What Do Poets Drink?

Gordon, Clarke and Kendall

Concerned about the birds gathering on his windowsill at University House in Canberra, Laurie Hergenhan once asked A.D. Hope what parrots ate or drank.

“Poets?” said Hope. “I don’t know what they eat, but they’ll drink anything.”

This certainly seems to be the consensus about Australian poets. It is a reputation that has particularly attached itself to the three great writers in Melbourne’s 1860s and 1870s, the poets Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall and the novelist Marcus Clarke.

In My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey, Ross Fitzgerald recalled: 

When I was fifteen or sixteen and still living in Charles Street, my idea of a good Saturday night was to take a flagon of wine to the nearby Brighton Cemetery and drink on my own in front of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s obelisk … I now think it significant that of all the graves in Brighton Cemetery, I was drawn to that of an alcoholic poet who killed himself at Brighton Beach, where I used to drink so often myself. 

Fitzgerald used the same episode for his fictional character Grafton Everest in All About Anthrax, remarking, “Grafton now thought it significant that he, a Church of England Melbourne son, was attracted to the grave of Gordon—a fellow pisspot.” “The Poet Gordon—Scottish, alcoholic and estranged,” he writes, adding, “Grafton thought of Gordon as this country’s Brendan Behan.”

Yet was Gordon alcoholic? He is often thought of in this way. Leonie Kramer is quite stern about his failings in the Australian Dictionary of Biography: “His fecklessness was apparent early. He himself said that his ‘strength and health were broken by dissipation and humbug’.”

Yet the evidence suggests that Gordon was not a drinking man. He left England in August 1853, aged nineteen, after he had got himself into trouble by liberating a horse impounded for debt, in order to ride in a steeplechase. He joined the South Australian mounted police and, he wrote to his friend Charley Walker back in England, he now drank very little, though he smoked a good deal. George S. Scott, who was a fellow trooper with Gordon, recalled in the Adelaide Register, on November 30, 1912: “Gordon, by the way, very seldom drank too much.”

Gordon served as a trooper for a week short of two years. He spent the next seven years horse-breaking. Father Julian Tenison Woods, who set up the order of the Sisters of St Joseph with Mary MacKillop, recalled in the Melbourne Review, April 1884: 

My introduction to him was at a cattle station, Lake Hawdon, near Guichen Bay. He was breaking in a few horses for Mr Stockdale, the proprietor … Mr Stockdale further remarked that there was something above the common in Gordon. He never drank or gambled, two ordinary qualifications of bush hands in those days …

Those who did not know Gordon attributed his suicide to drink, but I repeat he was most temperate, and disliked the company of drinking men. 

There are occasional recollections of social drinking. At a ceremony at the poet’s grave, the Argus reported, on June 27, 1892: “Mr Whiteman recalled … many pleasant evenings spent at the Napoleon the Third Hotel in Emerald Hill, at which Gordon lived for a while.” And the Brighton and Sandringham Southern Cross reported, on September 7, 1912, that the composer Joseph Summers “mentioned that Gordon, Ryan, Horne, and himself used to assemble at the Adam and Eve Hotel, in Little Collins Street, and on one occasion Gordon clasped his arms round his (Dr Summers’s) neck and said, ‘If you were a girl I would kiss you’ (Laughter).”

George Gordon McCrae, a fellow member with Gordon of the Yorick Club and the Colonial Monthly circle, recalled in Southerly in 1944 that the Colonial Monthly office was supplied with regular refreshment from the Duke of Rothesay Hotel across the road; “the beer if ‘Colonial’ was of the best, and punctually supplied and delivered at lunch hour”. J.J. Shillinglaw, who took over as editor after Clarke, “had a figure of himself on the outer side of his door representing a man in a sitting posture with a great gallon measure at his lips, with the legend subscribed ‘J.J.S. in ‘Liquidation’.” But McCrae remembered Gordon as abstemious: 

It used to be remarked of him from time to time his avoidance of liquor; which, in the midst of an all-round drinking society, had the effect of keeping him very much outside. He would take a glass of wine out of pure politeness, but there drew the line, over which nobody could lead him. One day, rallying him on his abstemiousness, he took my hand and placing it on his head, laid one of my fingers in a long deep hollow in the bone—I shuddered all over. It was the answer to the question—a skull fracture received in one of his falls in the field … 

George Riddoch likewise recalled in Edith Humphris and Douglas Sladen’s Adam Lindsay Gordon and his Friends in England and Australia: “He was a very moderate eater and he seldom drank any spirits, though he smoked a good deal. Mr Riddoch never once saw him the worse for liquor.”

