James Grant was born in Morayshire, Scotland, in 1772, and educated in part at King's College, Aberdeen, where he learned the elements of microscopy as applied to botany and anatomy. In 1793, at the age of 20, he entered the navy as a captain's servant, and within a year had become midshipman and then master's mate.
Within seven years he was appointed to command the Lady Nelson and became a lieutenant, thanks to his friendship with a commissioner of the Transport Board, Captain John Schanck, and the influence of Joseph Banks. The Lady Nelson was designed as a surveying ship, and it was intended that it should be sailed to Australia and handed over to Matthew Flinders. Grant himself was to be transferred to another ship, the Supply. By the time he reached Sydney, however, Flinders had left for England and the Supply had been condemned.
It therefore fell to Grant to undertake the surveying work himself. He and several colleagues, including an assistant surveyor, surveyed Bass Strait from March to May 1801. Blake (1977) dates his arrival in Portland Bay to 7 December 1800. Grant was later named as Portland's 'discoverer' in 1800 on a medal issued in 1934 to mark the centenary of the settlement of Portland. The surveying party then explored the Hunter Valley region in a four-week expedition.
After his return to Sydney Grant sat on the bench in an unpleasant military assault trial and found himself squeezed between the Governor and the Military. He soon asked for permission to leave for England, ostensibly because of the impending return of Flinders. He left Sydney on 9 November 1801 carrying a copy of the King's dispatches - which he promptly lost. He arrived in England in April 1802 and the next year published Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery, an account of his explorations. He had spent little more than 12 months in Australia.
Grant was promoted to commander in 1805 and was severley wounded in a battle off the Dutch coast. He was pensioned off but later resumed command of naval vessels. Grant died on 11 November 1833 near St Malo, France.
Blake, Les (1976). Place Names of Victoria, Adelaide, Rigby.
McMartin, Arthur (1966). 'Grant, James (1772-1833)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, vol. 1, pp. 468-469.