Jenolan Caves

The Onslows and The Carringtons – Vice-Regal Social ‘Influencers’ of 1889

April 16, 2021

Earl of Onslow and Lord Carrington at Jenolan Caves

Earl of Onslow and Lord Carrington visited Jenolan Caves in 1889On Sunday 14 April 1889, the 4th Earl of Onslow (the newly appointed Governor of New Zealand) his wife Countess Onslow, and Lord Carrington, Governor of NSW, visited Jenolan Caves and stayed overnight.  They were accompanied by Lord Onslow’s Aide de Camp, Lt. Robert Stewart-Savile and Mr Riversdale Walrond who was Lord Onslow’s private secretary.[i]

They arrived at Jenolan in time for afternoon and evening cave inspections.  Esteemed photographer, Henry King, was on hand to capture the visit for posterity. We don’t know exactly which caves they inspected. But by 1889, the following caves were known at Jenolan: the Right Imperial (now known simply as the Imperial); the Left Imperial (now known as the Chifley); the Lucas; the Mafeking Branch of the Lucas; and the Jersey. So the Vice-Regal party may have toured any or all of those spectacular caves. 

Jenolan in 1889They stayed overnight in the wooden, 2-storied, wide verandaed accommodation building, which Jeremiah Wilson had erected in 1887.  Lord Carrington had already stayed there previously with his wife – a visit they enjoyed immensely.

When the Vice-Regal party left, newspapers reported that “Their Excellencies and the Countess expressed themselves delighted with the wonder and beauty of the caves, and their gratitude to the discoverers.”[ii]

Lord Carrington loved the rugged beauty of the Blue Mountains, so he and Lord Onslow returned to Mount Victoria on horseback. The Australian Town and Country Journal reported on 20 April 1889, “Lord Carrington and Lord Onslow returned on horseback through Kanimbla Valley (piloted by Mr. Whittall, of the Imperial Hotel, who undertook the whole of the travelling arrangements), and expressed themselves delighted with the magnificent scenery and the splendid state of the roads. The whole party was astonished at the ease, comfort, and speed in which these wonderful caves can be reached by the Mount Victoria route.”[iii]

Countess of Onslow

William Hillier Onslow, 4th Earl of Onslow

Who was the 4th Earl of Onslow?

What was the reason for the Jenolan visit? Lord Onslow was visiting NSW on his way to New Zealand, where he was to take up the post of Governor.

Previously, in England, Onslow had served in the House of Lords, but he sought a higher salaried appointment as a colonial governor. In November 1888 he was appointed Governor of New Zealand, but it was one of the most lowly-paid vice-regal posts. And his salary turned out to be even less than he expected, because the New Zealand government had recently cut their allowances for the Governor's establishment and travel costs. Lord Onslow was only 35, conservative, with no Vice-Regal experience.  In addition, it is said that he did not have enough flair or flamboyance to win popular support.[iv]  Shortly after he and his wife arrived in Wellington, their 12-year-old son caught Typhoid fever and nearly died.  His Aide de Camp, Captain Savile, also contracted typhoid fever. 

On the positive side, New Zealanders appreciated his frankness of character and his open-air tastes. He encouraged ‘’acclimatisation societies’’ and used his personal influence to establish island preserves for the native birds of New Zealand, particularly the huia.[v] Acclimatisation societies advocated introducing exotic animals and allowing them to ‘acclimatise’.  This ‘acclimatisation’ eventually caused immeasurable environmental damage, in Australia and in NZ, but at the time, it was considered the way of the future.

Victor Alexander Herbert Huia OnslowFamous for their Baby

The thing for which Lord and Lady Onslow were most remembered was that their youngest son was born in 1890, becoming the first Vice-Regal child to be born in New Zealand. “The people of New Zealand felt great ownership over the baby – first they petitioned Queen Victoria to ask if she would be the child’s godmother, which she agreed to do, and chose the baby’s first two names, Victor Alexander.