George’s brother John Riddoch had been elected to the South Australian parliament along with Gordon in 1865. Gordon wrote to John, on October 6, 1868: 

I have not been well lately. I never got over that fall, and since then I have taken to drink. I don’t get drunk, but I drink a good deal more than I ought to do, for I have a constant pain in my head and back, and I get so awfully low-spirited and miserable that if I had a strong sleeping draught near me I am afraid I might take it. I have carried one that I should never awake from …

When I parted from my wife on the pier and saw the steamer take her away, I felt sure that I should never see her again; and when I got back to Ballarat, and went into the empty house I was very low spirited for two or three days. I used to smoke all night long—I could not sleep—and take a stiff nobbler in the morning when I got up—but I got through my work somehow and settled all my business.

(The Last Letters 1868-1870, ed. Hugh Anderson) 

He pulled through. On November 17, 1868, he wrote to Riddoch: “I am taking exercise now and doing work, and I sleep pretty well and eat fairly, and I only drink one glass of grog when I go to bed. Though I smoke nearly as much as ever I never touch opiates in any shape now.”

In February 1870 after the long journey back to Melbourne from Yallum where he had been visiting Riddoch, Gordon wrote: 

On Thursday night I was so tired that I could hardly walk to the telegraph-office, as you may suppose, and on Friday after the race I was not much better, though I did not feel it, having imbibed too freely. Everyone that was with me swears that I was as sober as a judge, by which I infer that everyone that was with me was as drunk as a lord. 

It is a rare record of excess.

A communication from his uncle in England seemed to offer Gordon the possibility of permanent financial security. He told Riddoch, “It seems I am the nearest heir to an entailed estate called Esslemont in Scotland. He thinks it a certainty, but I fancy there is a flaw in the entail.” Gordon pursued the Esslemont claim for eighteen months. On June 4, 1870, he heard that it had failed. His hopes of the £2000 annual income from the estate were gone. He had no wish to continue riding, and falling, in steeplechases. He resorted, like Clarke and Kendall, to money-lenders. 

Alcohol features in the events leading up to Gordon’s death, though not necessarily in excess. On June 23, 1870, he called in at his publisher’s. A.H. Massina recalled in the Melbourne Herald, on March 2, 1909: 

He expected some money on the day his last book Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes, was published.
He owed me about £75, and said to me, “I suppose you want some money.”
And I replied, “Printers generally do.”
Gordon said, “Well, I’ll be up in the morning with a cheque.”  

According to Sutherland in the Melbourne Review, October 1883, “Gordon dropped into Clarson and Massina’s office in the morning, heard some friendly criticism from Marcus Clarke and others, insisted on knowing how much was due for the book, then went out in search of means to pay the various debts he had imprudently incurred.”

At some point he is said to have been shown a proof of Kendall’s favourable review of Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes forthcoming in the Australasian. According to Sutherland’s later account in The Development of Australian Literature, Gordon met Kendall in Collins Street, and the two wandered into the Argus Hotel bar for a rest.

It is not known how many drinks Gordon and Kendall had nor how long they were there. According to Sutherland, they sat for a couple of hours. M.P. Sweeney, writing some sixty years later, on May 3, 1927, in Adam and Eve, says they met not at the Argus Hotel but at the old Adam and Eve Hotel in Little Collins Street and that they had seven shillings between them, and spent it.

Sir Frank Madden, later speaker in the Victorian parliament, questioned this in Humphris and Sladen: 

I think the story of his meeting Kendall on the evening before he shot himself is also doubtful as I met him a little after four o’clock on that winter’s day and walked with him as far as St Kilda. In justice to him I should say that the most unlikely thing he would do was to spend his last few shillings on drink as he never cared for it, and so far as I knew seldom took it at all. He shows his contempt for it in his verses. Of one thing I am clear, that when I left him at St Kilda, he was absolutely sober, but very much depressed and melancholy. He told me that he had asked a friend to lend him £100 to enable him to get to England, but his friend had refused to make the advance and he was most down-hearted and despondent. 

