Past Snippets


Lighting of the Caves

The Sydney Morning Herald (extracts from)


Saturday 18th September 1886:

page: 8


The Jenolan Caves


The Imperial Cave is graced with myriads of lovely objects. Darkness brooded over them for ages, as drip by drip and atom by atom they were formed into things that charm and shine in chambers whose walls are "clad in the beauty of a thousand stars." There are underground gullies terrible enough to be the home of Apollyon, with legions of goblins; and strangely radiant elfin palaces where Titania might be supposed to reign,and Robin Goodfellow carry on his frolicsome pranks. In the year 1870,  when the cave-keeper (Mr. Wilson) discovered this magnificent series of caverns, he was lowered down a distance of 90 feet through Egyptian darkness. As this mode of approach was neither cheerful nor easy, nor free from danger, he determined, if possible, to find  a less inconvenient and perilous approach to the cave. After two years of patient investigation, he accomplished his heart's desire. The orifice which has been converted into the present entrance was at first for a distance of 19 feet only 14 inches by 15 inches, but the curator worked his way through it caterpillar fashion, with a light in one hand and a hammer in the other, knocking off the rough formation, and widening the aperture from time to time until he made communication free from difficulty. Throughout this splendid cave there are many places where similar efforts, accomplished with equal success, have added largely to the safety and convenience of visitors, who reap the fruits of the heroic work performed by the brave explorer, whose best years have been spent in rendering accessible to the public the marvellous beauties of the Jenolan Caves.

From the accommodation house the way to the Imperial Cave is through the Grand Arch, on the northern side of which, at the eastern end, are two wooden staircases. The first springs from the floor of the arch amidst immense blocks of stone irregularly disposed. It has 21 steps, and a handrail on each side. This terminates at the summit of a pile of lime- stone rocks, the uppermost of which forms a platform guarded by iron stanchions and a galvanised wire rope. From this platform there is another flight of 21 steps to the portico of the cave - a plain archway, the floor of which is 50 foot higher than the floor of the cave- house. Here is a light iron gate, About 85 yards north, and thence about 80 yards east, is "The Wool Shed." The approach to it is narrow and low. In some places it has been formed by blasting, and in others by excavation through a red, sandy substance underneath the limestone. It widens as the wool shed is approached. In the floor is a hole going down to the former entrance to the cave, now closed by a stone wall. The wool shed is about 20 feet wide, 15 feet high, and 70 feet long. The formation over a large part of the walls and roof resembles the fleeces of sheep, hanging about and spreading over the shelving rocks in all directions. There is one pelt which suggests   the " Golden Fleece " torn by Jason from the tree trunk in the poison wood guarded by the huge serpent spangled with bronze and gold, and which was soothed to slumber by the magic song of Orpheus. The surroundings are as strange as those of the lonely cave where dwelt Chaeron the Centaur, who taught the leader of the Argonauts " to wrestle and to box, and to hunt, and to play upon the harp." But perhaps, after all, it may be only an indifferent limestone representation of a fellmongering establishment. The woolly skins and scraps are mirrored on the retina. The impressions produced by the sense of vision depend not upon the optic nerve, but upon the imagination. Simply as a spectacle, however, " the wool shed " is curious and entertaining. The blocks of stone near to the base are for the most part plain, and the floor is broken and rugged.

Descending 12 steps and passing through a tunnel 5 feet 6 inches by 2 feet, the visitor stands at the junction of the right and the left hand branches of the cave. Here formerly the passage was only 14 inches by 15 inches. The larger opening was made by blasting, and the material blown from the solid rock has been packed away in recesses at the side of the hall, which, at the junction of the two branches, widens out considerably, but does not present any specially interesting features. The right hand branch runs north-west and the left hand branch runs south- west. Taking the south-west branch first after travel- ling about 10 yards the visitor comes to "The Gravel Pits," which he reaches by ascending a mound with 13 steps. There are two pits of gravel. One of them is about 12 feet deep and the other about 15 feet. In the rocks overhead are bones distinctly visible, owing to the earthy matter having fallen away from them. Some of those bones are large. There are shelving rocks about 6 feet from the floor. The sides of oneof the gravel pits are oblique, but the other pit, which   is railed off, is round and perpendicular. It could hardly have been more symmetrical had it been made by a professional well-sinker. This spot, although perhaps uninteresting to a mere sightseer, cannot fail to attract the attention of geologists. Ascending two flights of stairs with 14 steps each, the excursionist attains a height of about 40 feet above the gravel pits in a north-westerly direction. Between the two flights of steps the ground is sloping, and the walls hold a considerable portion of drift, the pebbles of which are large and tinged with oxide of iron. This passage leads to the Margherita Cave, and from it a tunnel branches off towards the “Architect's Studio." This is a very pretty vestibule, about 80 yards in length, and bearing south-east. At first it rises several feet by steps, and later on there is a descent of five steps through masses of stalactites, and past a beautiful pillar. The height of the " studio " is about 18 feet.   This atelier is a marvel of beauty. There are in it two temples of the most lovely kind. Large masses of splendid stalactites hang from the roof. On the walls are columns profusely decorated with coral and tracery   and bosses, and carvings which could be imitated only by the most cunning workmanship. Near the centre is a large stalactitic mass, most graceful in shape, with numerous appendages; and underneath appear several stalagmites. Some of them have been partially destroyed, but one, which touches the enormous mass of stalactites above, remains intact. Near to this is a splendid column, richly embellished. The walls are profusely adorned with elaborate configurations, which are supposed to represent architectural "studies," from which the cave derives its name. Most of the formation is white or light grey ; but in some of the recesses there is rich colouring. Each chamber has its own distinctive attractions, and contains many objects which challenge special admiration. Massive grandeur is set off with the most delicate and fragile beauty. Stalagmites are not numerous here, but one about eight feet in height and two inches in diameter at the base, tapers off gradually towards the roof until it becomes as attenuated as the thin end of a fishing rod. The stalactitic formation hangs in ponderous grotesquely-shaped concretions, some of which extend from   the roof nearly to the floor, and many of the stalactites which decorate the stalactitic " formation " are perfect in shape and purity, The choicest portions of the Architect's Studio are fenced off with galvanised wire rope on iron standards.  

