Jenolan Caves

Not Fit to Live on Land

January 12, 2021

Sailing was his lifelong passion.  In fact, he was the first to circumnavigate the world in a private yacht. To whom do we refer?  Adventurer and philanthropist, Lord Thomas Brassey, First Earl Brassey and Governor of Victoria from 1895 to 1900.  Lord Brassey travelled all around Australia, visiting Jenolan Caves in January 1898. 

Lord Brassey visited Jenolan Caves in January 1898.The party included Sybil, his second wife, Marie, a daughter of his first marriage, her husband Freeman Freeman-Thomas, and Lord Richard Neville[i].

They arrived in Sydney, aboard their yacht, the Sunbeam, got a train to Katoomba, and travelled to Mount Victoria and on to Jenolan, on horseback[ii]. At Jenolan, they toured the “principal caves”[iii] and stayed overnight at Wallace’s Braeside Guesthouse[iv], (which unfortunately no longer exists).

The Evening News on 11 January reported that “They expressed themselves as being highly delighted by the scenery and the caves.”

Sunday - The Day of Rest

The visit wasn’t a grand occasion, possibly because their caves tours were on a Sunday, which stirred up a little controversy[v]. A letter to the editor of the Daily Telegraph said, “This means that the engineer who provides the electric light, and the guides, would be compelled to give up their rest-day, not for those who are toiling all the week and cannot spare a week day, but for a few wealthy members of the nobility.” 

The Sunday Timescommented, “Through visiting the Jenolan Caves on Sabbath, Lord and Lady Brassey have incurred the wrath of the unco’ guide… Lord Brassey, however, is not the man to worry about that sort of thing.”[vi]

Passion for the Sea

Thomas Brassey was the eldest son of a British railway magnate, also named Thomas Brassey. Responsible for building most of the world’s railways in the 19th century, the elder Thomas Brassey had become staggeringly rich, and his son was heir to a vast fortune. Young Thomas went into politics, becoming Member for Devonport in 1865 then Member for Hastings from 1868 to 1884.[vii]

But his real passion was sailing. He purchased his first yacht when he was only 23.  Thomas inherited his fortune in 1870, when his father died. He commissioned a luxury yacht, the Sunbeam, which was launched in 1874. Designed for long distance sea journeys, the Sunbeam was 159 foot long, with a sail area of 9000 square yards, and also an auxiliary steam engine. Thomas and his first wife, Annie, in 1876 and 1877, sailed around the world in the Sunbeam, and the voyage was considered the first world circumnavigation in a private yacht. Sadly after sailing from Darwin in 1887, Annie died of malaria aboard the Sunbeam and was buried at sea.

Annie had been a prolific writer, who documented all their travels in a series of books. Thomas also wrote. His books included, The British Navy, published in 1880. He started the periodical, The Naval Annual, which he continued to edit for 6 years.  

Governor of Victoria

Thomas held various prestigious offices, was knighted in 1881 and raised to the peerage in 1886, becoming Baron Brassey. Finally in 1895, he became governor of Victoria. His term as Governor was uneventful. In fact, in 1906 the Macleay Argus wrote, “Having written many volumes on the Navy, to say nothing of the famous Naval Annual associated with his name, it might have been thought that he would have had something to say in Parliament. But he sat for three years without saying a word.”[viii]

Well, a wise man (Dr Samuel Johnson) once said, “When a man comes to like a sea life, he is not fit to live on land.” Thomas’s heart was simply not in his job. However, while Governor he was notorious for one thing – his support for Federation was so unwavering that it “caused embarrassment to Imperial officials involved in negotiating the final form of constitution”[ix].

Also, he was popular with the people, “for the fact that he was caught breaking the laws which he had been sent out to administer; he was let off with a caution for cycling on a Melbourne footpath, and made amends by preaching a sermon from the pulpit at Mooroopna.”[x]

The adventurous Lord Brassey returned to England in 1900, but never stopped sailing. During the first world war, at age 79, he converted the Sunbeam to a hospital ship and sailed it to the Aegean Sea, because he wanted to support the troops during the Gallipoli Campaign. It was of limited value there, so he loaned it to the Indian government for the remainder of the war.

Jenolan Caves have been experienced by people from all walks of life, and from every corner of the world. And of all Jenolan’s VIP visitors, Victorian Governor, Lord Brassey, was one of the least conventional.

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4655 Jenolan Caves Road, Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains NSW. Ph: 1300 76 33 11 or +61 2 6359 3911
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