On Saturday, June 25, the Argus ran a report: 

An exceedingly painful feeling was created yesterday morning in Melbourne, particularly among literary and sporting circles, by a report that Mr A.L. Gordon, the well-known poet and gentleman steeplechase rider, had committed suicide by shooting himself in the scrub near the Brighton beach …

Early on Friday he was missed, but still nothing serious was apprehended until it was found that he had taken his rifle with him. From the little that is known of him after he left the house, it appears that about half-past 7 o’clock in the morning he called at the Marine Hotel, and asked for Mr Prendergast, the landlord, and was informed by his son that he was not then up. On being asked if he should awake him, Mr Gordon said it was of no great consequence. He then had a glass of brandy, and left the house. 

The Age reported the inquest, on June 27: 

Mr Hugh Kelly, gardener, Brighton, said: I know the deceased. He has been living as a lodger, with his wife, at my house for the last twelve months. I last saw him alive on Thursday night, the 23rd inst. I saw him from nine up to eleven o’clock that night. He had been drinking before he came home, but did not take any more. He was excitable and rather quarrelsome.

Dr James P. Murray said: Deceased was eccentric, on the whole rational, but he was subject to excitement without adequate provocation. He was totally unable to bear spirituous liquor; a very small quantity maddened him immediately. Deceased had had several falls in steeplechasing and hunting. His skull has been fractured on one occasion, and his brain was much affected by these falls. He himself has said he was mad. The brain of deceased I believe, was injured to that extent that he might be subject to delusion, and to attacks of melancholy at times. 

Geoffrey Hutton writes in his life of Gordon: “his widow told her son that she had never known him to drink, although they always kept a bottle of brandy in the house”. According to her son W. Park Low’s unpublished typescript The Real Adam Lindsay Gordon in the State Library of South Australia, she said he never drank strong drink, and that the night before his death she did not notice that he had taken any drink, nor was he quarrelsome.

Clarke and Gordon were both foundation members of the bohemian Yorick Club, established in May 1868. Henry Kendall joined it on his arrival in Melbourne the following year. In the Australasian, May 9, 1868, Clarke offered some details, reprinting them as “A Quiet Club” in his first book, The Peripatetic Philosopher: “I may, without breaking faith, refute the accusation made by a friend, that the members sit on tubs around the room, smoke green tea, and drink neat kerosene out of pewter pots. More I cannot reveal.”

Henry Gyles Turner recalled in Humphris and Sladen: 

When I was treasurer of the Yorick Club, I used to see Gordon there occasionally in the late ’sixties, about a couple of years before his death. Rather a reticent and downcast-looking man, whose manner did not invite familiarity, though he could brighten up when he got on horsey topics and the glass went round. Like many of the original members of that club you had to “make a night of it” if you wanted to get the best out of them. All I can say for him is that he was not quite so depressing as poor Kendall, and despite his grievous lack of pence he occasionally let himself go. 

There is no doubt that 1860s Melbourne was a heavy-drinking society. Michael Meehan, who features Clarke in his novel Below the Styx, has suggested Clarke was “a toper”. But there are no reports of Gordon or Clarke drinking heavily at the Yorick. Indeed, Clarke seems to have been no more of a drinker than Gordon, though like Gordon he is often thought to have been one.

In his biography of Marcus Clarke, Cyril Hopkins included an account of “A Day in Melbourne” that Clarke sent him in 1865: 

Melbourne is a dreadful place for drinking; if one meets a friend, the first salutation is, “How d’ye do! Come and have a drink!” and this in all grades of life. I have seen two doctors, a distinguished lawyer, and a member of Parliament all partaking of “nobblers” at the bar of an hotel at 11.30 a.m. 

In a letter to Hopkins, Clarke stressed: “I play hard because I don’t care for money. But thank God! I don’t drink hard. Drinking is the curse of the place! I never could see any pleasure in getting drunk.”

Clarke concluded his 1870 sketch “A Mining Township” sardonically: “But it is time to ‘have a drink’—the chief amusement of the place … To sum up the jollity of Grumbler’s Gully in two words—What’s yours?”

In His Natural Life, he paints a harrowing and sympathetic portrait of an alcoholic: “He had no cancer. His disease was a more terrible one. The Reverend James North—gentleman, scholar, and Christian priest—was what the world calls ‘a confirmed drunkard’.”

And in a letter now in the Mitchell Library, Clarke wrote to Rose Lewis, his wife’s sister, in the midst of their troubled relationship: 

You are right. I will not drink brandy to drown out thought. I do drink brandy because it does drown thought—not by drunkenness, I never get drunk, but by stimulating the brain to a madness which is strength. It is the practice of a fool, a suicidal practice, for—oh the reaction! I will work instead—though really my ambition has become dead—almost. 