Ascending a flight of 10 steps out of the Architect's Studio the course is south-west about 30 yards to the Bone Cave. The way is difficult, a portion of the journey having to be performed on hands and knees. The cave, which runs north and south, is about 10 feet high, 150 feet long, and from 5 to 30 feet wide. In the middle of it is a passage only partially explored. The Bone Cave is guarded by iron rods and wire netting. Bunches of stalactites hang from   the roof, and the floor is strewn with bones, covered with a thick coating of lime formation. There are also bones embedded in the floor. Some of the formations on the floor are very peculiar, consisting of small curiously-shaped pieces fitted together at remarkable angles, and yet capable of being taken to pieces like triplicate kernels pressed together in one nutshell. A large proportion of the stalactites are quite transparent and decorated with small sharp points, and some formations among the coral are as lovely as fine marine mosses, which they   resemble. In the midst are numerous unexplored recesses, which, when the light penetrates, are seen to hold hundreds of fine stalactites, crystal and opaque. The objects of beauty in the Bone Cave retain their colour, because they cannot be handled by that class of visitors who fancy that they can see only with their fingers. On the walls are specimens of delicate fret- work, and on the floor as well as on the top of rocky ledges stalagmites lavishly ornamented. Although not so grand as the Architect's Studio, this is a very fine cave, and additional interest attaches to it in consequence of the fossil bones it contains. The adjacent chambers cannot be explored without destroying some of the well-known beauties of the cavern.    

From the Bone Cave to the Margherita Cave is about 180 yards, travelling north-east to the top of the first 10 steps, then east into the architect's studio, and then north about 80 yards. The Margherita Cave varies from 10 to 20 feet in height, and is from 10 to 13 feet wide. It is remarkable chiefly for the magnitude and beauty of its stalactitic formation, the best portions of which are fenced off with iron rods and wire netting. The formations are nearly all of the same general character. Although there are many changes in detail, the typical pattern is observed everywhere in the midst of infinite variety, just as in a fugue choice snatches of melody sound forth in the clear treble, skip away in the mellow tenor, roll forth in the deep bass, and then dart about Will-o'-the-wisp-like all through the composition, without ever getting out of harmony. It is a grand chamber full of stately concords and charming effects of light and shade. Hard by is another chamber with masses of beautiful stalactites, and, on a pinnacle a figure about the height of the Venus de Medici, robed in drapery of white, slightly suggestive of the binary theory of feminine attire, and with a peculiar curvature denominated " the Grecian bond." The bond is unmistakeable. There is just a suspicion of the "divided skirt," and the attitude is easy and graceful, the Grecian bond notwithstanding. The upper part of the body from the waist has no " boddice aptly laced, " but becomes gradually mixed indiscriminately with other kinds of beauty, which, although they may " harmony of shape express," do not in the sense indicated by Prior become " fine by degrees and beautifully less." Admirers of classic beauty may be inclined to regard the incomplete- ness of the figure as " fine by defect and delicately weak." There are some stalagmites on the sloping bank of formation which runs down to the wire netting and is finished off at each extremity by two massive stalactitic pillars.

The Margherita Cave received its name in honour of the wife of Lieutenant-Colonel Cracknell, Superintendent of Telegraphs, Mr. Cracknell visited the caves in 1880, and on the 22nd July illuminated this and some other portions with the electric light. The Margherita was the first of the underground chambers in which flashed its brilliant rays.

In the absence of facilities for generating electricity by means of the now well-known dynamo machine, Colonel Cracknell had recourse to primary batteries, and adopted the form known as the Maynooth or Callan cell, the elements of which were cast iron and zinc in solutions of nitric and sulphuric acid.

It was not an easy task to unload and carry up the iron cell battery and the apparatus into the cave, as each set of six cells weighed 96lb; the whole,   together with the acids and the electric light apparatus, exceeding 15 cwt. The battery, however, was soon made   ready, and to the admiration of all present Cave Margherita was illuminated by the electric light. Photographic apparatus was then placed in position, the plates were exposed, and in 15 minutes the first negatives were said to be all that could be desired.

It is satisfactory to learn that arrangements are almost complete for the permanent lighting of the caves by electricity. Lieutenant-Colonel Cracknell proposes to illuminate them in sections, containing each, say, 25 incandescent lamps, and when one section has been thoroughly explored the lamps therein will be cut off and those in the next section brought into operation, and so on until the whole of the interior has been examined. It is intended that Swan's incandescent lamp of 20-candle power shall be used.

The electricity is to be generated by a small Edison Dynamo, with which accumulators of the Elwell-Parker type will be kept charged, be that at all times there will be a supply available for lighting the lamps. It has not yet been determined whether to use steam or water power, but it is thought likely that sufficient of the latter may be secured in the vicinity of the caves to work a turbine, and thus produce the necessary mechanical energy.