The Royal Military Academy Woolwich Lonon – click to view on YouTube

At 14 it was time for him to think seriously about his future, and the natural thing for him was to go to the Army. So he was sent to Woolwich Academy, then the training school for cadets. But much to the captain’s disappointment, he did not do at all well there.

In about October 1845 Gordon was sent to a crammer’s school at Shooters Hill near to the Woolwich Army Academy, London.

He went straight to a mathematical coach, for there were crammers in those days. but little harm was done in that direction, however, for a lad had only one chance, he could not go up again and again, cramming after each failure until his brain was addled and physique and sight impaired.

In the room were a number of tables, at which were sitting about fifty boys in about five rows. The majority of these boys were swinging backwards and forwards, like pendulums the wrong end uppermost; others had their hands pressed over their ears, and their heads bent down over a book; the whole of them were repeating words or sentences, portions of which only were audible amidst the deafening din.

Wikimedia Commons Photo by Kleon3

On 29th May 1848 Gordon was accepted into the Woolwich Royal Military Academy.

He was popular enough with his mates, but was most unruly, The authorities, though they thought well of him personally, found (like the Cheltenham College teachers long ago) that he could not fit into the routine. His indifferent sight made his work more difficult, and he frankly took no interest in the technical side of military matters, such as tactics and scientific fortification, although he rejoiced in the adventurous possibilities of the army.

It was customary for a cadet to join at Woolwich in an evening dress-coat and a tall hat — “a claw-hammer coat and a stove-pipe ,” as the Yankees call it — and woe betide the boy who did not comply with the custom.

The disciplinary process at the hands of the senior cadets, the system of fagging rough but effectual, commenced at once — The first year cadets were servants to those above them.

No “snooker ” or young cadet could return a blow from one of the senior class, even if the latter did not wear “swabs,” (the shoulder straps, symbol of a corporal).

The young cadets were not permitted to smoke or enter a public-house, unless, unfortunately, they were sent for liquor for a senior spree, nor were they allowed to lounge or sit in the reading-room, but get a book and begone. They had to brush the uniforms, and fag generally for the head of their rooms — make toast at tea — pour out the beer in hall — and be helped last in the matter of Sunday pudding and Thursday pie.

One of the greatest defects at the Academy in former times was the impossibility of ever being alone. We were usually four in each barrack-room; we were marched about by squads, divisions, or classes; we dined, breakfasted, and had tea at squads; we were in classes from thirty to forty for study. At night we could never be alone; the snoring or turning of another cadet in the room disturbed one. Now there are some natures so affected by external influences that they are never thoroughly themselves  unless they are entirely alone. Such individuals are never known in their real characters, for before others they are unconsciously actors . Men who appear idlers before the world, mere loungers on society, are not unusually when alone the deepest thinkers or the hardest workers; and to such, solitude is an essential. To many, therefore, especially to those who wished to work hard, it was a great drawback being penned up night and day with companions whose tastes not unfrequently were anything but congenial.

Adam Lindsay Gordon was the exact opposite of Charles Gordon (who was there around the same time) — a dreamy lad, with a far-off look in his eyes, indicative perhaps of the touching and semi-philosophical bush ballads, so dear to every Australian heart, redolent as they are of fatalism and wattle blossoms, though scarcely indicative of the man who beat ” the Favourite.” 

Unwittingly, Lindsay Gordon caused the loss of the swabs of a Corporal named Jingo.(General Strange) Corporal Jingo was on duty in the Hall of Study.

In marching out of the hall after German Professor Troppenager’s class, the future poet, probably in dreamland, paid no heed to Jingo’s word of command and got a sharp rap on the head with the edge of the ruler, which drew blood, and brought him from the clouds. 

“Shoken! shoken! shoken!” shouted little Troppenager, the German professor. ” Kaporal, I reports you.” Which he did, and Jingo was reduced to the ranks, the Commandant remarking that though Jingo maintained excellent discipline, his methods were irregular.

At the end of three years on June 30th 1851, the Captain withdrew him from Woolwich for some misconduct and without a commission. He was at a loss to know what to do with his high-spirited son, now 17. His natural outlet, the Army, was definitely closed.



Adam Lindsay Gordon was placed back into Cheltenham College by his father in August 1851 with the intention of completing a year but he left in early 1852.

Sunday Times Sydney, NSW Sunday 12 February 1911 Page 23
Each year the Easter Steeplechases at Prestbury Park are placarded all over the town and neighborhood. 
Once a College Boy used to go to them — nay. more, he rode in them; in school hours and out of school hours, in season and out of season. 
And the Australian visitor remembers him at this time, though more especially in the Hunt Steeplechases.

