THE FISH RIVER STALACTITE CAVES.
[FROM A CORRESPONDENT.]
The chain of rugged mountains which divides the metropolitan county from the more fertile districts westward, presents few objects of terest to the traveller to compensate for the tedious and uncomfortable journey across them. Almost the only relief from the mono- tony of a wretched road and stunted gum trees is in the romantic scenery which now and then opens out, stretching away as far as the eye can reach over billowy mountain ranges interspersed with huge crags and precipitous ravines, and occasionally with green cultivated patchs One of the few attractions which the Blue Mountains possess -interesting alike to the scientific, and to sight-seekers generally-con- sists in the curious subterranean excavations known as the Fish River Stalactite Caves. The beauty as well as the rareness of these forma- tions entitle them to a description.
The caves in question perforate one of the
limestone ridges comprised in the Blue Mou- tains, and are about forty-five miles from Bathurst in a south-easterly direction. A tri- butary of the Cox River, which falls into the Nepean, running through one of the tunnels should have given the name to the locality rather than the Fish River which is at a little distance. The caves were discovered about
twenty years since by a party who -were' quest of some bushrangers that had been making extensive depredations. The party having - communicated their discovery. Mr. C. Whaland, now tho proprietor of a far and steam flour mill about fifteen miles from the spot, started from their direction, an
having discovered the place proceeded to e plore the caves ; Mr. Whaland has frequent volunteered his services to conduct visitors from Bathurst to the caves, a service as indispo sable (owing to the intricacy of the road) as has been willingly undertaken. The sólitary position of the caves and the consequent cnryimcul which any but an experienced bushman would have in finding thom, may be inferred from tl fact, that there is not a single habitation within
radius of at least ten miles.
The road from Bathurst passes over one
the wildest portions of tho country which opens upon the traveller ascending Mount Lambie, consisting alternately of trackless scrub and steep ranges. The last descei bofore reaching the caves is extremely pre- cipitous, requiring travellers to be cautious lest they or their horses, or both, should fall ; it is on reaching the foot of this mountain that th entrance to the caves appears in sight.
The principal tunnel opens upon a triangu- lar space entirely enclosed between very steep mountains. The mouth of tho tunnel, which is about 150 feet in height, presents an almost perfect circular arch, from which circumstance it probably received the name of " The Devil' Coach-house." On entering the tunnel it at liri enlarges in size, afterwards it diminishes, and again greatly increases, until, after a length of six or seven hundred feet, it opens out. on the other side of the mountain. Four tunnels have been disco- vered, the others being considerably smaller in size. Tho sides of the tunnel are very un even and irregular, in some places presontin¡ a solid wall, in others opening out spacious galleries and winding passages, a few of whicl penetrates far into the mountain. It is in these passages, or caverns, that the stalactite forma- lions are found. Like tho tunnels, the caverns alternately widen and become narrow, at one time barely affording room to pass through, a another leading to spacious chambers when other passages branch off. The passage: are extremely circuitous, and strike the visitor as singularly adapted fof affording a thorough inspection of the caves, frequently conducting him to some elevation to which there is no access from the part of the tunnel it overlooks. Two of the more attractive caves are entered from near the summit of the mountain into which they pene trato by gradual circuitous descent. The number of distinct caverns discovered is seven or eight and the greatest length of any single cave maj be estimated at from three to four hundred feet. It is probable that the whole of the mountain is perforated by similar caves, the greater number having no discoverable
It is now time to notice the stalactites whicl adorn the caverns, and constitute their chic: attraction. These protuberances, which either suspend from the roofs or cover tho sides of thc caves, are formed by water trickling through beds of limestone, - and bringing with it the calcareous particles with which it becomes
charged ; as the water evaporates the partidos adhere and densify, each succeeding drop add- ing to the mass. To use chemical terms, the carbonate of lime is, during the percolation, held in solution by carbonic acid ; on exposure to the air the latter is separated, and the former deposits in the form of stalactites. Whore the percolation is limited and regular the stalac-
