BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION|
By J. M. BULLOCH
JOSÉ MARIA JACOBO RAFAEL RAMÓN FRANCISCO GABRIEL DEL CORAZÓN DE JESÚS GORDON Y PRENDERGAST-to give the writer of this book the full name with which he was christened in Jerez de la Frontera on March 19, 1856-belongs to an interesting, but unusual, type of the Scot abroad.
These virile venturers group themselves into four categories. Illustrating them by reference to the Gordons alone, there was the venturer, usually a soldier of fortune, who died in the country of his adoption, such as the well-known General Patrick Gordon, of Auchleuchries, Aberdeenshire (1635-1690), who, having spent thirty-nine years of faithful service to Peter the Great, died and was buried at Moscow. Or one might cite John Gordon, of Lord Byron's Gight family, who, having helped to assassinate Wallenstein in the town of Eger, in 1634, turned himself into a Dutch Jonkheer, dying at Dantzig, and being buried at Delft.
Sometimes, especially in the case of merchants, the venturers settled down permanently in their new fatherland, as in the case of the Gordons of Coldwells, Aberdeenshire, who are now represented solely by the family of von Gordon-Coldwells, in Laskowitz. So rapid was the transformation of this family that when one of them, Colonel Fabian Gordon, of the Polish cavalry, turned up in Edinburgh in 1783, in connexion with the sale of the family heritage, he knew so little English that he had to be initiated a Freemason in Latin. To this day there is a family in Warsaw which, ignoring our principle of primogeniture, calls itself the marquises de Huntly-Gordon.
Occasionally the exiles returned home, either to succeed to the family heritage, or to rescue it from ruin with the wealth they had acquired abroad. Thus General Alexander Gordon (1669-1751) of the Russian army, the biographer of Peter the Great, came home to succeed his father as laird of Auchintoul, Banffshire, and managed by a legal mistake to hold it in face of forfeiture for Jacobitism. His line has long since died out, as soldier stock is apt to do--an ironic symbol of the death-dealing art. But the descendants of another ardent Jacobite, Robert Gordon, wine merchant, Bordeaux, who rescued the family estate of Hallhead, Aberdeenshire, from claimant creditors, still flourish. One of them became famous in the truest spirit of Gay Gordonism, in the person of Adam Lindsay Gordon, the beloved laureate of Australia.
The vineyard and Australia bring us to the fourth, and rarest, category, represented by the writer of this book, namely, the family which has not only retained its Scots heritage, but also flourishes in the land of its adoption, for Mr. Rafael Gordon is not only laird of Wardhouse, Aberdeenshire, but is a Spaniard by birth and education, and a citizen of Madrid: and this double citizenship has been shared by his uncles Pedro Carlos Gordon (1806-1857), Rector of Stonyhurst; and General J. M. Gordon, the writer of this book, who will long be remembered as the pioneer of national service in Australia.
The Gordons of Wardhouse, to whom he belongs, are descended (as the curious will find set forth in detail in the genealogical table) from a Churchman, Adam Gordon, Dean of Caithness (died 1528), younger son of the first Earl of Huntly, and they have remained staunch to the Church of Rome to this day: that indeed was one of the reasons for their sojourning aboard [sic]. The Dean's son George (died 1575) acquired the lands of Beldorney, Aberdeenshire, which gradually became frittered away by his senior descendants, the seventh laird parting with the property to the younger line in the person of Alexander Gordon, of Camdell, Banffshire, in 1703, while his sons vanished to America, where they are untraceable.
From this point the fortunes of the families increase. Alexander's son James, IX of Beldorney, bought the ancient estate of Kildrummy in 1731, and Wardhouse came into his family through his marriage with Mary Gordon, heiress thereof. This reinforcement of his Gordon blood was one of the deciding causes of the strong Jacobitism of his son John, the tenth laird, who fought at Culloden, which stopped his half Russian wife, Margaret Smyth of Methven, the great grand-daughter of General Patrick Gordon of Auchleuchries, in the act of embroidering for Prince Charles a scarlet waistcoat, which came to the hammer at Aberdeen in 1898.
