Jenolan Caves

1 July, 1898 – Leading the Way into a New Era of Tourism

July 2, 2021

Harry Curzon Smith - lessee of Caves House - 1898 to 1913

photo of Harry Curzon-SmithHarry Smith was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1861. His engineer father, Hugh Thomas Smith, had become extremely successful in the gas and soda-water manufacturing business, with the Toronto Steam Soda-Water Manufactory. Hugh’s inventiveness and improvements to the aerated water machinery soon made him the leading manufacturer of soda fountains and dispensing apparatus, in Canada and the US.

In 1877, Hugh moved to Australia with his family, and established a firm in Sydney which secured contracts to install gas lighting in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmanian railway carriages.[i]   

Hugh’s oldest son, Harry started out working with his father as a travelling salesman[ii].

In 1884, at age 23, Harry, married the tall, blond and stately[iii] Isabella Curzon Webb.  Isabella was distantly related to George Curzon, First Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (Viceroy of India from 1898), and also to Alfred Curzon, Fourth Baron Scarsdale. So, Harry and Isabella took on the noble Curzon name, calling themselves Curzon-Smith.[iv]

In the same year, Harry established a cordial manufacturing business, at 687 George Street, trading as H. Smith & Co.[v]

article about Railway Refreshment Rooms in 1895By 1894, with his background in drinks and his father’s contacts in the railways, Harry had become wealthy, controlling all 16 NSW Government Railway Refreshment Rooms north of Singleton, as well as those on the Narrabri line and at the Sydney terminal.[vi]

A New Era for Jenolan Caves House

Then, in 1898, Harry won the contract to lease the brand new Jenolan Caves House hotel. He took over the premises on July 1.[vii]

Although Jenolan Caves was very isolated and difficult to access, it had been gaining popularity.  Jenolan’s manager, Jeremiah Wilson, had worked extremely hard for many years, and had taken every opportunity to promote Jenolan in the newspapers of the day, becoming a celebrity in the process.  He had pulled out all stoppers to gain the patronage of the important people of the day, including Prince Franz Joseph of Battenberg, and the Earl and Duchess of Jersey, who visited the caves and stayed overnight.  Through his efforts, Jenolan was beginning to turn into THE mountain escape for Sydney’s well-to-do.

Caves House offered for lease 1898

But in 1895 some of the Jenolan accommodation buildings burned down. The Government saw an opportunity. Taking the gamble that they would make all their investment back and much more, they decided to take over Jenolan accommodation, building a truly grand hotel alongside the spectacular caves, with beautiful gardens and improved road access. At the time, no expense was spared.

So, Government Architect, Walter Liberty Vernon, designed the first wing of Caves House, which was finished in 1897. Beautiful gardens were built around Caves House. A limestone bridge was also built, to allow horse-drawn vehicles access from Jenolan Caves Road into the Grand Arch.  In 1898, the Government called for tenders to lease the new hotel.

Jenolan Caves House around 1907Harry Curzon Smith won the tender, taking over the new lease of Caves House on 1 July 1898.

While Harry was the lessee of Caves House, he lived in Sydney, but he and his family and friends sometimes visited Jenolan. He appointed a day-to-day manager, the genial and highly experienced Mr Shipway, who had worked for Harry since 1886, and who had already managed 3 of Harry’s Refreshment Rooms.[viii]  Until Mr Shipway’s death in January, 1904, he and his wife managed Caves House. The Lithgow Mercury reported, “Mr and Mrs Shipway, who manage for Mr Smith, are really splendid people for the position.”[ix]

Caves House became such a popular hotel that by 1902, an substantial extension was already being considered [x].  1906, Harry was still the lessee of Caves House, when the second wing was built, adding 24 more guestrooms.

Curzon HallCurzon Hall

For many years Harry lived at Enmore, but later moved to Marsfield, where he had built a palatial house.  In the early 1890s, he had bought 270 acres (109 hectares) of land at Marsfield and soon afterwards started building Curzon Hall. The architect was Mr D. T. Morrow of St. George’s Hall, Newtown.[xi] By 1900 his 20-room mansion was completed, with wide portico, large balconies, entrance hall, spacious cellars, separate ballroom and imposing stables.[xii] Curzon Hall still stands today and is considered one of Australia’s finest reception centres.

Community Leader

Harry Curzon Smith's Private School at MarsfieldHarry wanted to give back to his community. So, in 1901, he erected a school in Agincourt Road, Marsfield. It opened as a private school on the understanding that responsibility would eventually be assumed by the state government. When this expectation was not met, the school was disbanded and the building became a public hall.

Harry founded the Marsfield School of Arts, and he was president of the local progress association, where he lobbied the government to build a bridge across the Lane Cove River (de Burgh's Bridge).[xiii]

Thinking Big!

Harry was a big-thinker. He envisaged the area around the current Top Ryde Shopping Centre as a tourist destination.  He ran a horse-bus service from Gladesville to Curzon Park on the Lane Cove River at North Ryde, where he had a picnic ground.  In 1904, he bought 17 acres (7 hectares) on the edge of the village of Ryde. He subdivided the greater portion of this land but reserved a large block on the corner of Pope Street and Lane Cove Road, and around 1909 began building a tourist resort. He called it 'Hampton Court Tourist Residential Hotel'. It was to be a five-storey structure with 70 bedrooms, billiard rooms, spacious cellars, a turret tower of two further storeys and a flat promenade roof. He also envisaged extensive picnic grounds across Hattons Flat.[xiv]

Jenolan Caves House hotel today

Still in the prime of life, Harry died at Curzon Hall, in June 1913, age only 52, leaving Hampton Court Tourist Residential Hotel unfinished. He still held the lease to Caves House. We do not know what he died of, but he had ‘been ailing on and off for years’ [xv]. His estate was valued at £16,862 [xvi] ($2,110,393 in today’s money). Notices of his death said, “The deceased gentleman was fond of home life, and did not concern himself in politics or public affairs.[xvii]”  

So, that is the story of Harry Curzon Smith – at least all that we have been able to discover so far.  His outstanding nose for business won him the right to participate in a crucial stage - the launch of a new era of tourism in the Blue Mountains and the Central West. From that point, and for the next 30 years, the NSW Government invested in Jenolan Caves, to turn it into an overwhelmingly popular mountain retreat for the well-to-do, as part of a general strategy to bring more jobs, growth and general prosperity to the whole region.

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