Adam Lindsay Gordon
(19 October 1833 – 24 June 1870) was an Australian poet
Gordon was born at Fayal in the Azores
, son of Captain Adam Durnford Gordon, had married his first cousin, Harriet Gordon, and both were descended from Adam of Gordon of the ballad, and were connected with other distinguished men of the intervening 500 years. Captain Gordon was then staying at the Azores for the sake of his wife's health. They were back in England living at Cheltenham in 1840, and in 1841 . Gordon entered Cheltenham College in 1847, but the following year he was sent to a school kept by the Rev. Samuel Ollis Garrard in Gloucestershire. In 1848 he attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich
. There he appears to have been good at sports, but not studious and certainly undisciplined — and like Richard Henry Horne
, he was asked to leave. He was again admitted a pupil at Cheltenham College. He was not there for long, he appears to have left in the middle of 1852, but the story that he was expelled from Cheltenham is without foundation. Then he was sent to the Royal Grammar School Worcester
in 1852. He began to lead a wild and aimless life, contracted debts, and was a great anxiety to his father, who at last decided that his son should go to Australia and make a fresh start in 1853 to join the mounted Police with a letter of introduction to the Governor.
Gordon had fallen in love with a girl of 17, Jane Bridges, who was able to tell the story 60 years afterwards to his biographers. He did not declare his love until he came to say good-bye to her before leaving for Australia on 7 August 1853. "With characteristic recklessness he offered to sacrifice the passage he had taken to Australia, and all his father's plans for giving him a fresh start in life, if she would tell him not to go, or promise to be his wife, or even give him some hope." This Miss Bridges could not do, though she liked the shy handsome boy and remembered him with affection to the end of a long life. It was the one romance of Gordon's life.
That Gordon realized his conduct had fallen much below what it might have been can be seen in his poems ... "To my Sister", written three days before he left England, and "Early Adieux", evidently written about the same time.
He was just over 20 when he arrived at Adelaide
on 14 November 1853. He immediately obtained a position in the South Australian mounted police and was stationed at Mount Gambier
. On 4 November 1855 he resigned from the force and took up horse-breaking in the south-eastern district of South Australia
. The interest in horse-racing which he had shown as a youth in England was continued in Australia, and in a letter written in November 1854 he mentioned that he had a horse for the steeplechase at the next meeting. In 1857 he met the Rev. Julian Tenison Woods
who lent him books and talked poetry with him. He then had the reputation of being "a good steady lad and a splendid horseman". In this year his father died and he also lost his mother about two years later. From her estate he received £6944-18-1 on 26 October 1861. He was making a reputation as a rider over hurdles, and several times either won or was placed in local hurdle races and steeplechases. On 20 October 1862 he married Margaret Park, then a girl of 17. In March 1864 he bought a cottage, Dingley Dell
, near Port MacDonnell
, and, in this same year, inspired by six engravings after Noel Paton illustrating "The Dowie Dens O' Yarrow", Gordon wrote a poem The Feud
, of which 30 copies were printed at Mount Gambier. On 11 January 1865 he received a deputation asking him to stand for parliament and was elected by three votes to the South Australian House of Assembly
on 16 March 1865. In politics, Gordon was a maverick. His semi-classical speeches were colourful and entertaining but largely irrelevant, and he resigned his seat on 20 November 1866. Gordon's time in politics stimulated him to greater activity – poetry, horse racing and speculation. He was contributing verse to the Australasian
and Bell's Life
and doing a fair amount of riding. He bought some land in Western Australia
, but returned from a visit to it early in 1867 and went to live at Mount Gambier. On 10 June 1867 he published Ashtaroth, a Dramatic Lyric
, and on the nineteenth of the same month Sea Spray and Smoke Drift
Move to Victoria
