one of the most significant interments at Brighton General Cemetery is that
of Poet Gordon who was born on the island of Azores on 19 October 1833 the
son of Adam Gordon and his cousin Harriet. Inheriting his mother’s
fecklessness, his adolescence was a troubled one, marred by brawls, bouts of
drunkenness and a warrant for his arrest that tested his father’s patience
once too many; a position in South Australia was secured and he sailed on
the Julia arriving in Adelaide on 11 November 1853.
"To My Sister"
My parents bid me cross the flood,
My kindred frowned at me;
They say I have belied my blood,
And stained my pedigree.
But I must turn from those who chide,
And laugh at those who frown;
I cannot quench my stubborn pride,
Nor keep my sprits down.
Horses were Gordon’s love, poetry his passion. Serving with the S.A
Mounted Police (1853-55) he was stationed at Penola in the
Mount Gambier area
and spent a period of two years of routine life of unremarkable incidents;
his horse skills were noted by his peers and he proved a reliable trooper.
It was also here that he met Rev. Julian Tenison-Woods (Waverley
Cemetery) which up to this point little was known of the poet in Gordon.
With a formidable library of the likes of Thackeray, Dickens, Shelley and
Byron, Tenison-Woods supplied the stimulus to rekindle Gordon’s passion in
poetry. He also befriended William Trainor (q.v.), who apart from
Tenison-Woods encouraged Gordon to publish his works; “The Feud” was
his first and appeared in Border Watch on 30 August 1864. On the
death of his mother in 1861 Gordon received a large inheritance and was
suddenly a man of wealth. It also marked the start of his downfall. He
née Park on 20 October 1862 and bought Dingley
Dell a cottage near Port MacDonnell; pursued his love of riding and
training steeplechasers; and made disastrous speculations in land. Where
men upon failure could say they tried, Gordon was one who upon failure could
never understand why, believing his family name would alone assure success.
In January 1865 he entered the South Australian parliament (1865-66) on the
urgings of the Mount Gambier landowners: his platform was against unlocking
the lands, support of borrowing for public works and vowing to lobby for
extra funds for the area.
But politics soon bored Gordon and he found more attraction in the
Parliamentary library. He did however continue to write poetry and after
the disastrous foray in land speculation in Western Australia he
self-published his own works - “Ashtaroth” (1867) and “Sea
Spray and Smoke Drift” (1867)
the reviewers warmed to his style and he made a substantial loss; it was
rather a reflection of the uncompromising pre-conceived opinion of critics
than the freshness of Gordon’s works.
This failure soon led Gordon to
Victoria in the
form of an old friend Walter Craig of Craig’s Hotel, Ballarat whom he was
able to lease livery stables from. But failure continued to dog Gordon. In
March 1868 he suffered a serious horse riding fall and suffered a fractured
skull, broken nose, jaw and ribs; on 14 April his only child, Annie died
after contracting enteritis; a nearby blaze destroyed the stables; and in
September his wife left him. While staying with a friend in Melbourne,
Gordon met the author Marcus Clarke (Melbourne General Cemetery) at
the time editor of Colonial Monthly who introduced Gordon to the
Melbourne literary scene including
Tom Carrington (q.v.) and Henry
Kendall (Waverley Cemetery). Thus, Gordon began one last foray into
poetry with “Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes” (1870) considered his
finest work producing such favourites as “From the Wreck”, “The
Sick Stockrider” and “How we Beat the Favourite”. The day after
publication on 24 June 1870 he committed suicide on the
For Gordon, mistakes came too early and recognition too late whose
recklessness and daring as a horse rider, open handed generosity and
melancholy were ultimately his downfall. The stanza on his headstone from
the poem “Ye Wearie Wayfarer” was popular to a generation of
Australian school children:
not, but live and labour
Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble
Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and
Two things stand like stone:
KINDNESS in another’s
COURAGE in your own.
Or why not
check out the website of
The Adam Lindsay
Gordon Commemorative Committee?
(above) Poet Gordon's
(La Trobe Picture Collection,
State Library of Victoria,
(above) Poet Gordon
(By permission of the
Library of Australia, nla.pic-an5487725)
(above) "Dingley Dell"
(Photograph courtesy of the
State Library of South
Australia, SLSA: B19008)