Sunday, 9 September 2012

Adam Lindsay Gordon and me

My father never completed primary school yet acquired a very good education.
He enjoyed early Australian poetry and could recite long passages.
He wrote the following in my autograph book in the 1950s. I have since seen this short piece many times and the appeal never fades.

                  Man's Testament

        Question not, but live and labour
        Till yon goal be won,
        Helping every feeble neighbour,
        Seeking help from none;
        Life is mostly froth and bubble,
        Two things stand like stone,
        Kindness in another's trouble,
        Courage in your own.

                        Adam Lindsay Gordon

Gordon was one of the Houses at my primary school - they were all named after famous Australian poets.

I found some information about Gordon at

Adam Lindsay Gordon was born in 1835 in Faval in the Azores the son of an ex-cavalryman Captain Adam Durnford Gordon. The family returned to England to live. Young Adam had interesting school years attending many different schools, being a lively lad indeed. Gordon began to lead a wild and aimless life, contracted debts, and was a great anxiety to his family, who at last decided that this young man should go to Australia in 1853 to join the mounted police. He was 20.

Gordon quickly gained a reputation as a sportsman, a boxer and an excellent, though often reckless horseman. He competed in and won many district races despite the fact that he was extremely near sighted and more often than not, had to trust to his mount to judge a jump whilst he hung on for his very life.

In 1862 he married Margaret Park, then just 17.
In 1864 Gordon bought a cottage, Dingley Dell, near Port MacDonnell.

In July 1865 Gordon performed the daring riding feat known as Gordon’s Leap on the edge of the Blue Lake. The memorial obelisk is still there.

By this time Gordon was publishing quite good poetry that captured the imagery and emotions of the people.
In 1865 Gordon ran for and was elected to the South Australian Parliament, being appointed as the member for Victoria. This lasted only two years.

He returned to the equine industry to make a living. For two years he lived in Ballarat in Victoria.

In 1867 Gordon's beloved baby daughter, Annie Lindsay Gordon died at just ten months of age. Gordon's biography records that the poet was never the same man after this loss and that whereas he had always been "Solitary, taciturn and sombre in outlook, his melancholy was certainly increased and from this time forward, its signs were plainly visible to his intimate friends."

This image is from Find-a-grave.
He sold his business and left Ballarat in 1868 and moved to Brighton in Melbourne. 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.

Throughout the year 1869 Gordon battled again with constant fits of 'melancholy' and insomnia, although he wrote in a letter to a friend that he continued to take his daily exercise, at this time, consisting of a daily, vigorous swim from Brighton Beach. He would often swim about half a mile out into the bay, which was known to be populated with sharks, before he would turn back to shore.

In March 1870 Gordon had a bad fall while riding in a steeplechase. His head was injured and he never completely recovered. Gordon continued to gain fame in the district as a horseman. He owned several race horses, one of them named Cadger, being his favourite and one of the best steeplechasers of his time. Gordon rode Cadger with a reckless abandon which it was said stemmed from the fact that Gordon harboured a secret desire to be killed in a fall.

Just one-day after his book of verse "Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes" was published, Gordon was found dead on Brighton Beach. He had shot himself with his own rifle.

His wife went back to South Australia, married Peter Low, and lived until November 1919.

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