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The explorer and the writer: A love story

In their day they may have been seen as a power couple for their achievements.

Caroline Louisa Atkinson and James Snowden Calvert married late in life, but they had both made names for themselves in their respective fields. James as an explorer and botanist and Caroline, better known as Louisa, as a naturalist and writer.

James Snowden was born in 1825 in Otley, Yorkshire in England. By 1841, after travelling widely, he decided to migrate to Australia with his brother William. On the boat out he met a man by the name of Ludwig Leichhardt who was to become one of Australia's great explorers.

James Snowden Calvert's grave stone in Rookwood cemetery. Courtesy Findagrave

They met up again two years later and Leichhardt invited Calvert to join him on an overland trip from Brisbane to Port Essington. Calvert was only older than a 15 year old lad who was part of the expedition. Over the next 14 months many geographical observations were made, however, the team encountered some very unfriendly Aboriginals in June 1845, with the result that one expeditioner was killed and Calvert and another were injured. He was lucky to survive.

Meanwhile, Caroline Louisa Waring Atkinson had been born at Oldbury, near Berrima in 1834. She was educated privately, mainly by her mother, a former teacher where her artistic talent and warm feeling for natural history developed. Her surroundings in Fenhurst, Kurrajong Heights, west of Sydney, where they had moved to, were conducive to the love of botany and zoology she continued to develop in womanhood.

She studied plants and wrote articles on them, drawing and sending many specimens to eminent botanists of the day. It was a valuable service to the world of botany and caused her name to be applied to a number of new species. Her growing knowledge of birds and insects also extended into taxidermy.

Louisa Atkinson. Courtesy Findagrave - Grace C

Louisa also turned her hand to writing. Her Gertrude the Emigrant was published in Sydney in 1857 and two years later her Cowanda, the Veteran's Grant; authorship of the first was ascribed to 'an Australian Lady' and of the second to 'the Author of Gertrude'. Many of her fictional works were serialised in the Sydney Morning Herald and Sydney Mail between 1861 and 1872.

In the late 1860s Louisa and her now-widowed mother returned to Oldbury and on 11 March, 1869 she married James. They both had a common interest in botany, but their union lasted only three years when Louisa died soon after giving birth to their daughter. Calvert withdrew and lived a retired life with his daughter, Louise and died on 22 July, 1884.

Their daughter would go on to be Dr Louise Cosh from Moss Vale, whose own daughter Janet Louise Cosh would become a botanist of note.

Louisa is buried in the Atkinson family vault at All Saints' Church, Sutton Forest. James' grave is in Rookwood cemetery in Sydney.


  • A. H. Chisholm, 'Atkinson, Caroline Louisa (1834–1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 19 May 2023.

  • A. H. Chisholm, 'Calvert, James Snowden (1825–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 May 2023.

  • 'James Calvert (explorer)', Wikipedia, accessed on 26th May, 2023,

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