'FROM THE WRECK'
Gordon and the Admella INSPIRATION FOR POEM
' 'From the Wreck,' Gordon's vigorous tale in verse, was printed in 'Bush Ballads,' 1870. There is no doubt that the piece was inspired by Browning's 'How
We Brought the Good News' and based on the wreck of Admella off Cape Nor- thumberland in 1859. The interesting point is whether, as some have written and many have believed, Gordon made, from or to the wreck, the actual ride described in his verses. He did not. It is even uncer- tain if he were near the wreck during the fatal days from August 9 to 13, 1859, when efforts to rescue the survivors were wildly exciting Australia.
He knew the spot, of course, possibly earlier, almost, certainly later. Lines in "'The swimmer'':— 'A grim, grey coast and a seaboard gastly And shores trod seldom by feet of men, Where the tattered hull and the broken mast lie: They have lain embedded these long years ten." appear to refer to the Northumberland coast and the wreck of Admella (1859- 1869). Nevertheless, "From the Wreck is to be taken only as a romantic reconstruction of the actual facts-a literary composition such as Gordon's "Legend of Madrid," "'taken from the Spanish"-reinforced by Gordon's familiarity with the tracks from the cape and surrounding pastoral stations to Mount Gambler— 18 miles from the cape, about 21 miles from the coast, where Admella, was wrecked. The facts are re- corded in a long-forgotten report of the South Australian, commission of enquiry into the disaster. Admella was a new iron steamship built at Glasgow, 1857; 395 tons gross, 209 tons registered, 100 h.p. nominal; valued £17,000, insured for £12,800. The people's mind, which has forgotten so much, re- members the run of her trading name— ADelaide, MELbourae, LAunceston. She left Adelaide for Portland and Melbourne at 5.30 a.m. on Friday, August 5, 1859. She carried 27 crew, about 80 passengers (for there was the customary doubt regarding final bookings). Her cargo was flour, copper, lead ore, and sundries; with a number of racehorses and stallions. Her home port was Adelaide. At 4.45 a.m. on August 6— a, fine morn ing, but murky— she struck on the tail of a reef that runs fronting the sandy shore for 11 miles between Cape Buffon and the Carpenter, rocks, not, as some accounts have said, on the Carpenter rocks them- selves, which are two black rocks above water, 16½ miles from Cape Northumber- land, but two miles farther north-west,
about 19 miles from Cape Northumberland. The wreck was complete. The vessel broke in three pieces, and many on board were drowned at once. The others lin- gered for a week, or perished from thirst, or dropped off in the cold nights; three quarters of a mile from the short; plainly visible to the rescue party. It was the most spectacular wreck in Australian an- nals. Not until Saturday, August 13, were a remnant of 22 saved by lifeboats, 21 men out of 73; one woman out of 34 women and children. Two sailors, John Leach and Robert Knapman, had rafted ashore on Sunday, August 7, bearing the news. Sailor on Horseback Monday morning, August 8, at seven o clock, Benjamin Germein, retired mari- ner, formerly master o£ the Yatala, then keeper of the MacDonnell light on Cape Northumberland, had extinguished his light, and was thinking about breakfast. To him, up the rocky headland, out of the northern scrub, came staggering two starved and battered men, who had walked till dark the day before, rested, and walked again at dawn. They had stum- bled over more than 20 miles. The waves had beaten them hard; they were covered with bruises; "Leach's sides were the color of mahogany." They were brought into the house and cared for. They told their piteous tale. Germein started at once, for the nearest pastoral station, Donald Black's, to get a horse to carry, the news to Mount Gam- bier--the nearest telegraph— about 16 miles from Black's place. Germein came on foot to Black's house. There was only a woman at home, after breakfast. Ger- mein asked her for a horse. She told him there were horses in the paddock, but she did not know anything about them. Germein went and caught one, saddled it, and tried to mount, but the horse was troublesome and he was not an expert rider. Young Black came along and rode the horse till he said it was quiet. Ger- mein mounted, and rode some miles on the way to Mount Gambler. Then the horse threw him off and returned to the station. Germein picked himself up and came back afoot. Then it was dinner time. Subsequently young Black rode with the news of the wreck to Mount Gambier, arriving at three o'clock in the after- noon, after about a couple of hours' ride. The news 'was on the wires for Portland and Melbourne, Robe and Adelaide, East and West at half-past three. 'There was a considerable loss of time." Germein returned to his castaways at the lighthouse. -Young Black came back with Police Trooper Dann at six o'clock. Getting dark, and 20 miles of the heavy beach or rough country to tackle, they had a consultation and decided to wait till daylight. Tuesday morning, August 9, starting at daylight, Germein and party reached the beach opposite the wreck at half-past ten. On the way they met J. C. Lyon, S.M., David Power, Storey, Dr. Wehl, and Trooper Budd, who had left Mount Gambier at dawn, ridden by way of Power's and Livingstone's stations to the beach, ridden; along, failed to find the wreck, and were riding back to the light house for news. The week till Saturday passed in vain attempts to launch boats, through the heavy breakers. Camp was made opposite the wreck, and signal fires were lit at night to keep hope in the castaways. Through a telescope, in daylight, the party on the beach could recognise friends on the last fragment of the wreck, and count the lessening number of survivors. Hun- dreds of people gathered, to watch or to aid. Daily messages were sent to Mount Gambier, and telegraphed round Austra- lia. The final rescue was made by two boats from the shore, bringing three saved; and two boats from the steamship Lady gird, of Portland, bringing 19.
