little way from them, and walked round a great part of the Bay, looking for water, without any molestation; near Sun-set we embarked in the Boats, and rowed towards the place where we left them, opposite the Ship, having found no water, we endeavoured to make them understand by every means what we wanted, which they at last did, and on our laying down our arms, conducted us to a delightful rivulet of Spring Water, which emptied itself in the Bay close by us, - here we partook of the pleasing Stream, drank Success to the Colony, and the Speedy arrival of the Fleet.

They still watched our different motions with much seeming attention. The Governor held out several Trinkets, such as Glass Beads, Sec. at last an old Man was prevailed upon to accept of some, and then all the others on the accidental discharge of a Musket, they all left us.

Our Boats being employed hawling the Seine at Day-light, in the Morning many of them came down and received Fish, after which, they daily grew more familiar; they are very covetous of Hats, I had several times almost had mine taken off my Head... They were anxious to know (being entirely naked themselves) whether we were Men or Women, they pointed to where their Women were full of mirth, but would not permit them to approach us.

Proceeding Up River

Next Morning we proceeded along with the Governor to examine two Rivers, one in a North-west direction, up which we proceeded about six Miles; the other in a South-west; as we advanced up the first, numbers of Natives seemed Fishing in their Canoes, while others were employed dressing them on its Banks; they retired on our approach, Howling and Crying. - Here we first observed them to have Dogs, they are of the Wolf kind, with long shaggy Hair. When they found we passed their Canoes, etc. without injuring them, on our return down the River, they frequently appeared abreast of the Boats, calling out as usual, Warraw! Warraw ! I observed one of them on this occasion to walk Lame, as if one of his Legs had been fractured, and badly reduced.

The Country here was low and marshy, not unfit for Rice Ground. We returned about Noon to examine the South-west River, at the entrance of which, we landed on the West Shore, and dined, after which, we walked along the River side, and examined the Native's miserable Huts, etc. proofs of their simplicity and ignorance, in which his Excellency left Beads and other trifling Trinkets, but took nothing from them. The Country in this direction is very Mountainous. Night approaching, we returned on board with the Boats, intending to examine that River more fully in the Mornings - when the agreeable sight of the three Ships, in the Offing; prevented, and the Day following the last division of the Fleet arrived in the Bay, - a fortunate circumstance, as the Live Stock must have all suffered for the want of Hay, several having died from the time they made the Land.

Port Jackson

Upon examination Port Jackson, a Harbour about four Leagues to the Northward, being found in many respects preferable to Botany Bay for fixing a Settlement; we proceeded there in the Supply, with the Governor; the Fleet not being able to work out of the Bay that Day, on account of the violence of the Weather, arrived the Day following, and anchored all safe in one of the first Harbours of the World, indeed I may call it the first.

Norfolk Island

We were ordered in the Supply to get ready for Sea, and sailed for Norfolk Island, with Lieutenant P. G. King, appointed Superintendent and Commandant of that Island, this detachment consisted of one Midshipman from the Sirius, one Surgeon's Mate, one Master Weaver, two Marines, one of which a Farmer, nine Men Convicts and six Women, all of which we landed safe. On the 6th of March, together with six Months Provisions, Implements of Husbandry, Seeds every Species, etc, etc. This Island is every where so walled in with Steep and inaccessible Rocks, and washed with such in amazing Surf, that we were six Days employed in Boats before we could find a single Place to land their Provisions; here was unfortunately drowned Richard Jay, Quarter Master, (a Man much regretted,) from the violence of the Surf. I must forbear a further description of this Island and expedition, it would fill a Quire of Paper.

Lord Howe Island

On the 8th of March we left Norfolk, and steered for an Island we had the honor of Discovering in the Supply, on Sunday the 17th of March, 1788, at the most tremendous Gale of Wind, five Days from leaving Port Jackson, the service we were then on not permitting us to examine it - Wednesday, the 12th March, Lieutenant Ball and myself landed and took Possession of it in the Name of His Britannic Majesty, displayed the English Ensign, and named it Lord Howe's Island, in respect to the first Lord of the Admiralty, the North Point of it was called Phillip's Point, in Honor of his Excellency the Governor - the first Bay on the North Side Callam's Bay - the second Hunter's, from Captain Hunter, of the Sirius, and the third Prince William Henry's Bay, in honor of His Majesty's third Son, a large Bay at the Back of the Island, is called Ross's, from the Lieutenant Governor of the Colony, and a small Cove at the North End, Collins's, in respect to the Judge of the Settlement - two very High Mountains on the South End, are called Mount Gower and Legbird, they may be seen twenty Leagues off - a small Island in the middle of the Bay is called Blackburn's Isle, from the Master of the Supply - the South Point, Point King Superintendent, from the Superintendent of Norfolk Island, - a Deep Valley on the same End Erskines, in honor of the well known Counsellor, - a Cluster of Rocks on the North-East Side detached from the Island, by a volcanic eruption, are called, the Admiralty Rocks, and a Rock on the South-East Side of the Island, distant about twelve Miles, of an amazing height and most Singular appearance, it is called Ball's Pyramid, in honor of Lieutenant Ball* its first Discoverer, it may be seen at the distance of eighteen Leagues.

