THE CAVES AT MOSQUITO PLAINS,
By THE REV. JULEAN E. WOODS.
(FROM THE S. A. REGISTER,)
Of all the natural curiosities a country can possess, none tend so much to render it famous as the existence of large caves. There is such an air of mystery in the idea of long subterraneous passages, and gloomy passages shut out from light and life ; so little is known of their origin, and they are generally accom- panied with such beautiful embellishments of nature, that one is never tired of seeing them, or of hearing the description of those that cannot be visited. Thus every one has heard of the Adelburg caves, with the renowned pure white stalactite, which hanging from the roof like an immense snowy curtain, is so translucent as to show torches placed on the inner side. Every one has heard of the caves in the Peak of Derbyshire, where visitors are carried in a boat by a subterraneous river, along a passage scarcely two feet high, before they can inspect the inner portion. Every one has also heard of the Guacharo caverns in South America, tenanted by the thousands of owls, whose screeching makes the place like a den infernal. Fewer perhaps are aware of the existence of the caves in New South Wales, so graphically described by Sir T. Mitchell, and fewer still know of those in Tasmania. But wherever such natural cari- osities are known they do not fail to give great importance to the place, making, it as noted as if it possessed a burning volcano or a geyser spring. I am not aware that any attempt has been made to describe the caves we possess in South Australia. Some occa- sional tourist may have notified in a stray newspaper paragraph the fact that such things existed; but as far as giving an ac- count of their rich and varied beauties, as far as relating the extraordinary natural curi- osities that are to be met with in them, no- thing at all has been done. And yet, in point of magnitude, in point of splendor, and in a scientific view, they do not yield in impor- tance to any of the wonderful phenomena enumerated above. I propose to give an ac- count of them, which, to do them justice, must be rather lengthy, and to bring the de- scription even within reasonable limits many things that are of great scientific importance I must omit. If after this my narration is long the presumed interest of the subject must be my apology.
About 25 miles north of Penola, on the sheep run of Mr. Bobertson, in the midst of a swampy, sandy country, plentifully covered with stringy-bark, a series of caves are found whose internal beauty is at a strange variance with the wildness of the scenery around. There is nothing outwardly to show that any great subterraneous excavation might be ex- pected. The entrance to them is merely a round hole, situated on the top of a sandy hill, and were it not for the existence of cer- tain temporary huts and other unmistakeable signs of the former frequent visits of excur- sionists, one might be inclined to pass the place without noticing anything peculiar.
On going to the edge of the hole a small slop- ing path is observed, which leads under a shelf of rock, and on descending this for a depth of about 25 feet, then it is you get the first
glimpse of the magnificence enshrined below. The observer finds himself at the entrance of a large oblong square chamber, low, but per-
fectly lighted by an aperture at the opposite end, and all around, above and below, the eye is bewildered by a profusion of ornaments and decoration of Nature's own devising. It is like an immense Gothic cathedral, and the numbers of half-finished stalagmites which rise from the ground like kneeling or prostrate forms, seem worshippers in that silent and solemn place. The walls are pretty equal in outline, generally unbronen nearly to the floor, and then for the most part they shelve in as far as the eye can reach, leaving a wedge-shaped aperture nearly all round, This seems devised by Nature to add to the embellishment of the place, for in the space thus left droppings of
limestone have formed the most fanciful tracery, where pillars of every shape wind into small groups like garlands of flowers, or stand out like the portico of a Grecian temple, the supports becoming smaller and smaller, till they join, like a mass of carved marble. At the further end there is an immense stalactite, which appears like a support to the whole roof. This shuts from view the aper- ture in the roof behind it, so that the light steals in with a subdued radiance, which mellows and softens the aspect of the whole chamber. The pillar is about 10 feet in diameter, and, being formed of the dripping of limestone from above in successive layers, seems as though it owed its elaborate appear- ance to the hand of art; not the least beauti- ful part of it being that it is tinted by almost every variety of color, one side being a delicate azure, with passages of blue and green and pink intermingled, and again it is snowy white, finally merging into a golden yellow. It stands upon a raised platform of stalagmite, which extends some way down the chamber, about three feet high, at the end of which is the pillar. This platform has been a mass of small stalagmites, but are now joined together by successive droppings which have covered them over in a manner not unlike the spreading of a linen cloth. At the south end (the entrance) the cave looks as if prolonged behind each side of the narrow opening. But this is not the case. There is merely the same continuance of columns like those found all round, some what larger indeed, and joined together so closely as to make the spaces look like the pointed arches of a medieval crypt. The whole length of the cavern, as nearly as I could ascertain, is about 100 feet, the width about 45 feet, and the height 16 feet. The floor is deeper towards the middle so that the latter measurement varies. Its length would be much greater, and it would run into the next cave, but that it is blocked up by the large stalactite I
have described, above. On going round this, and observing still on every side the stalactltic pillars, the opening which lets in the light, to the north is seen. There was evidently no aperture here formerly, as a pile of broken limestone shows the roof to have, fallen in; and, by the manner in which the moss has rounded the sharp fragmentary outlines, by the way the heap is covered by creeping plants, it declare itself to have happened a long time since. This in-let is larger than the one at the entrance.