Work was the priority. When he did drink, it was for work, or so he claimed. “We absorbed wine and women, and hate and love into us, that we might be able to write those magnificent articles,” he reminisced in the Weekly Times, February 28, 1874. Charles Bright recalled in Cosmos, April 30, 1895, meeting him at the Café de Paris: 

I noticed as a peculiarity of the newcomer that he partook of absinthe, a drink rarely called for by any but Frenchmen, and I asked if he liked it.

“Not particularly,” he said, “but I’m experimenting with it. They say it’ll drive a fellow mad in a month and I want to find out if that’s a fact. I’ve tried opium-smoking, and rather like that. There are a lot of lies told about these things, you know, and we have scriptural authority for proving all things and holding fast that which is good. I can’t say yet if absinthe be good, or not.” 

Clarke was certainly curious and convivial, as can be testified from his debt for £150 for wines and spirits in his bankruptcy declaration. The Shillinglaw papers in the State Library of Victoria contain an undated note from Clarke, written at 11 a.m.: “For God’s sake come up to the Library and have a drink! If you don’t come in ten minutes I shall calmly perjure myself. p. s. HOT COPPERS.” Hot coppers was slang for a parched throat after a drinking bout.

In the Bulletin, September 24, 1904, the young writer Victor Daley recalled being invited by Clarke in the late 1870s for a meal at a Collins Street hotel “where pressmen of the first flight used to congregate”: 

We took some sherry and bitters to give an appetite for the banquet.

Then he looked at me with amazed blue-grey eyes, and said, “I have no money!” 

Daley had none either. 

“No dinner!” he said.
“We’ll go up and see George Ashton,” said Clarke.
“Dire necessity, George!” Marcus explained. 

Mission accomplished, forgetting about dinner, Clarke ordered a bottle of champagne, which was being poured when Ashton passed by. 

“Dire necessity, Marcus?” 
“Dire necessity,” replied Clarke. “Join us.”

The stories of Clarke’s bohemian insouciance have undoubtedly contributed to his reputation as a drinker.

The second issue of the Humbug (September 15, 1869), the satiric magazine Clarke edited, with some assistance from Kendall, tackled the issue of alcohol. It carried Thomas Carrington’s illustration “King Nobbler”, and Kendall’s poem “The Demon of Drink”: 

Thou art devil and despot to men;
            Thy grip is on wise and on weak—
On mighty of sword and of pen;
            On those who in council-halls speak. 

“We are a nation of Drunkards,” Clarke declared in his essay “The Curse of the Country”: “King Nobbler rules over us, and all classes bow down before him.” The sentiments are noble, and no doubt heartfelt. “No man can hope to succeed in business, profession, or society, unless he is prepared to take his chance of death in an asylum for inebriates.”

In the Humbug for December 22, 1869, Clarke published some parodies he had written. One was “Mark Clancy’s Leap by A. L. G-RD-N, ESQ.”: 

“Come hither, come hither, my little foot-page, and tighten the girths for me;”
But never a word said the little foot-page as he louted low on his knee;
For he had drunk of the wine of the foaming Rhine, and was very far gone on the spree.  

It concludes: 

They picked up his body when morning dawned, but there wasn’t a sign of his soul.
And the drunken old porter, he said to his daughter, as he scratched his obfuscated poll,
“Here’s some poor wight has got tight over night, and has broken his neck in a hole.” 

“Glycera by H-N-Y K-ND-LL, ESQ.” likewise inhabits a world of alcoholic haze: 

Glycera, my loved one, give me whiskey over proof,
In the moonless, mild mid-winters, when the rain is on the roof.
You that love, and you that listen, black in breaths of stormy straits,
Drift with me to death’s division, driven by the fierce-eyed fates;
This, and this, you have to reckon, when the wind on window beats,
And the little schoolboys trembling put their heads beneath the sheets;
When from out his chamber leaning, he, the lord of lyre and lute,
Sees thee strolling after dinner through deep gardens flushed with fruit,
And with all the might of Bacchus, furious from the forest fine,
Drains a most tremendous beaker of the worst colonial wine … 

Kendall was an all too easy target. On June 2, 1870, the Melbourne Punch published “An Australian Poem (Written in the approved style by Our Special Poet)”. The authorship is uncertain, but the subject was Kendall and his drinking: 

What matter, ye woodlands, what matter,
            At the fall of the nebulous night,
If a poet can’t say who’s his hatter
            As he topples home turbulent, tight? … 

Are we to sit down in the ashes,
            With faces of sorrow and scorn,
Because of the sodas and dashes
            We’ve mournfully taken at morn? 