Some few old Cheltonians think of him too, though the number who have actually known him grows smaller every year.

A great journalist has described him for us as riding like an Assyrian of old, and looking like an ancient Viking; he christened Adam Lindsay Gordon the ‘Poet Laureate of the Centaurs.’ 

A Cheltenham friend has described him less poetically, ‘he lived with his mother and sisters, all of them very tall and thin.’ Another says ‘he was, in sporting parlance, ‘a butcher to his horse’. 

It amounts to this, as regards Gordon’s riding, his Cheltenham friends thought he couldn’t — his Australian ones thought he could. 
None, however, denied his pluck and endurance.

In Cheltenham Gordon was known as a great boxer. Did he not once get to with Jem Edwards, ‘the Eary-wig,’ and hold his own well against the light-weight champion of England, who was never beaten till Gordon tried issues with him. An old sportsman reverently tends ‘the Eary- wig’s’ grave; when the Summer comes he will scrape out the obliterated letters.

And did not the College Boy prove himself ‘no mere, chopping-block’ when Tom Sayers practised on him ? And Stevens —they remember him in sporting circles as each Grand National comes round. And ‘Black Tom Oliver’ and Bob Chapman. There were giants in those days in Prestbury, and in the later days of Fred Archer, Prestbury could boast connection with the best-known riders of the northern and southern hemispheres — Fred Archer and Lindsay Gordon. She does brag about Fred Archer, but she has forgotten Lindsay Gordon.

So many in Australia, so few in England, remember and care about Lindsay Gordon; yet some of us can see him ‘starting out from 4 Pittville Villas, or, later, from his home in 28 Priory-street, and wending his way to the Prestbury Racecourse or the ‘Classic Roebuck,’ or Mr. George Reeves’ Riding School at Montpelier, or some other of his haunts, when he ought to have been at college, a wild, picturesque figure he must have been, with the fateful eyes of true Scots poet and the build of an athletic giant. And a sore trial to Mrs. Harriet Gordon. Several ladies remember the Miss Gordons, Lindsay’s sisters and cousins, who, knowing them intimately, have forgotten that they had a brother and cousin! Such is fame!

Yet the Gordon clan flourished in Priory-street; there was Adam Durnford and his brother. ‘Robert Cumming Hamilton Gordon,’ and their respective families. Each had a son named Adam at Cheltenham College, and, probably to avoid confusion, the poet was called ‘Lindsay.’ 

From his father Gordon inherited his love of horseflesh and reckless spirit of adventure.

I remember some words my father said,
When I was an urchin vain ;-
God rest his soul, in his narrow bed 
These ten long years he hath lain. 
He said that as from the blood of the grape, 
Or from juice distilled from the grain,
So the coward will dare on a gallant horse 
What he never would dare alone, ……

His schoolmaster father was always Lindsay’s great authority on sporting matters.

The Gordon family grave in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church, Cheltenham
(Photo by Travis M. Sellers)

“Because I live ye shall live also”-St. John,18
“There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying
neither shall there be any more pain.”- Rev.21.
“They are without fault before the throne of God”

To the sporting legends of Cheltenham, Lindsay Gordon, their greater contemporary and friend, is almost forgotten in the Garden Town. 

Here, where he spent the first half of his short life, he is forgotten; yet the southern hemisphere rings with his fame. The echoes of his verses set to his horses’ hoof-beats still sound from the Gulf to the Leeuwin. The ‘Poet Laureate of the Centaurs ‘ might have said with Aeneas ‘quorum pars magna fui,’ -of which things I was an important part. 
And -so the Australians love him —the man who caught bushrangers red handed and sang of them, who trained horses and rode them, and wrote about them, who cut out cattle and wrote the ‘Sick Stockrider’; who loved the grey stone Cotswold country and the melancholy bush; yet, who told Australia ‘How We Beat the Favorite,’ and sang her the ‘Lay of the Loamshire Cup,’, and the young Australia bent her independent head and listened to the gentleman rider’s tales, and she gave him a crown of death-less eucalyptus which does not fade; 

She gave him fame and money also, but his melancholy spirit had grown, sadder in the sad, grey bush, and he died by his own hand. 
Yearning still, he died, for the greystone Cotswold country which had forgotten him already.