The second cave that now meets the view is different in many particulars from the for- mer. It is smaller, and so thickly studded with stalactites as to render a clear glance through it impossible.
These are not like those of the former cavern, differing, inasmuch as they are all very white, and mostly broader at the top than at the base, giving thom the appearance of groined arches. Some are thin, and look, from the manner the limestone has been de- posited, as if they were gracefully festooned in honor of some festival; some are mere deli- cate shafts, and every now and then some large unfinished stalagmite appears, in the form of a veiled statue, mysteriously enshrouded in heavy white drapery. When this chamber has been nearly traversed, on looking back, it is surprising what a different aspect it bears. One would think a dense avenue of statuary before some palace had been passed, -so solemn, so quiet, and yet so life-like, are the curious wreathed and twisted columns, with their numerous groupings and strange varieties of form. At the end of this cave (it is not half the length of the first) there is another aperture open to the light, caused also by the falling in of the rock which once arched it over. It is a large circular hole, whose sides are precipitous, with a smaller pile of broken stone in the middle, as in the one last mentioned. It was here that, many years ago, some natives de- stroyed 300 sheep by throwing them from above on the hard rock below. This was about the time they were committing many outrages, including the murder of Mr. Brown. How the settlers revenged themselves is shown by something further in the cave, which will be noticed just now. This opening is the last through which light gains admission to the vaults, and the entrance to the last cave is on one side in a line with that just quitted.
This one is so thickly studded with stalac- tites, and these sometimes so very wide at the base, that from the outside it seems like a carefully-arranged scene, which the intermina- ble variety of form or magic effect of light and shade, might easily be thought intended to represent a fairy palace. On proceeding a little way the ground becomes painfully un- even. You have to climb over boulders, whose summits almost reach the roof, or you have to descend into what might almost be called pits, the more rough and uneven be- cause of their natural ornaments. Very soon the cavern becomes as dark as night, so that no further exploration can be made without candles, and even with these the utmost cau- tion is necessary, as thore are pits, caverns, and holes in all directions, some of them lead- ing to other small subterranean passages. There is one in particular which is a great fissure, extending nearly from side to side. It is
very deep. The sides are smooth and slippery, and as light is thrown into its gloomy depths the sides are seen to be divided in some places into columns and pillars, making even that dark place elaborate with natural archi- tecture. Further into the cave the roof be- comes lower and lower, still surmounted with the ghostly white stalactites, and at last the passage onward is so small that one must stoop very low in order to proceed. It is not without a shudder that one goes through this passage. Far away from the light of day, this groping along a small vault makes one dread to be bent down between stone walls, unable to stand straight or breathe freely. The pas- sage widens, however, when the last chamber is reached. There are few stalactites here, but the number of boulders increases, so that to explore the place is to climb and scramble from rock to rock. At the upper end there is an immense mass of stone, by scaling which the cave is seen to go no further. A painful stillness reigns in this cavern, which
becomes positively unbearable after remain- ing a little time. Humboldt, in his account of the caves of Guacharo, complains that the noise of the birds dwelling there gives an awful addition to the horror of those under- ground vaults, but any noise would be less dreary than the dead silence which reigns here. Whether it is that the air is hot and close, or whether the depth compresses the atmosphere beyond its usual density, I can- not say, but certainly the quiet presses pain- fully upon the sense of hearing, and the closeness gives a feeling of smothering whioh add to the horror of a place deep in the earth and far from the light of heaven.
