A recent School trip to Westminster Abbey turned up a surprising and unexpected link between RGS, the Abbey and the National Poet of Australia. In Poets’ Corner, surrounded by the graves and memorial stones of England’s greatest writers – Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens, Wordsworth – was an impressive memorial bust of Adam Lindsay Gordon, the former National Poet of Australia.
Amid such august company, it would have been all too easy to pass by this unfamiliar figure. However, for Lower Sixth English student, George Garrity, the name rang a bell. George remembered that Gordon had been a pupil at RGS in 1852, shortly before leaving to start a new life in Australia where he achieved fame as the country’s Poet Laureate.
An extraordinary figure, Gordon led a tumultuous life full of colour and adventure. Even at a young age, he was a restless, sometimes wild figure and it is likely that his father agreed to his son leaving Worcester for Australia in the hope that he might find a way to channel his enormous energy there. In Australia, he was as renowned as much for his horsemanship and skills as a jockey, as he was for his poetry. In 1865 he performed an amazing and death-defying leap across part of Blue Lake in South Australia. The feat was thought to be impossible and a commemorative obelisk to ‘Gordon’s Leap’ is still to be found at the site today.
A member of the Australian Mounted Police, Gordon later became a politician and member of the South Australian Assembly. Amidst all this adventure and success, Gordon began to write poetry and his volume `Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes’, published in 1870, is now considered to be one of the most important collections of nineteenth-century Australian poetry. Gordon’s extraordinary life was to end in tragedy, however. Always dogged by financial trouble, Gordon took his own life only days after the publication of `Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes’, the volume that would eventually make his reputation. In debt to his publishers and with no prospect of success in sight, Gordon took his rifle and cartridges into the Bush and shot himself.
Today, there are monuments and memorials to Gordon across the whole of Australia and his former home in Dingley Dell is a conservation park and museum. There is also a great deal of interest in Gordon’s work, with a society in Australia dedicated to his literary and political achievements and to keep his reputation alive. Interestingly, there is another Worcester link in this story. After returning from Westminster Abbey and researching Gordon’s life and work further, it transpires that Worcester’s greatest son, Edward Elgar, set Gordon’s poem ‘The Swimmer’ to music as part of his ‘Sea Pictures’ song cycle.
It was marvellous to discover this link to the School at Westminster Abbey and well done indeed to George for spotting Arthur Lindsay Gordon, National Poet of Australia and RGS alumnus.
By Nick Phillips, Head of English