REV. JULIAN TENISON WOODS
GORDON’S CLERICAL FRIEND
Reproducing a biography by Eileen Kaye first published in The Australasian Newspaper in serial form in 1933.
This series of articles was recovered from The Australasian newspaper by Travis M. Sellers.
Edited by John W. Adams, with permission kindly given by The State Library of Victoria.
One friend, however, he did find –a young man something like himself in spirit, though his orderly life led him along very different paths. In 1857 the Rev Julian Tenison Woods came to take up the duties of Roman Catholic priest at Penola. One of the large family of a gifted but penniless London barrister and Q.C. he had experienced a difficult and unsettled youth, and hovered between journalism and a religious life, till finally the Church won the day. Never robust, he found that he could not live in England, and as several of his brothers had emigrated to Australia, he accepted a call to work among the convicts of Tasmania. Not finding his vocation there, he drifted to South Australia, where Bishop Murphy persuaded him to be ordained and take over the charge of the “new country,” an enormous parish of 22,000 square miles, half desert and half sheep and cattle country, bounded by the coast, the Victorian border, and the river Murray. The chapel at Penola, which served as headquarters, consisted of a converted wooden store, the outer shop portion being large enough to hold the congregation, while a couple of rooms attached at the back made a residence for the young priest. Most of his time he spent riding from station to station of his huge, scattered parish.
One day, in 1857, Gordon was breaking in colts on Mr. Stockdale’s station. The new priest paid a call on the squatter, who showed him round the place; they paused to watch him at work in the stockyard with a fresh young horse that was trying hard to throw him. At last the girths broke, and he landed on his feet. At supper that night, when all, master, man, and guest, shared the hospitable board, the priest noticed him sitting silent. Afterwards Gordon sought him out on the verandah, and talked for an hour, surprisingly in that place, of poetry and poets. Father Woods was interested in the curious young man, whose face reminded him of Byron, and asked Stockdale about him. He was a good, steady lad, the squatter told him, who never drank nor gambled, and did not associate much with those about him. The worthy station owner liked him, and recognised something uncommon about him.
Next morning, as Woods resumed his rounds, he was overtaken by this unusual horse breaker. They were both bound in the same direction, Gordon heading for a station about 40 miles away. Gordon rode a half-broken colt, and conversation was spasmodic; but he directed it again towards poetry. Encouraged by Woods, who was amazed at his knowledge, he quoted long passages from Homer, Ovid, and the French classics. After a pleasant day, they parted at sundown. “It is 26 years ago,” the priest wrote later; “but I remember still how much impressed I was with him, his knowledge, his memory, and his literary tastes. His manner of reciting poetry was odd, his pronunciation strange, and his delivery monotonous; but his way of emphasising the beautiful parts was charming from its earnestness.”
After that they had many a long ride together, often through the desolate sandy desert of the south-east. This country, known as the Coorong, has a strange and gloomy appearance; a dark brown mass of bushes as far as the eye can reach, with patches of yellow sand that give a suggestion of sterility to the scene. Here and there a tree starts up above the heaving ocean of dark waves, making a lonely and mournful landmark. It is always sad, even on a bright day, for light only extends the prospect, making it more hopeless; and scarcely a living thing breaks the monotony of the desert. Father Woods was glad of company on his lonely journeys, and was astonished and delighted to find so cultured a companion as Gordon. Gordon found the priest a veritable Godsend. Only a year older than himself, he was a scholar and a gentleman and a perfect mine of scientific and literary knowledge. He could sympathise with Gordon’s relentlessness, having had troubles of his own in his youth.
Woods lent Gordon books from his own store. Once Gordon happened to mention that he knew very little of Horace. The priest gave him a little pocket edition. Next time they met Gordon recited many of the odes as they went along, and the priest was amazed at his attentive memory. “De Arte Poetica” had appealed to him particularly. The borrowed books were generally returned in a dilapidated condition, having been carried continuously in the pocket. Gordon would apologise with a rueful face for their sad condition, saying he felt like one apologising for knocking up a borrowed horse by over-riding, while Woods genially averred that books were made to be used.