With his failures behind him, Gordon turned to Victoria, not to Melbourne which had ignored his poetry, but to Ballarat. In November he rented Craig's livery stables at Ballarat in partnership with Harry Mount, but he had no head for business and the venture was a failure. In March 1868 he had a serious accident, a horse smashing his head against a gatepost of his own yard. His daughter, born on 3 May 1867, died at the age of 11 months, his financial difficulties were increasing, and he fell into very low spirits. In spite of short sight he was becoming very well known as a gentleman rider, and on 10 October 1868 actually won three races in one day at the Melbourne Hunt Club steeplechase meeting. He rode with great patience and judgment, but his want of good sight was always a handicap. He began riding for money but was not fortunate and had more than one serious fall. He sold his business and left Ballarat in October 1868 and came to Melbourne and eventually found lodgings at 10 Lewis Street, Brighton. He had succeeded in straightening his financial affairs and was more cheerful. He made a little money out of his racing and became a member of the Yorick Club, where he was friendly with Marcus Clarke, George Gordon McCrae, and a little later Henry Kendall. On 12 March 1870 Gordon had a bad fall while riding in a steeplechase at Flemington Racecourse. His head was injured and he never completely recovered. He had for some time been endeavouring to show that he was heir to the estate of Esslemont in Scotland, but there was a flaw in the entail, and in June he learnt that his claim must be abandoned. He had seen his last book, Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes, through the press, and it was published on 23 June 1870; it was not successful at the time, but is now regarded as one of the most important pieces of Australian literature. Gordon on that day met Kendall who showed him the proof of the favourable review he had written for the Australasian. But Gordon had just asked his publishers what he owed them for printing the book, and realized that he had no money to pay them and no prospects. He went home to his cottage at 10 Lewis Street Brighton carrying a package of cartridges for his rifle. Next morning he rose early, walked into the tea-tree scrub and shot himself. His wife went back to South Australia, married Peter Low, and lived until November 1919. In October 1870 a monument was erected over his grave at the Brighton General Cemetery by his close friends, and in 1932 a statue to his memory by Paul Montford was unveiled near parliament house, Melbourne; and many other statues and monuments throughout Australia. In May 1934 his bust was placed in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, being the only Australian poet to have one.
Gordon was tall and handsome (see portrait prefixed to The Laureate of the Centaurs). But he stooped and held himself badly, partly on account of his short sight. He was shy, sensitive and, even before he was overwhelmed with troubles, inclined to be moody. After his head was injured at Ballarat he was never the same man again, and subsequent accidents aggravated his condition. Any suggestion that drink was a contributing cause may be disregarded. (Sir) Frank Madden who was with him the day before his death said that he was then absolutely sober, "he never cared for it (drink) and so far as I know seldom took it at all". The Rev. Tenison Woods in his "Personal Reminiscences" said "Those who did not know Gordon attributed his suicide to drink, but I repeat he was most temperate and disliked the company of drinking men". His tragic death drew much attention to his work and especially in Melbourne the appreciation of it became overdone. This led to a revulsion of feeling among better judges and for a time it was underrated in some quarters. Much of his verse is careless and banal, there are passages in Ashtaroth for instance that are almost unbelievably bad, but at his best he is a poet of importance, who on occasions wrote some magnificent lines. Douglas Sladen, a life-long admirer, in his Adam Lindsay Gordon, The Westminster Abbey Memorial Volume has made a selection of 27 poems which occupy about 90 pages. Without subscribing to every poem selected it may be said that Gordon is most adequately represented in a sheaf of this kind. His most sustained effort, the "Rhyme of Joyous Garde", has some glorious stanzas, and on it and some 20 other poems Gordon's fame may be allowed to rest.
One of his poems, The Swimmer forms the libretto for the fifth movement of Edward Elgar's song cycle Sea Pictures. After a particularly trying year for the Royal Family, Queen Elizabeth II quoted from one of Gordon's more famous poems in her Christmas Message of 1992, "Kindness in another's trouble, courage in one's own..", but did not mention the poet's name.
Dingley Dell, Gordon's property and home from 1862 to 1866, is preserved as a museum and a conservation park. The museum houses early volumes of his work, personal effects and a display of his horse riding equipment.
- (1978). Dingley Dell, home of Adam Lindsay Gordon. Department for the Environment.