FROM CHELTENHAM TO ADELAIDE
ADAM LINDSAY GORDON TRAIL OFF TO SOUTH AUSTRALIA
The Julia cast off on her long voyage, and Captain Gordon went sadly back to Cheltenham, to his quiet house and the uneventful days and months.
He was quite sure that Lindsay was doing the right thing by cutting himself adrift from the bad company and foolish escapades of Cheltenham.
Lindsay began his journey stormily, resentfully, his pride badly hurt. Visiting his favourite sister’s grave for the last time a few days before he sailed, he had expressed his wounded feelings in a bitter outburst of verse:-
Across the trackless seas I go,
No matter when or where,
And few my future lot will know,
And fewer still will care.
My hopes are gone, my time is spent,
I little heed their loss,
And if I cannot feel content,
I cannot feel remorse.
The three months’ voyage was a strange time for young Lindsay Gordon. He embarked as an irresponsible boy, who had led a merry and careless life at home, following any fancy that came into his head, without any very strong ties of affection or ambition to steady him. He admired his father intensely, and thrilled to hear him tell of his young days in India. But somehow the personal approach was not easy for him; even to his family, the Captain was a very reserved and reticent man, with a rigid sense of honour and discipline. He often felt called upon to rebuke Lindsay for his riotous behaviour, and the boy was high spirited, and never could bear criticism or restraint. Headstrong and wilful, he must always go his own way. Yet there was strong mutual respect and liking between the two. And though he took good care not to show it (being an early Victorian parent), the captain had plenty of sympathy with his son’s adventurous disposition. His mother had no influence at all on the lad; she had long ago given him up as hopeless. Poor Mrs. Gordon was far gone in melancholia by then. His only remaining sister Inez, was herself something of a handful. She had her share of the Gordon self-will, and lately had engaged herself, without family approval, to a young Italian.
The Julia dropped down the channel in August sunshine, passed by the coast of Spain and the distant isles of Lindsay’s happy childhood; then, as the autumn winds filled out her sales and mounting waves slapped against her sturdy timbers, she made her slow and steady course round the Cape and across the 12,000 miles of ocean to Australia.
Her passengers drew together for company on the long voyage, and exchanged confidences and gossip and plans for the future. At first young Gordon was unsociable and aloof, though courteous enough. He did not join in the chatter, but loved to go alone to the bow of the ship and watch the vague horizon and changing skies, and the waves foaming and dashing against the ship’s sides, and the great sales straining with the gales. Clearly he was in trouble of some sort, and preferred his own thoughts to more cheerful company. As the slow weeks passed he became less self-absorbed and more friendly; though moody, he could be very good company when he was interested, and could recite endless poetry and tales of adventure. He was obviously the son of gentlefolks and well educated, for he had not condescended to write some pretty verses in the lady’s album? The passengers found “An Exile’s Farewell” very nice and refined; the young man assured them that they were the first verses he had ever attempted:-
The ocean heaves around us still,
With long and measured swell;
The autumn gales our canvas fill;
Our ship rides smooth and well.
The broad Atlantic’s bed of foam
Still breaks against our prow;
I shed no tears of quitting home,
Nor will I shed them now.
And so for six more verses, ending on the Byronic motif:-
Then let our barque the ocean roam,
Our keel the billows plough;
I shed no tears at quitting home,
Nor will I shed them now!
THE MOODY POET
Let us regard this future poet as he leans moodily over the ship’s rail puffing his little black pipe, and watching the glowing sunset, while the ship mercilessly carries him farther and farther away from his old life and all that he cares for. He is tall and muscular, spare for his six feet, with a fine resolute head, crowned with thick curly chestnut hair. His grey-blue eyes are deep set and ardent under a good forehead, his nose is straight, his mouth firm and rather defiant, his chin noticeably strong. He has a bad stoop, is a little ungainly in his movements, and affects a “sporty” manner of dressing. His voice is cultured. He is unmistakably aristocratic. Of what he is thinking, as the Julia plugs steadily on into the resplendent tropics? He only half notices the passing scene; immediate surroundings do not often mean much to him. His mind turns back- as it will so often during the coming years- to England, and it awakens an echo of “Hood”:-
How vivid Recollection’s hand
Recalls the scene once more!
I see the same tall poplars stand
Beside the garden door;
I see the bird cage hanging still,
And where my sister set,
The flowers in the garden sill-
Can they be living yet?
Yet he was candid enough to admit to himself that his exile was largely his own fault. Now he was setting out for a new land, where his father hoped he would lead a new life. What would come of it?
The barque Julia made a good passage and 17 weeks after leaving England dropped anchor at Port Adelaide. The voyage was uneventful. A mildly exciting incident occurred a week before their arrival. They had been hailed in passing by a schooner that turned out to be the Elizabeth, from Belfast, seven months out, and 65 days from the Cape, where they had taken on 17 passengers for Melbourne. The mate came on board the Julia and reported that his captain was under arrest in irons. The passengers and crew did not consider themselves safe under his care, as he had taken to drink. The captain’s wife, too, was intemperate; she had a habit of throwing the ship’s chronometers and instruments at anyone who displeased her. The mate asked for a cask of water and some provisions, which were given, and the Elizabeth and her troubles passed out of sight.