Adam Lindsay Gordon: The Man and the Myth
"When Adam Lindsay Gordon put an end to his troubled and turbulant life with a service rifle in 1870, some seventeen years after he had been packed off to Australia as a horse-obsessed young ne'er-do-well by an exasperated parent, what fame he enjoyed was as a gentleman-jockey and a writer of horsey ballads and sketches. He had been a mounted policeman, landowner, Member of Parliament, steeplechase jockey, clubman, failed businessman, journalist - and poet. By the centenary of his birth in 1933 he was a legend, Australia's National Poet, and a year later his bust was being unveiled in Westminster Abbey by the future King George VI.
"Drawing on new material and correcting a number of popular misconceptions, this authoritative and entertaining biography does full justice to its colourful subject, as a man, a poet and cultural-historical phenomenon against the background of a colonial society that was still evolving a sense of its own nationhood."
First Paragraph from the Foreword
In the search for authentic material on Gordon there are many well-worn trails established by his devoted admirers in the half-century between the 188os and the 1930s, when his posthumous fame reached its summit. Much devoted labour went to the task while many of his contemporaries were still living, and a writer today must depend largely on the discoveries of such investigators and collectors as J. Howlett-Ross, Alexander Sutherland, J. K. Moir, Frank Maldon Robb, Douglas Sladen and Edith Humphris. Between them they interviewed surviving friends and relations of the poet and canvassed a wide range of possible sources of information by letter.
Where facts have been reasonably established and passed into their common usage I have not attempted to attribute them to a source for fear of overloading the narrative with references. Many facts are clear; where legends or anecdotes are derived from recollection years after Gordon's death I have used my own judgement, right or wrong, in trying to decide their authenticity. There remain a few cruxes of some importance to the narrative on which I have kept an open mind. There may still be material in private hands which 1 have failed to unearth and which may later come to light, but much has probably been lost in the traffic of more than a century.
In the days when it was a custom to honour famous men by effigies set up in public places the people of Victoria chose two of the Gordons among their heroes. Their statues stand on the formal grass plots in Spring Street, Melbourne, flanked to the east by the State Parliament and the Government offices, Gordon of Khartoum facing south, Adam Lindsay, the poet, north towards the open plains and the blue profile of Mount Macedon.
The two men were born in the same year, 1833, and came from the same clan, although nobody has succeeded in tracing any relationship between them. Both were intended for military careers, and briefly they were schoolmates at the Royal Military College, Woolwich.
There the likeness ends. T. Bland Strange, who was at the college in their time, wrote of them in a book of memoirs: 'As the two Gordons, they were the very antithesis of their generation - one a grim and conscientious Puritan, the other a sensuous, pleasure-loving poet and sportsman.'
From the Faber and Faber hardback edition, 1978.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2001 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Adam Lindsay Gordon page.
Last modified: November 27, 2001.