Mid North Coast Pioneers - Newcastle to Lismore and beyond


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Regarded as Australia's most outstanding cave system, with pure underground rivers and amazing limestone crystal formations, Jenolan Caves is among the finest and oldest cave systems in the world. The caves are located about 100 kms due west from Sydney as the crow flies or about 190 kms by road.

Caves House at Jenolan Caves is an icon of Blue Mountains accommodation. In 1897, NSW Government Architect, Walter Liberty Vernon, designed and built it, as a wilderness retreat. He used the alpine, picturesque 'Federation, Arts and Crafts' style. Caves House is on the NSW State Heritage Register.


In 2019, the Jenolan Caves is managed by the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust established by the NSW State Government.


The Trust's web site, states:

""European involvement in the area began in 1838, with the first recorded discovery by a local pastoralist, James Whalan. However, according to legend, Whalan was not the first European to set eyes on the caves. That honour goes to James McKeown, an ex-convict and possibly an outlaw, reputed to have been using the caves as a hideout.

"Over the succeeding years, James Whalan and his brother Charles discovered several openings.""

This brings us to the Whalan family history and their involvement with the discovery of Jenolan Caves.

Letter to Editor of the Lithgow Mercury contained in the 7 April 1899 edition, page 5 gives some background colour to this story.

Sir,—In your issue of the 31st March, '99, I see a scrap from Mr. A. S. Whalan re the discovery of Jenolan Caves. James Whalan is the real discoverer of Jenolan Caves. It was after he captured the bushranger McEwen, who robbed his team of the bullock bows and chains at a place known as Coogie Flat, near Gingkin. Mr. James Whalan, with the assistance of a police officer and Jerh Beale, tracked McEwen to the top of the range above his camp, when they saw the smoke of his fire. They camped for the night ; the descent was made in the morning, when they captured McEwen, whom they secured and handed over to the authorities. James Whalan returned to his camp to try and find some of his property, which included bullock bows and chains, horses, and a steel mill which were used at that time to grind wheat for the Government men told off to James Whalan to serve their time. When he got to the hut where they had taken him he followed the valley down to within about ¾ of a mile of the caves. He left his horse and walked down, it being impossible to get his horse with him. He then went through the archways ; finding he could not get down the river further he went about the daylight caves and returned to his horse, and could not get any of his property. When it was reported McEwen was taken, a stockman at Lowther got a blackfellow to take him to McEwen's camp, and he took the steel mill away between the time Whalan had taken McEwen and when he returned to look for his stolen property. Whalan heard of the mill being taken and went and identified it by a No. 8 on one of the bolts. When McEwen robbed Whalan he always packed what he took on Whalan's horses. When he got near his camp he killed the horses so that they would not track the horses back and find him. I was told this by Whalan's stockman, James Campbell, after-wards in 1855 ; so that James Whalan was the real discoverer of Jenolan Caves, in 1841, and the first man to enter them. When he returned he told people that he had been at the end of the world in the Devil's Coach-house, so that is how it got its name. Jerh Beale, who tracked McEwen, told me all they had done from starting to track. They did not see the caves until after the capture of McEwen. Mr. J. Whalan searched several times for his bullock harness and his horses. When I heard that McEwen took the bullock bows and chains I did not believe he carried them so far, but when exploring about fourteen years ago I found the bullock bows, six bows, two pairs of iron hinges, and two harrow pins, planted in a cave. There are scores of people who have seen them in the cave since I discovered it. This is the true account of the discovery of Jenolan Caves, and as I have been exploring them since 1855, I have collected the particulars from eye witnesses as to James Whalan's work and the robbery at his house by McEwen. I have taken a great delight in the exploring of the caves and everything in connection with their discovery, etc., before my time here. Kindly publish the above in the interest of the readers of your valuable paper, of which I am a constant reader. - Yours, etc.

J. Wilson.

Jenolan Caves, April 4.

The we have the follow newspaper article:

Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 - 1950), Wednesday 23 November 1898, page 4

The Late Charles Whalan.

The Discoverer of Jenolan Caves.

The late Charles Whalan, the discoverer of Jenolan Caves, was brought up in Parramatta district. His father, Sergeant Whalan, was Orderly to Governor Macquarie, and young Whalan being a favorite with Mrs. Macquarie, was sent to school with her son. Sergeant Whalan, by-the-bye, was one of the witnesses of the strange scene in the ball-room at Old Government House in Parramatta Park when Governor Bligh was placed under arrest. The Sergeant, true to those in authority, defended Governor Bligh. It is interesting to Parramatta to know that the discoverer of the famous Caves was really a native of this district. The remains of the Sergeant and Charles Whalan are interred in old St. John's. Mrs. Charles Whalan is still alive and residing at Harris Park, with her daughter. A grandson of the discoverer attends Parramatta S.S. Public School.

Then we have the obituary for the wife of Charles, Elizabeth Whalan:

Lithgow Mercury (NSW : 1898 - 1954), Friday 12 May 1899, page 6


By the death of the above-named lady, which took place at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. W. Hughes, Harris Park, on the 24th April, one of the oldest residents of these Western parts was removed, and another link connecting the present with the past broken. Mrs. Whalan (whose maiden name was Harper), was born in Glamorganshire, South Wales, on the 20th October, 1810, and, consequently, was in her 89th year at the time of her death. She left England on the 9th of July, 1834, in the ship "David Scott," and arrived in Sydney on the 24th of October of the same year. In 1836 she was married, and went to reside at Prospect. About two years later Mr. and Mrs. Whalan crossed the Blue Mountains, and took up their residence in the neighborhood of what is now known as Oberon, but to which they gave the Welsh name of Glyndwr. At that time no other white woman resided in that part, and Mrs. Whalan's nearest neighbor was ten miles distant. For nearly 60 years she lived in this locality, where her hospitality and ready assistance to all who needed it endeared her to the inhabitants far and near, and few things gave her more pleasure than to have her house filled by the numerous parties which made it their stopping-place on their way to the caves. For many years after this discovery Mr. Whalan was the only guide to these now famous regions, and continued to act in that capacity until his sons were old enough to take his place ; these, in turn, performing the duty until the Government assumed control and appointed the present curator to the position of guide. There are many still living who will recall tho old days when, with blankets and billy-cans strapped to their saddles, equestrians — aye, and fair equestriennes, too — threaded their way through the almost impenetrable scrub which prevailed everywhere between the Duckmaloi River and the caves ; and such are not likely to have forgotten Mrs. Whalan's care and kindness as they made her house their home on their way to and from the caves,

—Free Press.

The Elder cave was discovered in 1848. It was the first "dark cave" explored.

In 1860, the Lucas cave, largest of the current show caves, was discovered by Nicholas Irwin and George Whiting.

It was not until 1866 that the caves were brought under direct government control.

In 1867, Jeremiah Wilson was appointed as 'Keeper' of the 'Binda', or 'Fish River' Caves. The Aboriginal word 'Jenolan' (high mountain) was not adopted until 1884.