James Callander (sometimes spelled Callender) was a master shipwright who served in the British Navy. He participated in the American War of Independence, after which he served with the English East India Company. From 1784 to 1793 he was involved mainly in trade missions to the Far East. He appears to have been a ship owner at one time, but lost two of his three ships to French privateers. He came to the Cape of Good Hope around 1797 and in December 1798 was commissioned by Governor G. Macartney to report on the bays, rivers and forests of the coast between Mossel Bay and Algoa Bay. More particularly his brief was to describe the different kinds of wood to be found there, their quality, what they might be used for, and how timber might be transported cheaply to Cape Town by ship. He built a wooden cabin near The Heads, Knysna, and stayed in the region for some five years. In his reports he predicted a great future for the timber industry of the Cape and recommended that the government should acquire a special ship to transport timber from the area to Saldanha Bay, which he regarded as a suitable place to build and repair ships. The authorities did not act on these recommendations. He also pointed out that the forests were being destroyed through injudicious exploitation and that steps should be taken to protect them. During his stay he furthermore surveyed the Knysna lagoon, which he saw as a potential harbour, and presented a copy of the resulting chart to Governor J.W. Janssens when the latter visited the area in 1803. The chart was published in An account of travels into the interior of southern Africa by John Barrow* in 1805.
Although Callander signed an oath of submission to the Batavian Republic in November 1803, he was confined to Stellenbosch with other British subjecs as a "prisoner at large" in 1804. He married Catharina Sandenberg there in April 1805. During the next ten years he sailed to Rio de Janeiro as master of the Young Phoenix, as well as to Calcutta and other places and from 1810 became active in the import-export business. By 1815 he owned a store in Cape Town in the name of James Callander & Co., but the firm was dissolved the next year. At this time he still retained an interest in Knysna as a possible harbour, for in 1817 he presented a memorandum to the authorities urging them to build a dockyard there. Early in August 1820 he was confined to bed with a serious asthmatic complaint at the house of George Morrison at Uitenhage, where he died.