KING LEAR IN THE RAIN
One day, in 1860, Gordon and Woods were making a journey from the sea coast to Mt. Gambier. A sudden storm came up, neither was a good bushman, and they lost their way. Rain came down in torrents, and as they were searching for the track darkness came on. They gave up, dismounted, and crouched under a tree to await the rising of the moon. They could not light a fire, both were cold and wet and miserable; but Gordon improved the occasion by reciting long passages from different authors on the subject of storms. The priest was shivering while Gordon declaimed the tempest scene from “King Lear.” They reached the station about midnight, and next day Woods astounded the whole district by relating what a splendid night he had passed with Gordon, what a classical scholar he found him, and how much he enjoyed his conversation.
Woods was puzzled to know why Gordon was not received into what little society there was in the bush. Some of the squatters discriminated in their hospitality between visitors and station hands. Once, when the priest and Gordon arrived at a station after a 50 mile ride in heavy rain, Gordon waited till the other had dismounted, and then said that he was going to a camp about six miles farther on. The priest had duties to perform at the homestead, and could not go on with him, and when they met again a few days later Gordon explained that the last time he had visited that place he had been sent to the men’s hut instead of being asked into the house. He said good humouredly that he did not blame them for not asking a horse breaker into their parlour. “I’m as well born as any of them, and, perhaps better educated; but then they don’t know that.” Then he recited “A Man’s a Man For a’ That.” The incident that piqued him considerably had occurred lately at a small race meeting. There is usually a “Ladies’ Purse Event” at such gatherings; a collection of needlework made by the ladies of the district, and offered as prize in a race for “gentlemen riders only.” Gordon applied for permission to compete- and was refused. He remarked ironically to Woods:- You blame me for not mixing more with the people round about; this will show you how little I should gain by such society!”
GORDON AND THE WRECK OF THE S.S. ADMELLA
THE RIDE FROM THE WRECK
Adam Lindsay Gordon rides from the wreck of the Admella to raise the alarm:
‘TURN out, boys’—’What’s up with our super. to-night ?
The man’s mad—Two hours to daybreak I’d swear—
Stark mad—why, there isn’t a glimmer of light.’
‘Take Bolingbroke, Alec, give Jack the young mare ;
Look sharp. A large vessel lies jamm’d on the reef,
And many on board still, and some wash’d on shore.
Ride straight with the news—they may send some relief
From the township ; and we—we can do little more.
You, Alec, you know the near cuts ; you can cross
“The Sugarloaf” ford with a scramble, I think ;
Don’t spare the blood filly, nor yet the black horse ;
Should the wind rise, God help them ! the ship will soon sink.
Old Peter’s away down the paddock, to drive
The nags to the stockyard as fast as he can—
A life and death matter ; so, lads, look alive.’
Half-dressed, in the dark to the stockyard we ran.
There was bridling with hurry, and saddling with haste,
Confusion and cursing for lack of a moon ;
‘Be quick with these buckles, we’ve no time to waste ;’
‘Mind the mare, she can use her hind legs to some tune.’
‘Make sure of the crossing-place ; strike the old track,
They’ve fenced off the new one ; look out for the holes
On the wombat hills.’ ‘Down with the slip rails ; stand back.’
‘And ride, boys, the pair of you, ride for your souls.’
In the low branches heavily laden with dew,
In the long grasses spoiling with deadwood that day,
Where the blackwood, the box, and the bastard oak grew,
Between the tall gum-trees we gallop’d away—
We crashed through a brush fence, we splash’d through a swamp—
We steered for the north near ‘The Eaglehawk’s Nest’—
We bore to the left, just beyond ‘The Red Camp’,
And round the black tea-tree belt wheel’d to the west—
We cross’d a low range sickly scented with musk
From wattle-tree blossom—we skirted a marsh—
Then the dawn faintly dappled with orange the dusk,
And peal’d overhead the jay’s laughter note harsh,
And shot the first sunstreak behind us, and soon
The dim dewy uplands were dreamy with light ;
And full on our left flash’d ‘The Reedy Lagoon,’
And sharply ‘The Sugarloaf’ rear’d on our right.
A smother’d curse broke through the bushman’s brown beard,
He turn’d in his saddle, his brick-colour’d cheek
Flush’d feebly with sundawn, said, ‘Just what I fear’d ;
Last fortnight’s late rainfall has flooded the creek.’
