Adam Lindsay Gordon was born in The Azores where his parents were then living on account of his mother’s health. His parents later moved to Cheltenham and Adam attended Cheltenham College for a year before transferring to a small school in Dumbleton, Gloucestershire run by the local vicar. His father, a retired army officer, then sent Adam to the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich where the future General Gordon was a contemporary, but this did not work out and he was asked to leave for disciplinary reasons. He then returned briefly to Cheltenham but finished his schooling at Royal Grammar School, Worcester in 1852.
Despairing of his wild and aimless behaviour, his father sent him to South Australia with a request to the Governor to allow him to join the mounted police. He must have left with some regrets as he was never to see his family again and his two poems To My Sister and Early Adieux written at the time express a mixture of sadness and stoicism. He arrived in Adelaide in 1853 and after serving in the mounted police for two years he resigned and took up horse breeding. In 1857 his father died, followed by his mother two years later, leaving him a legacy of almost £7,000. His first love was horse riding and he started to make a name for himself as a jockey. Several of his poems, such as How We Beat the Favourite and The Last Leap have equestrian themes.
He got married to seventeen year-old Margaret Park in 1862 and bought a house in Port MacDonnell. In 1865 he was elected as an MP but this did not really appeal to him and he only held the office for a year and a half. After a disastrous land speculation he moved to Ballarat in Victoria where his wife had a daughter who died a year later. In 1968 he won a series of races in Melbourne and then began riding for money. He then moved to Melbourne but a bad fall in 1870 effectively put an end to his riding career. The after effects of this combined with the loss of a claim to a family estate in Scotland led to serious depression and he took his own life later that year, the day before his final collection of poems was published. His widow returned to South Australia and later remarried.
Gordon published three volumes of poetry, Ashtaroth (1867), Sea Spray and Smoke Drift (1867) and Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes (1870). Two further volumes were published posthumously. His poetry reflects his love of bush life, horses and the sea and is interspersed with humour, melancholy and homespun philosophy. He never really lived to experience critical acclaim but is today regarded as one of Australia’s major poets. A statue of him was unveiled in Melbourne in 1932 and there are monuments to him in other parts of Australia. He has a bust in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, the only Australian to be accorded this honour.