On our first Landing to our agreeable astonishment, we found on the Beach numbers of the finest Turtles, four of which loaded the Boat, on returning on Board we found the Ship's Company equally successful in fishing, - after Dinner we again revisited the Shore in two Boats, landed and examined the interior Parts of the Island, found in great plenty of Pigeons, with three different species of Fowl, peculiar to that Island, one of which resembled the Guinea Hen make, the Hen white, the Cock's Wings beautifully mottled with blue, in Weight about four Pounds, none of them could fly, but were run down by the Seamen, those with Pigeons were caught in such Quantities, as to be shared to the Ship's Company; the produce of the Island is principally the Cabbage Palm Tree, Mangrove, Bomboo, with a species of Elder, has likewise Samphire, wild Cellery, Parsley, Sorrel, Endive, etc. etc. - On returning to the Boats, we found they had turned twenty-three fine Turtle, which were got on Board.

Port Jackson

The next Day we sailed for Port Jackson, and on the 19th of March arrived safe at the Colony, kindly welcomed by our Friends, - with respect to the Country, we know as yet but little of it, therefore are but ill qualified to condemn, or approve the undertaking.

Life in the Colony

The Climate is healthy, we have only Buried fifty since we landed, four Hanged, ten Missing, two brought in Cruelly Murdered by the Natives, another escaped with a Spear in his Body, and his Partner carried off, fifty Marriages, twenty-six Births, - Poultry and Hogs thrive very well, Sheep but indifferently; few .European Plants of any kind have come to perfection; from an extensive Garden belonging to the Ship, we have only got a few Potatoes, - Pease, Onions, Carrots, Cellery, Spinnage, etc. came to no perfection ; - Turnips have throve with the Governor, though no where else.' The Country is rather inclined to be Rocky, the Soil light and Sandy, of no great depth, in some Places Swampy, where may be found a White Clay, interspersed with Sand.

The Country abounds in the most beautiful Aromatic Shrubs, none of them known in Europe - the Trees are very large, but all of them more or less rotten, or decayed in their internal Parts, so loaded with Gum that they sink in Water, nor are they adapted for the useful purpose of House building. - Of the Natives, I think they are a harmless inoffensive People, convinced that we must have been the first aggressors when those two Convicts suffered, - they live together on terms of perfect equality, having no distinction but of Age, or Merit. Natural desires are immediately and innocently indulged, and Government rendered unnecessary. A want of confidence in us, or a natural jealousy of their Women, have as yet prevented any intercourse with that Sex; I am likewise convinced that they do not want for personal Courage.


Alexander, this is a most inaccurate Letter, being wrote in much haste - this you must allow for. Please to inform Mr. Mc Nabb, that two French Frigates arrived at Botany Bay, on discovery, under M. Perouse, and built two Boats, having lost two at the Navigator's Islands, with one of their Commanders and eleven Men, by the Natives.

Celebration - 4 June 1788

I Shall conclude this Letter, with my compliments to Mrs. Callam,

Dear Brother, I Recommend the letters inclosed to your particular care, and beg you will forward them; your own letter is very inaccurate, being hurried when it was wrote. The latitude of Port Jackson, omitted in the letter, is 33, 52, longitude 151, 18 east, it was named Cumberland County, by his Excellency Governor Phillip, on the 4th of June, when we all passed the day with him in the greatest harmony. - His majesty's ships Sirius and Supply, fired three royal salutes, each soldier had a pint of porter, every convict under sentence of - pardoned each male half a pint of rum, and each female a jill - wood being plenty, bonfires appeared in the evening in every direction, all the officers able to attend supped at the governor's, and the evening concluded to the satisfaction of all good men.

From your affectionate Brother,

JAMES CALLAM. Supply, Port Jackson, July 12th, 1788.

My respectful compliments to all enquiring friends, we are now ordered for sea in three or four days.

Botany Bay - A Letter from Mr. James Callam Surgeon of His Majesty's Ship Supply

Botany Bay. A letter from Mr. James Callam: surgeon of HM ship Supply

Notes and Links

1). S. Leeds was employed as assistant-surgeon on H.M.A.T Supply. He resigned because of illness in 1796.

2). HMAT Supply vs HMS Supply - Australian History Research - Cathy Dunn

3). John White served as Surgeon-General on the First Fleet in 1787. Eight other surgeons served under him - Dennis Considen, Thomas Arndell, William Balmain, John Turnpenny Altree, Arthur Bowes Smyth, James Callam, Thomas Jamison and George Bouchier Worgan