Calder was a surveyor and historian. Born in England, Calder arrived in Van Diemen's Land in 1829 to take up a position as Assistant Surveyor. For the next three decades he explored and surveyed vast tracts of the colony. In 1859 he was appointed Surveyor-General and in 1870 he became the sergeant-at-arms for the Tasmanian parliament. After his retirement Calder wrote copiously about early Tasmanian history, contributing many articles to newspapers and publishing four monographs.