S.A, Government appointed a commis- eion of enquiry, which attributed the wreck chiefly to the effects of a current which appears to have been setting towards the coast between Capes Willoughby and Nor- thumberland, on August 5 and 6. The captain and the whole of the officers and crew are most honorably exonerated from all blame; the conduct of the captain de- serves our highest commendation." So the wreck of the Admella was buried. GORDON'S MOVEMENTS Now, where was A. L. Gordon in all this commotion? Certainly he did not bring the news of the wreck to Mount Gambier. When old Germein had been pitched off his horse, young Black brought the news, making two trips along the re- gular road, between dinner-time and tea- time— Cape to Mount and back again. Al- most as certainly Gordon was at the scene of the wreck during the fatal week. It seems that every station hand in the South East who could get a horse and get away, was at the wreck. A man of reckless cou- rage, a swimmer who faced the surf in bitter weather, if Gordon were there, he would have been first to volunteer for the desperate lifeboat adventure, through the rolling swell of the Southern Ocean. But Gordon was short-sighted, and the direction of efforts was with Germein, the shipmaster; and the Mount Gambier magistrates. The riding prowess of Gor- don the coltbreaker was well known; and possibly, even probably, he was employed to carry some of the daily telegraphic des- patches to Mount Gambier. "From the Wreck" describes the course of such a ride, at that period, and Gordon would follow a similar course during his irregular employ- ment at Livingstone's station. Possibly he raced another rider, and killed a young- mare in his ardor of speed. Possibly he turned out before daylight to make a ride. Then, later on, with Brown- ing's poem simmering in his mind, and the thought and the wish persisting that
he might have had the gallant chance to bring the news to Mount Gambier, when Germein came to Black's station, about 9 o'clock in the morning— for Gordon could have reached the Mount before 11, saving four precious hours— "From the Wreck" was written. Gordon must have brooded over the missed chance, for that would have been a steeplechase, with human lives for the stake— how gloriously worth the riding! There is no record that Gordon ever claimed to have made the ride "From the Wreck." The legend that he did so ride —a natural supposition in the circum- stances— took form and color with Tenison Woods' account of Gordon in The Mel- bourne Review," 1884--14 years after Gor- don's death, and 25 years after the wreck of the Admella, Woods wrote:- "The nearest station (to the wreck) was Liv- ingstone's, where Gordon was breaking in horses. He was roused at night, and asked to bring the news to the town- ship, and this forms the subject of the poem, which he wrote under the title of "The Wreck." Then Woods adds, dis- trusting his ancient memoory:—"I am not quite sure if the main incidents in the poem were not founded on fact; and though he rode hard to bring the news to the nearest telegraph station, and may have killed his mare in doing so, the ship- wreck had been seen by others, and noti- fied before his arrival. The official record is quite sure that "young Black" brought the news in the circumstances related, and Gordon's name does not appear in the contemporary lists of nearly 100 names mentioned in connec- tion with the disaster, and the final res- cue. Leach and Knapman, stumbling along the beach to the lighthouse, did not approach Livingstone's station inland, and if Gordon were there at the time coltbreaking, his first news of the wreck would come when the Mount Gambier party rode in for breakfast on Tuesday morning. - In a 1912 interview Gordon's widow then Mrs. Peter Low, 67 years old, is reported as saying:— 'It was he who rode from the wreck of the Admella to the nearest township, just as he describes in his poem, "The Ride from the Wreck.' " This must be dismissed as a fond error, nearly 53 years after the fact. At the date of the wreck valiant Maggie Park was not quite 15 years old, and it appears from her statement that she did not meet Gor- don until about two years later. She married him three years later, in 1862. All feel that Adam Lindsay Gordon could, would, and should have made so reckless a ride, upon so urgent an occasion, and this feeling accounts for a legend that has strengthened with, the lapse of years. But the truth is otherwise.
ADAM LINDSAY GORDON'S 'SOUTH AUSTRALIAN HOME ? This house sheltered Gordon when be lived near Monnt Gambler. Since his death It has iteeB preserved ay the Government. .
ADAM LINDSAY GORDON'S 'SOUTH AUSTRALIAN HOME ? This noose sheltered Gordon when be lived near Monnt Gambler. Since his death It has iteeB preserved ay the Government. .