Jenolan Caves

Lord Hampden's Verdict - Weird and Wonderful

December 3, 2020

Lord and Lady Hampden, family and staff

One hundred and twenty-four years ago, on December 2, 1896, Lord and Lady Hampden, Aide De Camp Captain Sloane Stanley and others set out on an official visit, to marvel at the subterranean wonderland of Jenolan Caves

In 1896, the NSW Government had made a substantial financial commitment in distant and isolated Jenolan Caves, near Oberon. The previous year, part of Jenolan’s basic accommodation had burnt down, and the government was building a completely new hotel, at a cost of £6,000.  The Government had also completed a new limestone bridge at Jenolan, to connect Jenolan with Mount Victoria.  And throughout 1896, there had been newspaper reports of more cave discoveries at Jenolan, which really aroused the curiosity of the Governor.[i]  Lord Hampton was keen on caves, having previously visited the National Cave of Virginia. So off they went.

But crossing the Blue Mountains was nowhere near as easy as it is today.  They departed Sydney by train and stayed the night at the Imperial Hotel in Mount Victoria.  The next day, they set out in a 4-horse coach. They made good progress, until at the bottom of the notorious Victoria Pass, their coach became bogged. Then, as they tried to follow the deep ruts made in a temporary road, one of the horses plunged and broke the cross bar.[ii]  A replacement had to be made in Mount Victoria.

Finally setting off again, the group paused at the Imperial Half Way House at Hampton. 

One of Jenolan's First VIP Visits

The viceregal party arrived at Jenolan Caves at 3 pm.

Previously, visitors had to disembark from their coaches before quite reaching Jenolan, carry their luggage and clamber over solid rock blocking the Grand Arch. Now a 'handsome limestone bridge' replaced the wooden one, and they could drive right up to Caves House.[iii]

Of Lord Hampden’s arrival, the National Advocate wrote, “The place was nicely decorated in their honor, and there were several arches erected, which were decorated with flags and flowers besides suitable mottoes. There was a profusion of flowers…”[iv]

The manager, Fred Wilson, guided them through the Lucas, Imperial and Devils Coach House Caves.[v]  Lord Hampden was particularly taken with the Lucas, whilst "his admiration for the Imperial being mitigated by the amount of stooping necessary in their inspection"

The water in the underground river was so pure and clear that Captain Sloan Stanley accidentally marched straight into it, to the great amusement of the viceregal party.[vi]

They stayed the night in a large 2-storey wooden accommodation building, and Lord Hampden spent his down-time engrossed in Mr Samuel Cook’s book, ‘The Jenolan Caves’. The party left at 2pm the next day. 

But before leaving, Lord Hampden said “I have never before seen anything of this kind so wonderful. I have been greatly interested.  I think that anybody who visits Australia should not leave without visiting the Jenolan Caves, they are weird and wonderful, and we have been well entertained at the Caves House.[vii]”

The Progressive Aristocrat

So who was Lord Hampden anyway?  Henry Robert Brand was born in England in 1841. At 23, he married Susan Henrietta Cavendish. They had 9 children.

Although Henry was the son (and son-in-law) of lords, he sat in the House of Commons as Liberal member for Hertfordshire 1868-1873 and for Stroud 1880-1886.

He was “a strong woman suffragist and a determined opponent of the law of primogeniture.”[viii]

Opposed to Irish Home Rule, in 1886, he joined the conservative Liberal Unionist party, and ran unsuccessfully for the seat of Cardiff.[ix]

In 1892, on the death of his father, he became the Second Viscount Hampden of Glynde and twenty-fourth Baron Dacre

In 1895 he refused a knighthood, but took up the role as Governor of NSW.[x] As NSW Governor, he and Lady Hampden were well-liked. He was said to have “thrown himself into public and semi-public life without restriction”, so that he “experienced closer actual association with all sections of the community than has fallen to the lot of most Governors in this colony.”[xi]

With his unconservative political views, he was said to be “an interested observer of the Australian Labour Party.”[xii]

Keen on Federation

Lord Hampden was the last NSW Governor before Federation, and Federation was something of which he was passionately in favour. About Federation, he said, “The consummation of that union has been in my mind a treasured hope since my arrival, as I believe that the federation of the colonies will serve the best and highest interests of all Australia. I have done my utmost to serve that cause so far as I have been able to do so, having due regard to the constitutional limits places upon my words and action. And it will be a lasting satisfaction to me to know that my efforts have been recognised by your honourable corporation.”[xiii]

Because of his eldest son’s contemplated marriage, Lord Hampden cut short his governorship, and resigned on March 1, 1899. Worse, just before leaving Sydney to begin their return to England, they received the dreadful news that their youngest son, Geoffrey had died of pneumonia [xiv] back in England, at age 13.[xv]

After returning to England, he was finally knighted, and retired into private life, possibly due to poor health.[xvi]

During their Jenolan visit, Lord and Lady Hampden had expressed the wish to return with their family. If they’d had the opportunity, they would have been able to experience the newly built Jenolan Caves House hotel, which later became one of the most fashionable places in New South Wales for society couples to holiday.  

These days, Caves House hotel is an atmospheric place to stay, and is one of several accommodation options at Jenolan. Jenolan’s bright Caves Café occupies the spot where Lord and Lady Hampden stayed, and the lovely stone bridge that was finished in time for their visit is often used as a romantic setting for wedding photos. 


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