ADAM LINDSAY GORDON was the son of that Captain Adam Durnford Gordon who, having served well in India, became ultimately Professor of Hindustani in Cheltenham College, where the boy went for a time; he was afterwards at Woolwich, but obtained no commission. He seems to have spent much of his time with boxers and horse-trainers. In 1853 he was sent out to Australia; a poem written to his sister shows that he knew that he went in disgrace, but that his stubborn pride did not quail before the future. The poem Whisperings in Wattle-boughs, here printed, shows that in his exile he was often tormented by remorseful thoughts of those he had left behind. In Australia he entered the Police as a constable; he stayed in the force two years, making a name meanwhile as a steeplechase rider. After 1855 he became famous in that capacity, but in 1862 he married one Maggie Park, who had nursed him after a fall; in 1864 he inherited £7,000 and entered the South Australian Parliament, till having spent his money he retired and opened a livery stable at Ballarat. The mysterious thing about him is that during his riotous youth, and during these ten years among horses and horsemen in Australia, he picked up a good knowledge of Latin, Greek, and French literature. The next five years were divided between steeplechasing and poetry; in one day at Melbourne (1868) he won three races, and just about the same time he wrote his Song of Autumn and The Sick Stockrider. Then in an evil day he laid claim to a great estate (Esslemont) in Scotland, believing himself to be head of his branch of the Gordon family. In June, 1870, he learnt that his application had failed; he was pressed for money, and he had not recovered from the effects of a bad fall. So he sent to the press his volume of Bush Ballads and quietly shot himself. Unfortunately, too, a friend obeyed too literally the instructions in a letter from Gordon, and burnt a whole trunkful of his manuscripts, verse and prose; so that all that remains of his writing is the two small volumes which, in the country that he had made his own, gained and kept for him the name and fame of the Australian Poet. A book on Adam Lindsay Gordon and his Friends has been written by Mr. Douglas Sladen, who has also issued the Poems in a little volume (Constable & Co., 1912).
Gordons literary models were Byron and, after 1865, Swinburne; but his extraordinary verbal memory enabled him to remember by heart whole pages of other poets, from Horace to Macaulay and Browning. Yet none can call him an imitator, except perhaps of Swinburne. His miscellaneous poems and songs are original, though the feeling they express is common to many in all lands. His bush poems and his riding verses are the free and spirited outcome of his own experience, and form an unrivalled picture of the Australia of fifty years ago, and of the passions and interests that animated the makers of a new country.