Agnes Hamilton-Grey, who wrote a number of somewhat hagiographical accounts of Henry Kendall, claimed in Singer of the Dawn

A. Lindsay Gordon has never been written of as having a “congenital tendency” towards the use of intoxicating liquors; yet he was a very much freer user of the same than Kendall … Kendall was powerfully influenced by Lindsay Gordon because of the much good in Gordon; but the influence, in the main, was for evil. 

She ascribed Kendall’s drinking as due to Gordon, a result of “the intimacy that led to hours together, and together frequenting the bar-parlour”, and claimed, in defiance of all the evidence, “Kendall, before that time, could not be accused of even a tendency to the undue use of intoxicating liquors.” Kendall’s son, Frederick, responded in exasperation to J.K. Moir, August 4, 1938, in a letter in the State Library of Victoria: “This egregious woman … she even tried to make out that his illustrious friend A. L. G. had taught him to drink! You can see it if you bother to look at her book. Of course it was in his family.

There is no doubt that Kendall often drank, and had done so before he met Gordon, and that it was in his family. Michael Ackland writes in Henry Kendall: The Man and the Myths: “a legacy of liquor, confirmed over generations, would prove to be inescapable”. Kendall left Sydney for Melbourne in April 1869, partly to avoid problems caused by his mother’s alcoholism. But without any assured, regular income, and dependent on freelance work, he began sinking into poverty and desperation. In The Development of Australian Literature Alexander Sutherland writes: 

He grew more and more unsteady, became less capable of work, and drifted rapidly into squalor. The wretched family hid their heads in a dingy lane of Richmond, while the poet, whose soul but five years earlier had been aglow with high ideals, and a love for all that is beautiful and mysterious in nature, spent his evenings in obscure public-houses, and his nights too often seated in some lane or right-of-way.

Eight years later, when the fierce, foul dream of this time had spent its force, and give place to a long, slow remorseful time of quietness, he wrote of himself:

            Have I no word at all for him
                 Who used down fetid lanes to slink,
            And squat in tap-room corners grim,
                 And drown his thoughts in dregs of drink? 

And Kendall wrote further in “On a Street”:                       

Ah, song, be silent! Show no more
            The lady in the perished dress,
                 The scholar on the tap-room floor. 

In “Henry Kendall’s Haggard Street”, in Adam and Eve, May 3, 1927, M.P. Sweeney wrote of this period: 

One of Kendall’s truest friends was the late Mr Hartkopf, father of the present-day cricketer. He was a fine German literary scholar, and gave Kendall the first English translation of Goethe’s “Watermill”—a poem afterwards made famous by the late Mel B. Spurr in all parts of the Empire. Kendall never went home from Hartkopf’s old-fashioned wine tavern, with its barrels and rude forms, without a bottle of stern port to warm a chilly, cheerless night. Standing in those days in Brunswick Street, opposite each other, and a few hundred yards from Kendall’s home, were two hotels. They were The Labor in Vain and The Perseverance. The Labor in Vain was kept by a big Irishman, who used to quote Tom Moore to Kendall on both ordinary and extraordinary occasions. 

Kendall returned to Sydney in October 1870. On November 25, he was committed for trial for forging and uttering a cheque. He was found not guilty on the ground of temporary insanity. On July 5, 1871, he was admitted to Gladesville Hospital for the Insane and stayed three and a half weeks. The report stated: “His habits are intemperate and he frequently takes opium and sedatives in large quantities …” On April 30, 1873, he was readmitted, this time for two months: “Form of mental disorder … mania. Supposed cause … intemperance …”

In letters now in the Mitchell Library Kendall wrote to Philip Holdsworth, on March 5, 1876, about this period: “I was almost dead in the bitter hospitals of Sydney”; and to J. Sheridan Moore, on May 17, 1876: “I recollect very little of my subsequent Sydney life for my mind was unhinged nearly all the time.” J. Henniker Heaton recorded of Kendall in his Australian Dictionary of Dates and Men of the Time: “Overwork unfortunately led him into intemperate habits, but in 1874 he entirely recovered his former excellent reputation.”

