Jenolan Caves

1895, When Prince Franz Joseph of Battenberg Visited Jenolan

February 18, 2021


His Serene Highness Prince Franz Joseph of Battenberg was born in Italy in 1861. He was a brother of one of Queen Victoria’s many sons-in-law. (His brother was married to one of the Queen’s daughters.[i]) His family nicknamed him ‘Franzjos,’[ii]  Franzjos received a military education in Potsdam in Prussia. Although Battenberg is in Germany, his oldest brother was the Reigning Prince of Bulgaria, so he followed his brother to Bulgaria where he served as a colonel in the cavalry.

Franzjos was academically gifted, and had attained a doctorate.[iii] In 1891, he published an academic study on Bulgarian economic history "The Economic Development of  Bulgaria from 1879 to the Present"[iv].

Travelling the world

In 1894, still footloose and fancy free, in the company of 3 friends (Colonel Townshend, Mr M.H. Paine and Mr M.S. Paine) Franzjos set out to travel around the world. When interviewed, he told the Evening News that he was “travelling as a private gentleman for the purpose of seeing the world, its people and their customs, and to derive that pleasure which voyagers obtain as travellers.”[v]

The Evening News reported, “The Royal Globetrotter left England in November, called in at Malta to see his brother Louis. He then proceeded to India, and spent a month touring there, afterwards coming on to Australia.”

On reaching Australia, his first port of call was Adelaide, then Melbourne, enjoying the most memorable aspects of those cities. He arrived in Sydney on Feb 18. The Mayor of Sydney, Samuel Lees, described Franzjos as “a fine stalwart man with black hair, an energetic manner, and a kindly frank face”[vi]. Of course, Franzjos’ sightseeing itinerary included NSW’s most spectacular natural wonder - Jenolan Caves

Jenolan Adventures

On Friday, Feb 23, 1895, Franzjos and friends arrived at Jenolan via Oberon, since the Jenolan Caves Road would not be completed for another year or two.

They stayed for two nights in the 2-storey weatherboard accommodation built by Jeremiah (Jerry) Wilson, Keeper of the Caves.  Jerry and his brother Fred treated Franzjos and his companions to an unforgettable time. They experienced the Lucas cave, the Right Imperial Cave (now simply called the Imperial), the Left Imperial Cave (now the Chifley) and the Slattery Cave, a little known grotto which now forms part of the Jubilee Cave. In fact, a section of the Jubilee Cave was then named after Franzjos, the Prince's Chamber. Many more caves have been discovered at Jenolan, but back then, the Wilson brothers showed the Prince and his mates through all the caves that had been found up to that time.

“The Prince showed the greatest enthusiasm and expressed pleasure in everything he saw”[vii] Franzjos had visited the Adelsberg Caves near Trieste in Austria and said that the Jenolan Caves were “far more beautiful, grander and more wonderful than the latter, and that many of the formations here were entirely different to those he had seen elsewhere. He evinced the keenest interest in the geological peculiarities.[viii]

He praised Jerry, “for his perseverance in discovering and exploring such underground wonders, and for his very kind attention and trouble in assisting to make the visit so enjoyable.”[ix]

Before leaving Jenolan, Franzjos “wrote some very flattering remarks as to the accommodation [x]” in the visitors book. 

It was a huge triumph for Jenolan Caves and Jeremiah Wilson.

On Sunday, Feb 25, Franzjos and his friends left Jenolan and headed for Sydney.There, he listened to the debate in the NSW Parliament, was introduced to Sir Henry Parkes, in whose career he had taken much interest and dined with the Lieutenant-Governor Honourable Sir Frederick Darley.[xi] Franzjos said that “the revelations of Sydney surprised him, and New South Wales seemed the greatest colony of the empire.[xii]

Then his travels took him to Tasmania, New Zealand, Hawaii and mainland America.[xiii]

Return to Europe

It was not easy to find information about the subsequent life of His Serene Highness Prince Franz Joseph of Battenberg. Queen Victoria gave him a couple of knighthoods, because she was so fond of him - seriously.  Tzar Nicholas II of Russia was very fond of him too, so much so that when Franzjos married Princess Anna of Montenegro, Nicholas gave Anna a dowry of 1 million rubies! Franzjos and Anna lived in Germany until WWI when they went into exile in Switzerland.[xiv]

Franzjos’ brother had abdicated the throne of Bulgaria back in 1886. But, sadly, it is said that Franzjos spent the rest of his life unsuccessfully trying to win it back, as their finances dwindled, “going to clandestine meetings, telling lies and living in limbo, uncertain of the difference between truth and invention”[xv]. 

After 1917, the Battenberg family were forced to change their name to something less German-sounding - one that is more familiar to us - Mountbatten. But Anna and Franzjos refused. 

Prelude to a bright future

Back in 1895, only a few days after Franzjos left Australia, 3 of Jenolan’s accommodation buildings burnt to the ground! But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because the NSW Government then decided to spend a huge amount to build a grand hotel at the caves. Building of the first wing started in 1896 and the fourth wing (with grand dining room) was completed in 1926. Interest and high praise from VIPs such as Prince Franz Joseph of Battenberg, made the NSW government realise that Jenolan had potential to be a popular retreat for the well-to-do of Sydney, and even the world. 

As our fans know, the NSW Government recently gave us a massive grant to update Cave House.  Plans are still being made, and we hope that work can start before long. But until then, if you love authentic historic features and ambience as much as we do, now is the time to stay overnight at Jenolan Caves House hotel.

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