The first Europeans stumbled upon the caves around 1838. The escaped convict James McKeown had plagued settlers in the area for years as a bandit. He apparently had some success, for reports indicated the bushranger had “laid out quite a nice little farm”. He was finally tracked and captured in what was described as huge hole in the mountain-side. His captors, James and Charles Whalen, understandably became fascinated with the area. Charles Whalen and his sons continued the search for other caves. Between 1840 and 1860, not only did they discover several major caves within the system, but they became unofficial tour guides as well.
At the time, interest in Geology was flourishing and people were coming from all over to see the caves for themselves. Tourists and cavers alike treated themselves to souvenirs by breaking off formations to take home with them. Concern regarding damage to the caves came quickly, especially by European standards. Since 1872, The Jenolan Caves have been under the protection of conservation laws. The mantra “look don’t touch” is still applied in spades.