All save Whyte Melville, and the sporting novelist of the past wrote verses of the sporting poet at the beginning of his chapters.
Just a few literary people in England know about Gordon; a few old sporting friends remember the reckless College Boy. 
But the bushman knows his Gordon as he knows his horses. 

There is a monument at ‘Lindsay Gordon’s Leap,’ there is a monument over his grave— and a wattle tree also — for

Let me slumber in the hollow where the wattle blossoms wave, 
With never stone or rail to fence my bed ; 
Should the sturdy station children pull the bush flowers on my grave, 
I may chance to hear them romping overhead.

With difficulty one finds a moss-grown slab in Trinity Churchyard, Cheltenham. The letters are almost obliterated, but a few Australians have spelt them out with reverence. Beneath this slab lies all that is mortal of Adam Durnford Gordon and of Harriet, his cousin and wife.

There also lie Theodora and Ada Mary, their daughters.

Adam Durnford Gordon, officer of the Irregular Indian Cavalry, who slew tigers single-handed and without firearms, was, later in life, professor of Hindustani at Cheltenham College; from him, as has been said, and, perchance, from Highland cattle-lifting ancestors, Gordon inherited his reckless, adventurous nature. The staid college master could still sympathise with his son, and it was with a sore heart he saw him leave his native land.
Oh, tell me, father mine, ere the good ship cross’d the brine

But one of Gordon’s greatest friends was, undoubtedly, the late Frederick Marshall, his long friend and admirer, with whom he had some points of affinity. There are in the possession of Mr. Marshall’s daughter some early editions of Gordon’s poems, which were procured from Melbourne in the days when it took upwards of a year to send the order and receive the goods. They are covered with brown paper, and interlined with notes and explanations, and, sad to relate, cruel criticisms of Gordon’s riding. 
There are four lines of Gordon’s early poetry :

There’s lots of refusing and falls and mishaps.
Who’s down on the chestnut ?
He’s hurt himself p’raps. 
Oh ! it’s ‘Lindsay the Lanky,’ says Hard-riding Bob ;
‘He’s luckily saved Mr. Calcraft a job.’

Mr. Marshall lays great stress on Gordon’s pugilistic attainments. 
The son of one of Lindsay Gordon’s oldest friends says : — ‘Gordon was always fond of and good at boxing, and was therefore a regular attendant at the house of a noted pugilist, Jem Edwards.

Although very near-sighted, he rode well and straight in the hunting field, and on one occasion won a steeplechase over the walls at Birdlip. He was capital company, and very popular.

Acrostics were then much the fashion, and my father always claimed to have set Gordon rhyming. . . . .

Anyway, they were much thrown together in theatrical performances at the then theatre.

Another writer says he remembers when quite a lad, being introduced to Gordon by the late Frederick Marshall. …. ‘I look back over fifty years or so, and recall the charm of a personality not easily forgotten.’

Gordon evidently got into some scrape before he sailed for Australia, of. which his old friends prefer not to speak. (The Lallah Rookh affair). Perhaps this accounts for Cheltenham’s forgetfulness of her adopted son. With all respect to the saying ‘De mortuls nil nisi bonum,’ ‘Of the dead (say) nothing unless good’ there, is yet much that is good in the life of Lindsay Gordon, and when it is remembered that he suffered from a lifelong gastric affection, (probably nerves), and was rarely free from pain, and also from inherited melancholia.

Allowance may surely be made for the misdeeds of the school boy of nineteen, who was shipped off for ever to Australia. 
And if his home sick spirit that still haunts the Prestbury racecourse, perhaps the riders, the steeplechase riders, who ride with their lives in their hands, will give a thought to that ghostly figure, their predecessor, whom George Stevens started off on Bay Iseult with words of good advice which ring down the ages in Australia. And they were spoken on Prestbury racecourse (or Gordon said they were).

He has monuments and fame in Australasia, yet still one thinks his spirit pleads for remembrance within sound of ‘the bells of sweet St. Mary’s’ (Cheltenham Parish Church), which he seemed to hear again ia the cattle-bells ringing ‘through the golden-tufted wattle, music low and strange.’

Gordon’s unique spirit seems to be ‘in the mist on Cotswold Hills, not far from the seven rills, where Father Thames sets out to see the world.’
His yearnings after his old home set all Australian poetry in the minor key in which Paterson and Ogilvie and a host of others have sung. 
For he was the founder of a school of poetry in the southern hemisphere, albeit a preparatory school. Yet is it a school of poets who sing ‘that they know, and testify that they have seen.”