Jenolan Caves

His Lordship's 1896 Jenolan Adventure

November 26, 2018

Jenolan Caves Bridge under construction

Jenolan Caves, near Oberon, NSW, first became a magnet for curious visitors in the early 1800s.  These days, many thousands of visitors, from all over the world, can easily drive to the spectacular Jenolan Caves, through the Blue Mountains, along scenic, winding country roads.  But in the old days, crossing the Blue Mountains was long and difficult, as this story illustrates.

Henry_Brand_2nd_Viscount_Hampden_drawn by Percy F Spence_engraved by Lowy Vienna_available from Wikipedia CommonsSir Hercules Robinson was the first NSW Governor to visit Jenolan Caves, in 1879, setting a precedent for his successors.  So, on December 2, 1896 the 19th NSW Governor, Henry Brand, 2nd Viscount Hampden, his wife, Lady Hampden, Aide De Camp Captain Sloane Stanley and others set out to marvel at the subterranean wonderland of Jenolan Caves.

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 in Berghofer's (1) Paddock. Then, as they tried to follow the deep ruts made in a temporary road, one of the horses plunged and broke the cross bar.  A replacement had to be made in the township of Mount Victoria.

Finally setting off again, the group paused at the Imperial Half Way House at Hampton.  The Vice Regal party arrived at Jenolan Caves at 3 pm, where a pleasant vista lay before them.

Prior to this time, visitors had to disembark from their coaches at the stables - the building now used as an electricians store overlooking the Blue Lake - carry their luggage over a rickety wooden bridge adjacent to the Devils' Coach House cave entrance and clamber over solid rock blocking the Grand Arch. Now a 'handsome limestone bridge' (2) replaced the wooden one, and they could drive right up to Caves House, the rock having being drilled away. The drilling holes can still be seen today by walking through the Grand Arch.

Welcoming decorative arches, a feature of Victorian public life, had been erected from the entrance of the Grand Arch to Caves House, where they stayed the night in a large 2-storey wooden building, where the new Caves Cafe now stands.

Two years before, the original Caves House, dating from 1880, had burned down, and the foundations of a new Caves House, designed by Walter Liberty Vernon, the Government Architect, were being laid at this time, to be finished in 1898.

The were guided by 'Mr. Wilson', who most likely was Fred Wilson, his brother Jeremiah being no longer caretaker and chief guide, after the burning down of his Caves House. They visited, amongst others, the Lucas and Imperial Caves. Viscount Hampden was particularly taken with the Lucas, whilst "his admiration for the Imperial being mitigated by the amount of stooping necessary in their inspection".  In the Caves visitors book he praised the locality and wrote that no visitor to Australia should "miss seeing the wonders".

He and his wife thought they might return for a longer stay, but the Viscount left the state before his term as Governor had concluded. So they did not have the opportunity to stay overnight in the new Jenolan Caves House, which later became one of the most fashionable places in New South Wales for society couples to holiday.

The old accommodation building where they stayed now houses Jenolan’s bright, new Caves Café, which is open daily for light lunch, drinks and snacks.  These days, Caves House is an atmospheric place to stay, and is one of several accommodation options at Jenolan.  The lovely stone bridge that was finished in time for Viscount Hampden’s visit is often used as a romantic setting for wedding photos.  Upstairs in Caves House, elegant Chisolm’s Restaurant is open for dinner and breakfast.  Australia’s most spectacular caves are open every day of the year, offering a choice of guided show cave tours, plus adventure caving, bushwalks and wildlife. 

  1. John W. Berghofer was a prominent citizen of Mount Victoria, who played a leading role on the development of the town. The alternative road that runs parallel to the Mount Victoria pass bears his name. During the First World War, a plaque acknowledging Bergoffer as the originator of the road was defaced due to anti German sentiment. He died in May 1927 and is buried in Mount Victoria cemetery
  2. The Bridge was designed by Ernest Macartney de Burgh supervising bridge engineer for New South Wales. The De Burgh Bridge at Lane Cove is named for him. Vernon was very impressed by the material used to build the Jenolan bridge, locally quarried limestone, and this was one factor in using the same material for the new Caves House.

  This bridge is now a great spot for romantic wedding photos.

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