Adam Lindsay Gordon (October 19, 1833 – June 24, 1870) was an Australian poet, frequently known now as the “national poet of Australia”.
Born in the Azores of an old Scottish family, his father was a retired army captain who later became professor of Oriental languages at Cheltenham College. The family moved to Madeira when he was a child, and then to Cheltenham, in 1840. Gordon was sent to the newly founded college in 1841, but was expelled later for poor behaviour.
In 1852 he was sent to be educated at the Royal Grammar School in Worcester. The headmaster at the time, Canon Temple, recorded that Gordon had a “most extraordinary genius.” But within four months of arrival he was already in trouble. His chief interest of horses led him to be almost imprisoned for stealing a horse to ride in the Worcester Steeplechase.
Gordon was due to ride Lallah Rookh, a mare at a steeplechase meeting in Crowle. The owner of the horse had placed bets on him winning the race. However, the bailiffs seized the horse the night before the meeting and locked it in the stables at the Plough Inn, Worcester. Gordon stormed into the stables at the Plough Inn and led the mount away. He was prevented from racing, but the owner went on to race instead and actually won the event. Gordon was ordered to appear at Worcester Magistrates Court but was saved from being imprisoned by Tom Oliver of Worcester, who bailed him out of court. His name appears in the poem: Ye Wearie Wayfarer – Fytte II.
It was during his time at Worcester that Gordon also had his first romance. He fell in love with Jane Brydges who lived in St. John’s across the river from Worcester. Unfortunately Jane was not interested in Gordon. Gordon later wrote the following poem about his love for Jane:
I loved a girl not long ago
And till my suit was told
I thought her breast as fair as snow
‘Twas very near as cold.
And yet I spoke with feelings more
Of recklessness than pain,
Those words I never spoke before
Nor never shall again.
Her cheek grew pale, in her dark eye
I saw a tear-drop shine
Her red lips faltered in reply
And then were pressed to mine
A quick pulsation of the heart!
A flutter of the breath
A smothered sob! – and thus we part
To meet no more till death.
It was said that his Headmaster at Worcester had greatened his interest in the classics and inspired him to write.
In despair of his son’s waywardness, his father sent him to South Australia in 1853 where Gordon found he was excellently adapted to the lifestyle and opted to join the mounted police rather than present his letters of introduction. Two years later, when he was a travelling horse-breaker and trainer, he met J. E. Tenison Woods, a Roman Catholic missionary and naturalist, who encouraged Gordon in his writing. In 1862 Gordon at the age of 29 he married Maggie Park, 17, who had nursed him after an accident.
Gordon came into Â£7000 after his father died in 1864. He bought some race horses, and in time became the best steeplechase rider in Australia. In 1864 he enhanced his reputation as a horseman by making what was to become a famous leap onto a ledge above the Blue Lake, Mount Gambier – commemorated in 1887 by an obelisk. He also entered the South Australian Parliament from Victoria in 1865 but resigned the next year. In 1867 he went to Mt. Gambier to live by writing and horse-training. He ran into debt from gambling, drinking and from borrowing heavily to finance a suit to sue for recovery of some ancestral lands in Scotland. In June 1870 he lost his suit. He saw his last book of verses through the press, but, burdened with money worries, the next day, June 24, 1870, shot himself.
He is now regarded as the national poet of Australia and is “the laureate of the horse.” There is a monument to him in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey being the only Australian poet to have one. There is also a monument outside Parliament House in Melbourne in a nature reserve named Gordon Square alongside a monument to his relative General Gordon .
Two of his poems were immortalised by the composer Sir Edward Elgar those being A Song to Autumn and The Swimmer from Sea Pictures.