European History of the Caves
The European history of the caves has been poorly documented. The date that they were found is frequnetly in dispute and is considered sometime between 1838 and 1841. The popular account of their discovery centres around a bushranger by the name of McKeown being tracked by the Whalan brothers. An account of this version is given below by way of a reprint from the Lithgow Mercury.
Current thinking suggests a slightly different version. It is now believed that a convict who had been working on a farm some distance away had made his escape and by following the waterways from the Cox River stumbled upon the caves. He opted to make a small farm for himself here and was only found when some property owners, probably the Whalans, happened to find him whilst out exploring the land around Oberon. They decided to keep him secret so that he could supply them with food whenever they visited. Now they were guilty of harbouring an escaped criminal and so had to keep the matter secret. No doubt the folklore of McKeown was developed as a coverup. Some people suggest that the convict went on to marry one of the Whalan girls, which was not popular with the family and hence, again, the label of bushranger was applied, although with some discretion so as not to destroy the family name.
Of the caves shown to the public, the Lucas was the first found, in 1860. Later in 1866 the Caves Reserve was created to protect the caves. Jeremiah Wilson was made the first keeper of the caves in 1867 and in 1872 it was made a punishable offence to break the stalactites. In 1880 the Chifley Cave was first illuminated by electric light, giving Jenolan a world's first. until that time no other caves are known to have been electrically lit. The road from Sydney was completed in 1896. The last caves to be found which are shown to the public were the Orient and Baal, found in 1904 by J.C. Wiburd.
Lithgow Mercury April 7th 1899
The Discovery of Jenolan Caves
To the Editor 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 3/4 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 afterwards 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 Devils 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