Appointed to a newspaper in Grafton, Kendall left the ship at Newcastle and, having drunk away his money, set out to walk back to Sydney. Reaching Gosford, he was befriended by the Fagan family, who helped restore him to health, and employed him in their timber business. On October 23, 1874, Kendall wrote to J. Sheridan Moore: “I have taken nothing stronger than tea for the last eleven months.”

A.G. Stephens’s Bulletin diary, edited by Leon Cantrell, records some lapses from sobriety, however: 

Holdsworth told several Kendall anecdotes: Once Holdsworth called to see Kendall at house of P. F. Fagan in Sydney … Found him in charge of servant—practical prisoner. Kendall wanted 1/-. Holdsworth gave him 2/6. Kendall eluded servant, Holdsworth followed him to three pubs—a drink in each—brought him home “absolutely flaccid”.

Again, at Camden Haven, NSW—riding party. Kendall went forward on some errand—two or three miles further on Fagan stopped party (which included Mrs Kendall): “I’ll go forward and shift that log out of the way.” The log was Kendall, who had imbibed freely of roadside rum. 

Kendall’s son Frederick recalled in Henry Kendall: His Later Years

Even in his final and happiest years, the black moods of retrospection would envelop him, strangely enough after an evening of animated and humanly merry conversation, as if he thought himself guilty of forgetfulness … At such times he would seek the delusive consolation of alcohol. His best friends and his dearest ones were then open to misunderstanding and even unjust accusation, though all did their best to humour and soothe him. He was not, like some other poets, a hearty, unashamed Bacchanalian, but became for a time, in turns, querulous, sentimental, suspicious, and even insulting. The trouble was not that he drank much but that he was physically unfitted to drink at all. In fact he might have been considered temperate, in a quantitative sense, compared with other public men of those days. 

“I have not been in a city since August 1875,” Kendall wrote to N. Walter Swan, on February 10, 1880, in a letter now in the National Library of Australia: “After a day’s work, I frequently feel terribly depressed; and such things as spirits, laudanum, eblarrdyne, etc. have necessarily to be kept out of my way. This, you will admit, is exceedingly sad.” 

On August 2, 1881, Marcus Clarke died. He was thirty-five. Hamilton Mackinnon recorded in The Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume

The illness which immediately caused his decease, commenced with an attack of pleurisy, and this developing into congestion of the liver, and finally into erysipelas, carried him off in the space of one short week. Indeed he had, during the last year of his life, suffered so frequently from attacks brought on by a disordered liver, that little heed was given to the final attack till a day or two previous to his death. 

A day short of a year later, August 1, 1882, Henry Kendall died, aged forty-three. He was suffering from tuberculosis, which also killed his father, brother and one sister. A.G. Stephens’s diary records an account of the funeral from Victor Daley 

Fifteen vehicles followed Kendall’s hearse. Daley and Richmond Thatcher walked—drank at every pub on the way. “Ah,” said Thatcher, “this is what poor Kendall would enjoy if he could look back and see us.” 

Stephens recalled in the Bulletin, July 16, 1930, that in December 1886 a monument was erected over Kendall’s grave: 

with the closing lines of Shelley’s lamenting poem for Keats inscribed:—
            Surely he takes his fill
            Of deep and liquid rest, forgetful of all ill.

Kendall’s convivial habits were still strongly remembered by the public mind, and Dalley suggested a doubt that the reference to “liquid rest” was perhaps a little too appropriate. 

Though according to Frederick Kendall in his introduction to his father’s Poems the inscription was “the graceful suggestion of the late W. B. Dalley, an old friend”.

In 1945 the United Licensed Victuallers’ Association erected a plaque at the Marine Hotel, Brighton: 

Adam Lindsay Gordon Poet and Horseman tethered his horse to this hitching post during his residence in Brighton 1869-70. 

Both memorials perpetuate the belief that poets drink. Indeed they do; and quite often they drink anything. But the historical evidence suggests that while Kendall had his periods of excess, Gordon and Clarke were generally moderate in their consumption of alcohol. 

Michael Wilding’s latest novel is The Prisoner of Mount Warning (Arcadia/Press On, 2010). He co-edited Cyril Hopkins’ Marcus Clarke with Laurie Hergenhan and Ken Stewart (Australian Scholarly, 2009).

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