FROM THE AZORES TO CHELTENHAM
OUR TRAIL COMMENCES AT ADAM LINDSAY GORDON’S BIRTHPLACE
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.
It is now thought that Adam Lindsay Gordon was born at Charlton Kings, near Cheltenham England , on October 19, 1833, and not in The Azores, but after the birth and baptism, mother and child then returned to The Azores. Gordon was then not taken back to Cheltenham, that haven of sport, where he picked up such a taste for steeplechasing, till seven years later.
His parents were first cousins, both scions of the great house of Gordon that has produced so many brilliant and erratic personages. Far back in Scottish history the ballads tell of the prowess of the “Gay Gordons.” Young Lochinvar was one of them, and the heroic Lord Peterborough. In the Stuart period there was a Gordon who, when captured and led to the scaffold, declared:- “You may take my head from my shoulders but not my heart from my king!” Another branch of the family produced George Gordon, Lord Byron-on whose melodramatic figure his distant cousin, Lindsay Gordon, certainly modelled himself.
In more recent times a certain Robert Gordon had set up as a wine merchant at Bordeaux. He did well, and returning to Scotland, bought the family estates of Hallhead from the direct heir, who had prospered poorly. Late he bought another fine property in Buchan, Esslemont, and as he was ambitious to found a landed family, entailed it strictly to the male line.
His grandson, another Robert, married the charming and impetuous Lady Henrietta Gordon, his distant cousin, a daughter of the Duke of Aberdeen. The Aberdeen branch was famous for remarkable personages-Lord William and in particular, Lord George Gordon, whose greatest exploit, the Gordon riots, was one of a series of extraordinary escapades.
Lady Henrietta inherited a tempestuous strain, which she passed on to her descendants. After her marriage in 1759 she settled down quietly enough with her well-to-do husband, and bore him three sons and three daughters. The eldest son, George, lived peacefully in Aberdeen and was a great man in the militia, of which he became Lieutenant-Commandant. The second son William, also a soldier, served in Holland during the Napoleonic wars, and at the siege of Malta, where he covered himself with glory. Two years later his career came to an untimely end; he was killed in action.
The third son, Robert, went out early to British Guiana, and grew sugar in Demerara. He prospered well, and became Governor of Berbice in 1810. He inherited more than a little of his mother’s erratic brilliance, and his Governorship was full of incident.
He found the Public Treasury of the colony in a most deplorable state,” and set himself to remedy this. He succeeded, but carried on in such a high handed way that he was soon in collision with the Council. Governor Gordon, convinced that the Receiver-General had embezzled more than £4,000, promptly dismissed the man. One of the Council questioned this action, and was suspended by the Governor. A long correspondence ensued with the Colonial Office, and the Governor found that the climate of Berbice was very bad for his health and asked for leave of absence. He spent six months in England, and shortly after his return to Berbice in 1813 he resigned his commission, as there had been some censure in England on his conduct of affairs.
He returned to his estates in Demerara and the more peaceful occupation of growing sugar.
William had died young leaving three small sons and a very little money to his widow. But she was a soldier’s daughter, too. and bore herself bravely. Frances Elrington she had been; her father, Captain Elrington, who fought at Bunker’s Hill, was wounded there and captured by Red Indians, with whom he had to live for two years. He impressed the Indians so much that the old chief had wanted him to marry his daughter-but Elrington escaped from his predicament, and managed to get back to England. Being incapacitated by his wound for military service, he was appointed to the Governorship of Plymouth Citadel. Mrs. William Gordon had taken the three little boys to England, and, of course, they had been educated at Sandhurst. The Duke of Gloucester, always a good friend of the Elringtons, had seen that they obtained commissions.
The eldest boy’s name was Adam Durnford Gordon, and he was the father of the sportsman poet. At 17, Adam Durnford Gordon was an ensign in the 3rd West India Regiment. He wrote a brave young letter to his mother from Plymouth before his ship sailed for the Indies, telling her of the great things he was going to accomplish….Life in tropical Berbice had been exciting enough for a youngster; with his uncle Robert, the Governor of the colony, living in state in the fine Government House at New Amsterdam, and his daughter Harriet with him, a pretty little girl. But Uncle Robert resigned in 1813, and Adam Durnford had transferred to India, to the Bengal Cavalry, spent some good, strenuous years on active service. When peace came he studied native languages for two years at the college at Fort William-and won medals of merit- killed tigers single handed with a spear and sabre, and hunted big game, as young men will, gained his captaincy, and then , in 1827, he had gone back to England on extended sick leave. Of course his mother had wanted to keep him at home. His brothers happened to be in England about that time, too. The younger, Robert, a captain now, though never such a keen soldier as the others, had married that year. Tom was also home from India, his health broken by the climate. Their mother had not wanted any of them to go back.
