Jenolan Caves

Lord and Lady Tennyson Visit - 1900

July 12, 2021

portraits of Lord and Lady Tennyson

On July 25, 1900, the Governor of South Australia, 2nd Baron Tennyson, visited Jenolan Caves, with his wife Audrey, Lady Tennyson.  It was a low-key visit, as Audrey was still in mourning for her brother who had been killed in the Boer War [i]. 

Photo of how Caves House hotel looked in 1900 when Lord and Lady Tennyson visited.article about Lord and Lady Tennyson's visit to the Blue Mountains and JenolanAccompanied only by their sons’ French governess, Mademoiselle José Dussau [ii] and their sons’ tutor,  Captain Maurice, Lord  and Lady Tennyson arrived at Mt Victoria on the Governor’s special train carriage. After a break at the Grand Hotel, they “proceeded by Cooper’s line of coaches, in a special coach, where they arrived at 7:30pm.”

They immediately sat down to dinner at Caves House. After dinner, until 10pm, they were taken on a tour of the Imperial Cave. Their tour guide was the manager, Mr Fred Wilson.  The following morning, Mr Wilson also took them through the Lucas Cave. 

Unfortunately, as their time was limited, the party left Jenolan at 11am, by coach to Katoomba. At Katoomba, they “were driven around the Circular Drive – embracing Narrow Neck, Katoomba Falls, Echo Point and Leura Falls. At Katoomba, they stayed at the Carrington Hotel.[iv] They expressed themselves as delighted at all they saw at the Caves and on the Mountains.”[iii]

It was a whirlwind visit, but it was such VIP visits that helped Jenolan become so popular, way back then.

Who was Lord Tennyson?

Portrait of Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron TennysonLord Hallam Tennyson, was the son of the British Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson (1st Baron Tennyson).  Although he trained as a barrister, he never practiced as one, and he never went into politics.  Devoted to his parents, Hallam spent his early life assisting his father, as his personal secretary. His literary aspirations were modest.  He produced some poetry, published a children’s book and a 2-volume memoir of his father, Alfred Lord Tennyson. Hallam’s contemporaries regarded him as highly conventional, careful, systematic, and devoted beyond the call of duty. After his father’s death, Hallam worked as a magistrate and was on the councils of Marlborough College and the Gordon Boy’s Home.[v]

Why was Hallam was offered the post of Governor of South Australia? The answer is that in 1883, Hallam became a councillor of the Imperial Federation League, a lobby group set up to promote imperialist ideas.  It was his ardent imperialism, and the Tennyson name, that led the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, to offer Hallam the position of Governor of South Australia in 1899.[vi]

As Governor of South Australia, he was popular. His lack of experience was offset by his lack of ostentation. He took his new role seriously and was seen as hardworking, competent, dignified and frugal. In 1902, he was appointed Governor-General of Australia. In 1904, Hallam and his family returned to England. In England, he was made a Privy Councillor in 1905. Ever devoted to the memory of his father, Hallam went on to edit and publish 9 volumes of his father’s poetry and another memoir of his father.

Lady Tennyson

Portrait of Audrey Lady TennysonThe best part of researching Lord Hallam Tennyson was discovering a book of 262 letters written by his wife, Audrey, to her mother. It is worth reading. Audrey described everywhere they went, in great detail – including their trip to Jenolan Caves.  Of the start of the journey, she described the coach trip through the mountains, how cold it was, stopping for tea, the condition of the road, what the road cost and how sorry she felt for the road workers.  Then she wrote,

“We mounted to 4,500 feet and found lots of snow lying there. We drove full tilt through the most awful road of deep mud with 4 horses and round and round sharp corners, and arrived at 7:30 at the Jenolan Caves, ordered dinner, found roaring wood fires in the hotel and tiny bare-floored bedrooms, and at 8:30 started off to see the Imperial Caves which are all lit with electric light – most wonderful and beautiful with enormous stalactites and stalagmites and all sorts of fantastic shapes, one exactly like a huge elephant’s head with great flapping ears, little eyes, long trunk and tusks, all formed by the dripping of water – another like a dead goose hanging with all the white down breast and head and orange beak formed by some iron in the water. Then what they call the blankets and curtains are most marvellous with wonderful patterns from the iron, and you see the fluff and threads of a blanket with the light behind.  Then there is a regular camp with marvellous and realistic entrenchments and tiny little stalactites in the entrenchments, which look like regiments of soldiers exactly. A thin stalactite at the first dripping takes 25 years to form half an inch, so it tells one what the age of the world must be, for some of these columns are several feet round and 20 feet high.

“It took us till 10 to see this one and it is a very tiring work for one has to stoop so frightfully, and also climb.  There is a huge rushing stream many feet below where one goes at the bottom of the cave which turns the electric light and never runs dry, and then tears out of the mouth of the cave called the Devil’s Coach House, out into the hills and valleys. 

"We were dead tired and glad to get to bed – the hotel very prettily situated in a deep gully and high hills all round with rushing stream past the door. One drives through the most glorious cave to get to it, over 100 ft high and 150 in length. The next morning we breakfasted early and started off with the guide to see another cave, the Lucas, of a different kind, much more huge and magnificent, with vast high glorious crypts and fewer stalactites and then we went back to the hotel, paid the bill, only £1-15 for 4 people, breakfast and dinner, fires, sitting room, 4 bedrooms, etc.”

One of many lovely formation in the Imperial Cave at Jenolan

Cave House hotel todayThen, the same letter went on to describe the coach ride back to Katoomba, the “gorgeous real sapphire blue” of the mountains and the costs of the whole trip. She felt guilty about the expense – not so much for the transport and food, hotel, but that “…the Governor has to tip so frightfully, always 10/- and generally £1 for any little service….”

Audrey, Lady Tennyson founded South Australia’s first maternity hospital.[vii] She was a supporter of Agnes Milne, the social reformer who focused on providing better pay and working conditions for women.

Explore Jenolan Like a Lord

Currently, at Jenolan, you can explore the beauties of the Imperial Cave on a fascinating guided tour. Among its many formations you can still see the calcite crystal elephant that Lady Tennyson described to her mother.  You can enjoy delicious dinner and breakfast in Chisolm’s Restaurant, upstairs in Caves House, and stay at least one night – for a great getaway. Relax at the Caves Café. Try Chisolm’s Weekend Lunch or even decadent High Tea.

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