“Then New Zealanders took up the suggestion that the child be given a Maori name, and ideas from the public poured in. Eventually, Huia was selected as his fourth name, and he was always known by that name.  The beautiful huia was a bird of great importance to the Maori people of New Zealand, and their feathers are worn only by those of great rank.  The name was suggested by the people of the Ngati Huia hapu (sub-tribe) of the Ngati Ruakawa iwi in Otaki, who have an ancestor of that name.”[vi]

In 1891, Onslow resigned his governorship, due to urgent and pressing difficulties with his affairs in England. “It appears also that he had found the costs of maintaining the dignity of his office heavier than expected.”[vii]

In later years, Lord Onslow became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for India. After returning to England he became President of the Board of Agriculture with Cabinet rank – a role he enjoyed - and then Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords. So in the end, he did well.

Charles Robert Carrington 3rd Baron CarringtonWho was Lord Carrington?

Politically, Lord Onslow and Lord Carrington were opposites.  As NSW Governor, and throughout his career, Lord Carrington (Charles Robert Carrington 3rd Baron Carrington) was considered a progressive, even a radical.  “In 1885 Carrington was appointed governor of New South Wales where his term was to span much change and trouble. He arrived in Sydney on 11 December to find the colony in the grip of drought, economic recession and political crisis; he left in 1890 after the maritime strike had opened a phase of new industrial conflict. Throughout, Carrington proved an able and tactful governor.”[viii]

A committed Freemason, he became the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of NSW.

Baroness Cecelia Margaret CarringtonA popular pair, he and his wife were frank, genial and generous, distinguished by their genuine concern and work for those less fortunate than themselves. In Jan 1888, the Australian Town & Country wrote of Lady Carrington, “by her tact and unassuming demeanor, she has not only become popular herself, but has contributed in no small degree to the popularity of her husband.[ix]

If they were alive today, we can well imagine that they would have been patrons of many charities and organisations.  When they left Sydney to return to England, thousands lined the streets, showering flowers on their carriage.

Lord Carrington was a lifelong friend of King Edward VII and, after he returned to England in 1890, he enjoyed an illustrious career. “In 1892-95 he held the appointment of lord chamberlain. He was special envoy to France, Spain and Portugal in 1901 to make formal announcement of King Edward's coronation, and in 1910 under King George V he became Lord Great Chamberlain. He was appointed P.C.* in 1881, G.C.M.G.** in 1885 and K.G.*** in 1906, created Earl Carrington and Viscount Wendover in 1895, and in 1896 adopted by licence the name of Wynn-Carrington. He was created Marquess of Lincolnshire in 1912 and was Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire in 1915-23. He died on 13 June 1928... At his death, Carrington owned about 23,000 acres (9308 ha) of tenanted land, chiefly in Buckinghamshire.”[x]

‘Influencers’ of their Day

One hundred and thirty-two years ago, these distinguished people visited Jenolan as part of an exhausting sightseeing itinerary.  However, such VIP visits, no matter how short, were immeasurably valuable to Jenolan, as a business. We are all familiar with ‘influencers’ of social media.  Well, the Carringtons and Onslows were high-profile social ‘influencers’ of their day. They attracted attention for Jenolan, paving the way for future VIP visits, which, over time, turned Jenolan into NSW’s most fashionable holiday destination for ‘society couples’ in the 1920s and 1930s.

Feel like a VIP and indulge yourselves. Stay at least one night on your next visit to Jenolan. Enjoy a proper getaway, with warm country hospitality. See Australia’s most spectacular caves, dine in historic Chisolm’s Restaurant, relax in cosy Jeremiah’s Bar.

* Privy Council
** Knight Grand Cross Order of St Michael and St George
*** Knight of the Garter


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2 Comments (Reply)
Chris Betteridge (Reply)
What a wonderful article. The Carringtons must have really liked Jenolan after their first visit in September 1887 when they rode from Katoomba. The item about the Onslow baby being named Huia in New Zealand and the Christening photo of the boy with Huia feathers in his hair are fascinating. Keep up the great blogs - they really add to the Jenolan experience! Best wishes for a brighter year ahead Chris Betteridge
Carolyn Melbourne (Reply)
Thank you so much Chris! I really do enjoy doing the research.
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