Explore a flickering world of Victorian era caving in Tasmania

Lying on a sack, squirming through a tight squeeze with a flickering candle gripped in their hand - that was how some 19th century tourists caught their first glimpse of Boldocks Cave in Tasmania.

No helmets, nothing on their heads to protect them.

Welcome to caving at Mole Creek in the Victorian era.

Historian Nic Haygarth said they might not have been very safety conscious, but they certainly didn’t let caving get in the way of their formal dress code.

“Men tended to wear suits. You see these odd photos of men in the bush in probably their old suits,” Mr Haygarth said.

The conservative long skirts and dresses were still worn by women when they went exploring.

It would have made the original entrance to King’s Solomon Cave, a long ladder climb, difficult, he said.

“I imagine it might have been traumatic for quite a few people.”

He wrote Wonderstruck, an exploration of Tasmania’s caves and caving tourism, a couple of years ago.

As settlements spread west towards Mole Creek, caves were discovered in farmer’s backyards.

Health and safety certainly wasn’t a consideration as farmers turned entrepreneurs and set up their own tourist caving business, he said.

“This was cave tourism as a cottage industry.”

Scotts Cave, found by George Scott, and King Solomon’s Cave were both discovered in the early 1900s and acetylene lighting was installed, which meant pipes weaved around the floor and ceiling.

Until then, caves were explored using the uncertain light from candles or handheld acetylene lights, he said.

“You wouldn’t see much, it would just be all shadow.”

Family character was the difference between a tipple and a psalm in cave tourism.

The Scotts were happy for people to drink as part of their caving experience, Mr Haygarth said.

The same could not be said for the Byards, who owned Marakoopa.

As Methodists teetotalers, they sang hymns in their cave instead, he said.

In those days, a Marakoopa cave tour could take up to six hours.

Now, there were two tours which each took about an hour.

In the late 19th century, Easter excursions became a tradition when the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company and Van Diemen's Land Company started running separate tours.

Victorian tourists would travel from Melbourne to Burnie by boat before travelling by train along the government-owned branch line to Mole Creek.

Spread over four to five days, the trips were timed so succinctly that tourists would be ready to go caving on Good Friday after leaving the day before. 

The families would put on afternoon teas and have guiding on the side of their farming.

“You couldn’t have gotten away with it these days.”