Gordon took up the cause relating to the family estate with the full realisation that, as he had no son, the estate could not be inherited by Maggie after his death, but must pass to another cousin. He felt that should he succeed to Esslemont he could not retain it for long. But at least there would be the £8,000 for Maggie, and £2,000 a year for whatever few years he had left.
It was unfortunate for Gordon that in his state of mental health he should embark thus on a long and exciting law suit. It was essential, if he were to retain his mental balance, that he should have perfect peace and freedom from worry. But this affair meant inevitably anxiety, uncertainty, long periods of restlessness waiting between mails, and finally-as it turned out-the sickening disappointment of failure.
During 1869 he had corresponded with his Worcester relations rather half-heartedly about the matter. Finally, since they were so sure, he asked Mr. Higginbotham’s advice about the best solicitors to consult. As it would be a matter of Scottish law, he was referred to the firm of Malleson, England, and Stewart, at that time the chief authorities in Melbourne on Scottish law. From the information the Gordons in England had sent, Mr. J.C. Stewart stated a case to be submitted to a leading advocate in Edinburgh.
He badly needed money to carry on until the inheritance should be actually his. The V.R.C. Steeplechase was at hand, and Major Baker suggested that he should ride Prince Rupert again. His friends warned him that the unruly chestnut was dangerous, but Gordon thought that he had a good chance of winning. He hoped it would be the last race he should ride in Melbourne, and so, indeed, it did prove, but for very different reasons from what he had hoped.
On March 12, 1870, on a lovely sunny afternoon, he appeared before a holiday crowd at Flemington, in company with 10 other thoroughbreds and their riders. It was a hectic race. Prince Rupert started well, flew the post-and-rails, and led into the straight and past the grandstand, but struck the next fence heavily, pulling his rider on to his neck. Gordon managed to right himself without a fall, but he seemed dazed by the mishap, and rode wildly. At the last fence Prince Rupert fell, and threw him badly.
Mr. Blackmore, of Adelaide, who was in Melbourne on holiday, had gone out to Flemington to see Gordon ride, and witnessed the accident. When he was sufficiently recovered Blackmore helped to take him home. There was a severe bruise on his shoulder, his head was bad, and he seemed to have internal injuries.
On Monday Major Baker drove out to see him, and finding him ill, took him into town to see a doctor. The verdict was disturbing. There were serious internal troubles, but worse still was the injury to his head, that had already stood so many falls. Gordon went home and lay in bed, according to the doctor’s orders. But he could neither sleep nor find rest there, so after five days he got up and went about his business again. He was far from well, his head and back gave him constant pain, and sometimes he felt that his brain was failing. He was more sure than ever that he had not much longer to live.
He had now a feverish desire to obtain the estate that would pay off all his debts and provide handsomely for Maggie.
Money was still needed for current expenses, and as he disliked going again to his friends, he borrowed a small some from a moneylender on the strength of his “expectations.”
The news was the worst possible. His claim had failed hopelessly. Mrs. Wolridge-Gordon had maintained all along that the Act of 1848 had abolished the class of entail to which Esslemont belonged. Gordon’s lawyers had taken the view that the estate did not belong to this category. Now, by a recent decision of the Scottish law courts, sustained on appeal, the class of entail to which Esslemont belonged was definitely included in those that had been swept away. So the Will held, and Gordon’s claim was valueless. Nothing could be done.He was stunned by the news.
Later in the afternoon of Friday 24th June 1870 he chanced to meet Kendall. The two poets were equally forlorn and out-at-elbows, but for a short time they forgot their troubles in high talk of poetry, and the realms of fancy. When they parted at 4 o’clock of a winter’s day, with the blue-grey mists of twilight already beginning to gather, Gordon fell in with Frank Madden, and the two walked together the five miles to St. Kilda. (Frank Madden says “along the beach.”..Ed.)
Gordon’s exhilaration had quite passed away, and he was in very low spirits. He told Madden that he had asked a friend in town to lend him £100 to get to England, and had been refused. Then he remarked that he had finished reading the proofs of his new poems, and said he would be glad if his friend would send to the publishers for the manuscript and keep it as a gift.
At home he had tea with Maggie, spoke little, and spent the evening lying moodily on the horsehair couch of their little sitting room. He was restless and wandered in and out of the house. Once he spoke to Kelly about a shooting match early next morning with some person he did not name. He went to bed early.
Next morning, as the cold winter dawn was breaking over the sandy foreshore and scrub of Brighton Beach, Gordon rose, and dressed quietly. Maggie still slept. He stooped and kissed her lightly. When she awoke she remembered having felt the touch of his beard against her cheek.
He took down his rifle, and fitted into it a single one of the cartridges he had bought the day before. He left the house, and walked along the empty street till he reached the Marine Hotel, kept by an acquaintance, Prendergast.
He stopped, and asked if the landlord were about. But it was only half-past 7, and Prendergast was not yet up. Gordon said it was of no consequence, took a glass of brandy, and turned down Park street towards the sea.
A fisherman passing called a cheerful “Good Morning!” Gordon, deep in his own thoughts, gave no reply. He went father into the scrub, and lit his pipe for company. Finally he put down his soft felt hat, brim uppermost, put inside it his pipe, and the last coin in his pocket-a shilling-and took up the rifle…
This is the end of his story. On that grey winter’s morning, June 24, 1870, Adam Lindsay Gordon died by his own hand. (Biography by Eileen Kaye published in The Australasian in installments, August to December, 1934.)
His last book of poems “Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes” appeared in the book shops for sale that very morning.