Then Adam Durnford met his cousin Harriet again. The 15 years since they had known each other in Berbice had changed her into a charming young woman, and she was an heiress. Very Handsome she was-dark, graceful, and tall, as tall as he almost (and he was six feet)-with dark, unfathomable eyes, a long, swan-like neck, and such gentle sweet ways-and very “Artistic” in her gowns-but even then inclined to moods and unreasonableness, though that was partly on account of her unusual bringing-up. For she had lost her mother in early childhood, and when her father died she had been taken back to England and cared for by her cousins, the Hon. Hugh Lindsay and his wife-good friends of the family all through. Lindsay had been a “big gun” at the East India Co., and had nominated the captain and his brother for their cadetships long ago in the H.E.I.C.S. They had done their best for Harriet, but it was a difficult trust; as an only child, used to every indulgence, and heiress to a large fortune- £20,000 of her own, a great sum for those days. They had brought her up with every extravagance, spent £1,000 a year on her alone, with two governesses in constant attention, and every whim gratified-what could she become but a spoilt child.
Anyway, the cousins met again in 1829 – he an interesting young invalid with plenty of thrilling stories to tell of the glamorous East: she a charming, petted, temperamental girl of 23. And they had fallen in love, and of course his mother had beamed on it all. It was just what she had always hoped for. And so they were married, in Paris (Harriet always loved the Continent), and who could have foretold how sadly things would fall out? Not Harriet’s fault in the least, nor the Captain’s either, if it came to that. Sheer bad luck, and the streak of melancholy that seemed to run in poor Harriet’s family. The wretched taint had gradually overcome her own charming, sunny disposition, and made her life a burden to her, poor soul.
She had not wanted him to go back to India after they were married, and with her income to supplement his half pay there was no need. So he resigned his commission, and they settled in England, and Amy and Ada were presently born. Perhaps the responsibilities of married life and children were too much for Harriet; she had shown signs of mild religious mania about that time, and as the Captain’s health, too, was not properly restored, the doctors advised change of scene and climate.
So they moved to the Azores Islands, taking a delightful rambling house with a delicious old garden among the vineyards of Fayel. What a lovely place that was! All the luxuriance of a tropic Island, brimming over with flowers and fruits the whole year round. The picturesque old Portuguese village of white cottages, the church with its pealing bells, the rich vineyards and orange groves, the mild, sunny climate, the quiet uneventful passing of the months and years-surely it should have brought peace to an overwrought mind. Happy years these were at first, set amongst so much natural loveliness with Amy and Ada and Lindsay playing through their pretty babyhood. Lindsay was born at Charlton Kings near Cheltenham, England, on 19 October, 1833; he was a sweet child, almost too pretty for a boy, with his slight but sturdy frame, his curly head and bright little face always dimpling and laughing and full of fun. The three of them joyously scampered and frolicked through the big sun-shiny old house at Fayal. But troubles soon came to them. Amy was not strong; she had fallen from her mother’s arms as a baby, and she did not live long. And Ada, the most reasonable of the children, a pretty, gentle little girl whom everybody loved, began to show signs of consumption.
AND NOW TO CHELTENHAM – ENGLAND
And Gordon’s School Years
AN INTRODUCTION TO GORDON’S CHELTENHAM DISTRICT
Mr. Villar, the oldest inhabitant of Prestbury, in Gloucestershire, lives in a cottage at the far end of Shaw Green Lane, where of a May morning you can hear the low, throbbing note of cuckoos calling from the huge ancient beeches and chestnuts and see the hawthorn hedges bright with wild parsley and many bluebell.
Mr. Villar is 85, and he was upright as a youngster. His sunburnt wrinkled face, and keen brown eyes are alight with the shrewd intelligence of the countryman.
“Na-ow,” he said. “I don’t remember Lindsay Gordon. He was before my time. But I’ve got a book of his life in the house, and I know his poems, ‘How We Beat the Favourite,’ a ‘A Lay of The Cotswold Hills,” All the hunting men around here know his poems.”
Up in Winchcomb, a village of trim, grey stone houses lost among the soft green Cotswold Hills, the genial landlord of the George Inn will tell you many a story of the favourite sport—steeplechasing. The steeplechase riders are all heroes in the Cotswolds. There was Stevens-a great man-five times winner of the Grand National- just think of it! And Fred Archer- the Duchess of Montrose once gave him a pair of embroidered braces made by her own white hands (handsome braces they are, of black satin worked with pink flowers and lined with pink satin-they have descended to the landlord, who may, perhaps, show them to you)- thereby hands a tale! And Lindsay Gordon- he was a great rider, too. Everyone around here knows his sporting verses.