tite presents a simple slender stem, having a tube through which the water drops; but where it is more abundant the deposits assume all kinds of fantastic and grotesque shapes, some ending in a narrow point, others in a knob resembling a mushroom. The effect of groups of long delicate pendent stems with their transparent liquid points, is very striking, par- ticularly by the artificial light by which only the caves can be explored. In many cases tho dropping proceeds more rapidly than the evaporation, the consequence of which is, the
exuborant drops release themselves from the stalactite, and falling on the floor the carbonnto of lime deposits in similar shapes, which aro called stalagmites; a succession of these
droppings gradually causes the stalactite and its stalagmite to lengthen and approach each other until they unite in a solid column. Throughout the caves this process is soon in ovory stago of development, beginning with the small icicle like protuberance and finishing with the massive pillars -which ultimately fill up the cavern. In some of the atalactito caves in Europe the formation has prococdod so rapidly that it has entirely filled up the entrances, and this may ultimately be the fate of tho cavos wo are now describing. The stalactites nnd stalagmites being amalgamated the continual deposits increase their bulk, until it requires little stretch of imagination to picture a series of fluted Corinthian columns, the excrescences above and bolow corresponding with the capitals and the bases. Somo of the pendent stalactites resomblu elaborately carved chan- deliers, others rich folds of drapery ; but the peculiar formation suggests to the majority of visitors images of cathedral ornaments, some shapes resembling pulpits and reading-desks, with niches for stalls ; here a circle of slender
columns enclose a shrine, there they represent the pipes of an organ ; further on a row of rough stalagmites rise like minarets or turrets, while the passages themselves feel lileo mouldy corridors. These resemblances, of course, vary with the fancy of the observer, but the figures are beautiful throughout, and it is doubtful whether their beauty is to be recommended by comparing them with even the finest or most elaborate workmanship, the designs of which they may possibly have originated. So far from their beauty arising from fancied similarity to these embel- lishments, it consists rather, as that of veins in marble or the golden streaks of a sun set, in their fantastic freedom and irregularity, and in their unlikeness to any other combina- tion that the mind can picture.
The colours as well as the shapes of these formations attract great admiration. They are mostly white; some are slightly tinged with colouring matter showing the presence of iron ; others, where the percolation has been purer, are perfectly white, and reflect the light upon innumerable crystals. Some of the larger and more compact masses have the appearance of wax, and bear a beautiful polish; this descrip- tion, which is known as alabaster, has been extensively used for statuary.
It is to be regretted that the organ of acquisitiveness should be so mischievously developed by visitors to these caves. It would seem that scarcely any one explores them without breaking off and carrying home some of the most beautiful stalactites he Can lind, as a trophy of his visit, the spoils supplying the place of shells or vases as mantelpiece ornaments in the Bathurst drawing-rooms. The inclination is harmless when prudently restrained, but the practice is becoming very destructive to the appearance of the caves ; indeed, they are said by those who occasionally visit them to be gra- dually impoverishing. This habit is considered characteristic of Englishmen wherever they travel, as is also the craving forrecording their names conspicuously at such places, a craving which must have been thoroughly surfeited with some visitors at tho Fish Uiver Caves. No obscure Hodge or Giles can inspect theso curiosities without determining to let future visitors know that such a person has been there. The same vanity probably that seeks its gratification in appropriating tho more beautiful stalactites also prompts the perpetua- tion of an unimportant name, and it may appear to some a very proper arrangement that near the shattered fragments the names of the depredators should be igaominiously pre-
All who have explored the Fish Uiver Caves agree that they well recompense for the long and rough journey encountered in, reaching them. The principal visitors have been from Bathurst, but occassionally picnic parties have been formed at Bowenfels and elsewhere on the Bathurst Hoad; the excursion generally lasting three or four days. The great distance of the caves, and the formidable road, have, however, prevented the visitors being very numerous. Stalactite caves have been dis- covered near the Abercrombie River, also at Boree, in the Wellington District, and in one
or two other places ; but those above described are generally considered the most