At the side of one of the boulders (on the right-hand side in entering), in a crevice between it and the wall, where Nature seems to have made a natural couch, there lies the natural curiosity whioh I have alluded to just now. There, in the position of one asleep, with the head resting on the hand, and the other limbs reclining, is the dried and shrivelled corpse of a native, but slightly de- cayed, and almost petrified by the droppings
of the limestone. It has been known to be
there for many years without decomposition, I though the fingers and feet become eaoh year more encrusted with stalactite. The history of his coming there is a sad one. The blacks, in addition to the destruction of the sheep spoken of above, committed murder and so many acts of violence that the settlers re-
solved to be avenged. They assembled and set out with the significant motto, "Let not your right hand know what your left hand doeth." The natives re- sisted desperately. Some were shot in every part of the country. One wandering near these caves was seen and brought to the ground by a rifle-ball. Badly wounded, he managed to crawl away unobserved; and thinking that he would be sought for as long as life was in him, crept down into the lowest and darkest recess of the cavern, where he rightly judged few would venture to follow. There he lay down and died. Time went on. Not a tear was shed over him as he lay there uncoffined, but drops of water fell upon him from the rock above; and when, a longtime after, his remains were discovered, the lime- stone had incased him in a stony shroud, which to this day preserves his remains from decay. The limestone alone will not, how- ever, explain the absence of eremacausis : the peculiarity of the atmosphere has some- thing to do with it. I noticed near the en- trance of the last cavity the body of a sheep, which had evidently fallen from above while the animal was too incautiously browsing on the tempting overhanging foliage. It had been there some time, yet the flesh seemed as if but lately killed, The chemical property of the air does not materially differ from that above, and no satisfactory reason appears why the chemical constituents should not, once the vital stimulus has ceased, react upon themselves in this case as in every other. The same thing, however, is observed inmany vaults, and probably the uniformity of tem- perature bears a part in the phenomenon of which the renowned Kings of Cologne and the mummies of the Italian cemeteries are instances.
On leaving this last and lonely chamber to return to the light, a narrow opening, richly wreathed with limestone, is observable on the right hand going out. Proceeding a little way down, a large vaulted chamber is reached, so perfectly dark and obscure that even torches can do but faint justice to its beauty. Here, above all other portions of the caves has Nature been prodigal of the fantastic ornament with which the whole place abounds. There are pillars so finely formed and covered with such delicate trellis-work; there are droppings of lime making such scroll-work that the eye is bewildered with the extent and variety of the adornment. It is like a palace of ice, with frozen cascades, and fountains all around. At one side there is a stalactite like a huge candle that has guttered down at the side; at another there is a group of pillars, which was originally like a series of hour-glasses, set one upon another from the roof to the ground, and the parts bulging out are connected by droppings like icicles, making them appear most elaborately carved. In addition to this there is, above and below -so that the roof glistens and the ground crackles as you walk -a multitude of small stalactites, which cover the whole scene with frostings, that sparkle like gems in the torchlight. This is the last of subterranean beauties; and on emerging towards the open- ing the fresh air and more luminous aspect come gratefully upon the senses. Amazed and stupified as yon may be with the beauties
left behind, one feels as the eyes become daz- eled by the approaching light, that the greatest beauties of the earth lose half their charms when shut out from the heavenly radiance of the sky.
A human skeleton has been found buried in a field at Middleton, in Norfolk, under cir- cumstances that lead to a suspicion of mur- der. The body seems to have been thrust into a hole too short for it; the skull had been fractured; a razor-blade was lying on the chest. A gentleman named Bell (had been missed eight yean ago; the skeleton is surmised to be his. An investigation is pro- ceeding.