Bart Sir Robert Calder. (1745-1818), British admiral, was born at Elgin, in Scotland, on the 2nd of July 1745 (o.s.). He belonged to a very ancient family of Morayshire, and was the second son of Sir Thomas Calder of Muirton. He was educated at the grammar school of Elgin, and at the age of fourteen entered the British navy as midshipman. In 1766 he was serving as lieutenant of the "Essex," under Captain the Hon. George Faulkner, in the West Indies. Promotion came slowly, and it was not till 1782 that he attained the rank of post-captain. He acquitted himself honourably in the various services to which he was called, but for a long time had no opportunity of distinguishing himself. In 1796 he was named captain of the fleet by Sir John Jervis, and took part in the great battle off Cape St Vincent (February 14, 1797). He was selected as bearer of the despatches announcing the victory, and on that occasion was knighted by George III. He also received the thanks of parliament, and in the following year was created a baronet. In 1799 he became rear-admiral; and in 1801 he was despatched with a small squadron in pursuit of a French force, under Admiral Gantheaume, conveying supplies to the French in Egypt. In this pursuit he was not successful, and returning home at the peace he struck his flag.
When the war again broke out he was recalled to service, was promoted vice-admiral in 1804, and was employed in the following year in the blockade of the ports of Ferrol and Corunna, in which (amongst other ports) ships were preparing for the invasion of England by Napoleon I. He held his position with a force greatly inferior to that of the enemy, and refused to be enticed out to sea. On its becoming known that the first movement directed by Napoleon was the raising of the blockade of Ferrol, Rear-Admiral Stirling was ordered to join Sir R. Calder and cruise with him to intercept the fleets of France and Spain on their passage to Brest. The approach of the enemy was concealed by a fog; but on the 22nd of July 1805 their fleet came in sight. It still outnumbered the British force; but Sir Robert entered into action. After a combat of four hours, during which he captured two Spanish ships, he gave orders to discontinue the action. He offered battle again on the two following days, but the challenge was not accepted. The French admiral Villeneuve, however, did not pursue his voyage, but took refuge in Ferrol. In the judgment of Napoleon, his scheme of invasion was baffled by this day's action; but much indignation was felt in England at the failure of Calder to win a complete victory.
In consequence of the strong feeling against him at home he demanded a court-martial. This was held on the 23rd of December, and resulted in a severe reprimand of the vice-admiral for not having done his utmost to renew the engagement, at the same time acquitting him of both cowardice and disaffection. False expectations had been raised in England by the mutilation of his despatches, and of this he indignantly complained in his defence. The tide of feeling, however, turned again; and in 1815, by way of public testimony to his services, and of acquittal of the charge made against him, he was appointed commander of Portsmouth. He died at Holt, near Bishop's Waltham, in Hampshire, on the 31st of August 1818.
See Naval Chronicle, xvii.; James, Naval History, iii. 356-379 (1860).