This Jacobite laird's brothers were the first to go abroad. One of them, Gregory, appears to have entered the Dutch service; another, Charles, a priest, was educated at Ratisbon; and a third, Robert(1), settled at Cadiz. That was the first association of the Wardhouse Gordons with Spain, for, though Robert(1) died without issue, he seems to have settled one of his nephews, Robert (son of his brother Cosmo, who had gone to Jamaica), and another, James Arthur Gordon (who was son of the twelfth(2) laird), at Jerez.
But the sense of adventure was also strong on the family at home, especially on Alexander, the eleventh laird, who was executed as a spy at Brest in 1769. A peculiarly handsome youth, who succeeded to the estates in 1760, he started life as an ensign in the 49th Foot in 1766. He narrowly escaped being run through in a brawl at Edinburgh, and, taking a hair of the dog that had nearly bitten him, he fatally pinked a butcher in the city of Cork in 1767. He escaped to La Rochelle, and ultimately got into touch with Lord Harcourt, our Ambassador in Paris. Harcourt sent the reckless lad to have a look at the fortifications of Brest. He was caught in the act; Harcourt repudiated all knowledge of him; and he was executed November 24, 1769, gay to the end, and attracting the eyes of every pretty girl in the town. The guillotine which did its worst is still preserved in the arsenal at Brest, and the whole story is set forth with legal precision in the transactions of the Societé Academique de Brest.
Poor Alexander was succeeded as laird by his younger brother Charles Edward (1750-1832), who became an officer in the Northern Fencibles, and was not without his share of adventure, which curiously enough arose out of his brother's regiment, the 49th. He married as his second wife Catherine Mercer, the daughter of James Mercer, the poet, who had been a major in that regiment. In 1797, his commanding officer, Colonel John Woodford, who had married his chief, the Duke of Gordon's, sister, bolted at Hythe with the lady, from whom the laird of Wardhouse duly got a divorce. That did not satisfy Gordon, who thrashed his colonel with a stick in the streets of Ayr. Of course he was court-martialled, but Woodford's uncle-in-law, Lord Adam Gordon, as Commander-in-Chief of North Britain, smoothed over the sentence of dismissal from the Fencibles by getting the angry husband appointed paymaster in the Royal Scots.
Gordon's eldest son John David, by his first marriage (with the grand-daughter of the Earl of Kilmarnock, who was executed at the Tower with Lord Lovat), had wisely kept out of temptation amid the peaceful family vineyards at Jerez, from which he returned in 1832 to Wardhouse. But John David's half-brother stayed at home and became Admiral Sir James Alexander Gordon (1782-1869), who as the "last of Nelson's Captains" roused the admiration of Tom Hughes in a fine appreciation in Macmillan's Magazine. Although he had lost his leg in the capture of the Pomone in 1812, he could stump on foot even as an old man all the way from Westminster to Greenwich Hospital, of which he, was the last Governor, and where you can see his portrait to this day.
Although John David Gordon succeeded to Wardhouse, his family remained essentially Spanish, and his own tastes, as his grandson, General Gordon, points out, were coloured by the character of the Peninsula. The General himself, as his autobiography shows in every page, has had his inherited Gay Gordonism aided and abetted by his associations with Spain and with Australia. His whole career has been full of enterprising adventure, and, while intensely interested in big imperial problems, he has an inevitable sense of the colour and rhythm of life as soldier, as policeman, as sportsman, as actor, as journalist. He is, in short, a perfect example of a Gay Gordon.
(1) Bulloch is mistaken. The name of John's brother who settled in Cadiz was not Robert but Arthur
(2) Again Bulloch is mistaken. James Arthur was the son of Arthur's brother John, married to Margaret Smyth, and 10th Laird of Beldorney by Bulloch's own counting.
Table of Contents