All the hunting men in Gloucestershire know his poems. And all the hunting men in Australia seem to know them, too; and a great many of the townsmen and the “station people,” and the men who bring out their nags to the little country race meetings, and the cracks who ride the favourites at the big steeplechases, and the lean bronzed countrymen from the far “out-back,” and the sturdy settlers, with their sunburnt wives and barelegged active children, who wrest a difficult living from their primitive “bush” runs; and lonely drovers and “jackaroos”; an sheep-shearers, in their noisy camps; and the literary folk, who get a vicarious thrill of the open air and the free bush life through reading the poems; and many and many a settler in South Australia and Victoria whose parents “knew Gordon” in the old days- they all know the poems, and they all know something of his life too. For Gordon was the picturesque sort of a character about whom legends and adventures gather- the strong, active man about whom all the world chatters.
THE MOVE TO CHELTENHAM FROM FUNCHAL MADEIRA
Harriet grew restless in Fayal after a few years. The beautiful island could not give her peace for long. so they moved to Madeira.
They found another delightful house, and Inez was born to them. A few more years, and Harriet was once more in low spirits, and anxious to go home. It did not seem much use trying any more changes of scene, and the children were growing up and needed proper schooling, so this time they returned to England, and made a home in Cheltenham in 1840.
Cheltenham in the ‘forties’ was becoming known as a desirable centre for Anglo-Indians and had almost the air of a small Continental Spa. The mild climate appealed to them, and the aristocratic, sleepy little town was pleasantly laid out and set amid the unspoilt loveliness of the green Cotswold Hills. The Gordons took a comfortable terrace house on the outskirts of the town (4 Pittville Villas), where the children could have their walks and games almost among the fields.
Adam Lindsay Gordon was taken back to The Azores after baptism at St. Mary’s Charlton Kings on 3 December 1833
(Roger Beacham-Historian, Cheltenham)
Meanwhile Lindsay, aged 8, began his schooling in earnest at Cheltenham College. He had grown a shy little boy, tall, slender, and strong, popular with his playmates. He did not do at all well at school. The recklessness that was always Lindsay’s undoing had shown itself from the very first. He was much more given to rough games and hair-raising adventures than to lessons, or even school sports such as cricket and football, which he never cared about. The captain was something of a disciplinarian himself, and he saw that his little lad did not fit into the college routine. So after a year he was withdrawn.
The Gordons went on with their outwardly quiet life at Cheltenham, although behind the sedate front door of 4 Pittville Villas there were many cross-currents. Mrs. Gordon was becoming restless again, and often went wandering about the Continent. Sometimes she took the children with her, and Lindsay acquired a fluent knowledge of French- although the correct accent was always too much for him. At other times she stayed with her husband in Cheltenham, and always attracted notice because of her dark good looks and the queer stories that were rumoured about her- that when in a rage she would fling anything that came to hand at anyone; that sometimes she spent whole days in fervent prayer; that her attics were full of trunks packed with clothes and household goods that had not been used for years and years.
In 1847 the Gordons ménage moved to a larger and more elegant home in Priory street, 25 Priory Terrace, a dignified tree-lined road off the High street, quite close to the college where the Captain had now well established his classes in Indian languages.
Captain Gordon was a tall handsome man of great dignity, with the stiff good manners of the very reserved Englishman. Although he found it difficult to unbend, his young pupils much admired their professor for his soldierly ways, his generous trust in the sense of honour and fair play, and the wonderful stories he could sometimes be persuaded to tell of his youthful adventures in India.
In 1847 the eldest daughter, Ada, a pretty gentle little girl of 14 whom everybody loved succumbed to the consumption she had been suffering from for several years. It was a great blow to the family, and particularly to Lindsay, for the brother and sister had been good friends.
The boy had been to a private school at Cheltenham for the last few years, and had managed to spend a good deal of time on horseback among the sporting Cotswold villages. The district was an enthusiastic centre for steeplechasing, and Lindsay picked up a strong taste for the sport.
The pretty village of Dumbleton lies approximately 6 miles to the east of
Broadway, 6 miles to the south of Evesham and about 12 miles to the
north east of Cheltenham. Dumbleton Rectory, a boarding school and a fighting school. Gordon was sent there in June 1842
Samuel Garrard was the curate of the parish of Dumbleton. We know, from the 1841 census, that Garrard was born in 1802 (and thus became rector when only 20) and married Frances. Their six children (Samuel, George, Matilda, Francis, Edward and Frances) lived at the rectory, along with Georgina Smith, their 20 year-governess, and two 20 year old tutors. Nor was that all, because the house was also used as a school for 20 boys, aged 10 to 15; and there were three women servants, one male servant and two other girls of 15. The total number of people living at the rectory on census night, 1841, was no less than 37.
Lindsay was growing up fast into a tall, good-looking youth with a determined chin and not much sense of responsibility. His career seemed mapped out for him, the Gordons were army people- his father, his grandfather, most of his uncles and cousins were in the service; it was a tradition in the family. Their temperaments were generally well suited to an adventurous life.