Black Bolingbroke snorted, and stood on the brink
One instant, then deep in the dark sluggish swirl
Plunged headlong. I saw the horse suddenly sink,
Till round the man’s armpits the waves seemed to curl.
We follow’d,—one cold shock, and deeper we sank
Than they did, and twice tried the landing in vain ;
The third struggle won it ; straight up the steep bank
We stagger’d, then out on the skirts of the plain.
The stockrider, Alec, at starting had got
The lead, and had kept it throughout ; ’twas his boast
That through thickest of scrub he could steer like a shot,
And the black horse was counted the best on the coast.
The mare had been awkward enough in the dark,
She was eager and headstrong, and barely half broke ;
She had had me too close to a big stringy-bark,
And had made a near thing of a crooked sheoak.
But now on the open, lit up by the morn,
She flung the white foam-flakes from nostril to neck,
And chased him—I hatless, with shirt sleeves all torn
(For he may ride ragged who rides from a wreck)—
And faster and faster across the wide heath
We rode till we raced. Then I gave her her head,
And she—stretching out with the bit in her teeth—
She caught him, outpaced him, and passed him, and led.
We neared the new fence, we were wide of the track;
I look’d right and left—she had never been tried
At a stiff leap ; ’twas little he cared on the black.
‘You’re more than a mile from the gateway,’ he cried.
I hung to her head, touched her flank with the spurs
(In the red streak of rail not the ghost of a gap) ;
She shortened her long stroke, she pricked her sharp ears,
She flung it behind her with hardly a rap—
I saw the post quiver where Bolingbroke struck,
And guessed that the pace we had come the last mile
Had blown him a bit (he could jump like a buck).
We galloped more steadily then for a while.
The heath was soon pass’d, in the dim distance lay
The mountain. The sun was just clearing the tips
Of the ranges to eastward. The mare—could she stay?
She was bred very nearly as clean as Eclipse ;
She led, and as oft as he came to her side,
She took the bit free and untiring as yet ;
Her neck was arched double, her nostrils were wide,
And the tips of her tapering ears nearly met—
‘You’re lighter than I am,’ said Alec at last ;
‘The horse is dead beat and the mare isn’t blown.
She must be a good one—ride on and ride fast,
You know your way now.’ So I rode on alone.
Still galloping forward we pass’d the two flocks
At M’Intyre’s hut and M’Allister’s hill—
She was galloping strong at the Warrigal Rocks—
On the Wallaby Range she was galloping still—
And over the wasteland and under the wood,
By down and by dale, and by fell and by flat,
She gallop’d, and here in the stirrups I stood
To ease her, and there in the saddle I sat
To steer her. We suddenly struck the red loam
Of the track near the troughs—then she reeled on the rise—
From her crest to her croup covered over with foam,
And blood-red her nostrils, and bloodshot her eyes,
A dip in the dell where the wattle fire bloomed—
A bend round a bank that had shut out the view—
Large framed in the mild light the mountain had loomed,
With a tall, purple peak bursting out from the blue.
I pull’d her together, I press’d her, and she
Shot down the decline to the Company’s yard,
And on by the paddocks, yet under my knee
I could feel her heart thumping the saddle-flaps hard.
Yet a mile and another, and now we were near
The goal, and the fields and the farms flitted past ;
And ‘twixt the two fences I turned with a cheer,
For a green grass-fed mare ’twas a far thing and fast ;
And labourers, roused by her galloping hoofs,
Saw bare-headed rider and foam-sheeted steed;
And shone the white walls and the slate-coloured roofs
Of the township. I steadied her then—I had need—
Where stood the old chapel (where stands the new church—
Since chapels to churches have changed in that town).
A short, sidelong stagger, a long, forward lurch,
A slight, choking sob, and the mare had gone down.
I slipp’d off the bridle, I slacken’d the girth,
I ran on and left her and told them my news ;
I saw her soon afterwards. What was she worth ?
How much for her hide ? She had never worn shoes.
Gordon’s mare, called Lady Blanche, dropped dead under him one mile from the Mount Gambier Telegraph Station near Tennyson College on Carpenter Rocks Road – Shepherdson Road corner, approx east hundred yards of intersection.
Gordon was seen riding to and from the wreck more than once by the people of Mount Gambier and even applied Lard to soothe the wounds of one of the horses from the wreck.