The Richter Caves

These history notes are contributed to Valley Ventures by one of our members, Max Farley.

There are Caves in the Yarramalong Valley which years ago captured wide attention. Though the early timber getters would no doubt have known of their existence, the Caves did not excite interest until 1890 when “found” by a local sawmill proprietor, John Richter. An engraving made at the time on a rock face read “These Caves were found by J E Richter in 1890”. Sightseers were attracted when the Gosford Times of 11 April 1902 wrote that “this curiosity of nature cannot be found by a stranger owing to the dense forest surrounding”. Richter acted as guide for visitors. Today the Caves are rarely visited largely because of their inaccessibility. They are said to be on the left hand (northern) side of Forest Road about 6.5 km from the corner of Bumble Hill Rd. Then an estimated 300 metres down.

An engraving on a rock face at the Richter's Caves Flora Reserve.

An engraving on a rock face at the Richter’s Caves Flora Reserve. Image: GosfordWyongHistoricSites

The Times said the Caves “are a remarkable instance of the process of weathering… in many instances the projections run to a length of six feet or more and present some designs of different forms which become quite bewildering to the beholder. These strange forms approximately represent deers’ horns, wings of birds, elephants’ ears, dish bowls etc… In some places forms like sponges or honeycomb are hanging from the ceiling; also cows’ udders with teats of various lengths and shelvings… on which eagles’ nests are perched.”

Few of today’s residents would have heard of the Caves and just as few would know of John Richter. However, if one were to accept without question everything said of him he was one of the most interesting persons ever to have lived in the Valley.

John Ernest Richter was born in Germany in 1840 and came to Australia in 1844 with his parents. The parents were headed for Queensland naively determined to bring religion to the Aborigines. Their efforts were unsuccessful and the family very soon came south, first to Victoria then to New South Wales. In 1862/1863, they moved to New Zealand following the discovery of gold there. John married in 1878 and returned to NSW in 1881 with his wife Jenny. By all accounts he had a sawmill in Wyong Creek by 1883.

A portion of the 1922 Ourimbah Parish map showing Samuel Richter's 40 acre portion and the approximate location of Richter's Caves.

A portion of the 1922 Ourimbah Parish map showing the Richter family’s 40 acre portion and the approximate location of Richter’s Caves. Image: GosfordWyongHistoricSites

Richter is said to have played many roles. However, much of this is found in a letter he wrote to his daughter at Rockhampton. The letter is reproduced in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin of 3 July 1909. In essence, it said he:

  • participated in bloodthirsty conflicts with Aborigines in Queensland and suffered three spear wounds one of which went through his abdomen.
  • was “called upon… to battle with and hunt the blacks out of” the district of Gin Gin in Queensland.
  • explored extensively in Queensland and New Zealand.
  • had a New Zealand lake, Lake Richter, and caves carry his name.
  • built “the first building of any pretensions” put up in Rockhampton. Previously there had been only two bark huts and a “smithy”.
  • prospected with some success for gold at Canoona and Port Curtis in Queensland.
  • was a carpenter, builder, poet, writer and artist.
  • wrote “it was I who invented the first (breeching rifle) in London in 1867”.
  • was an inventor who held Patent No. 9531 for improvements for felloe saws. This is true.

Space does not allow a full explanation but there is a likelihood that John had an elder brother, Ernst, who explored and prospected in Queensland in the several years before 1862. This leaves open the possibility that Ernst Richter and John Ernest Richter were one and the same person because John claimed these exploits and achievements. The exploits and achievements themselves call for confirmation.

John’s family life was complex. His wife appeared to play no continuing role. There were no children from this marriage. This is not to say he, personally, had no children. It seems he had a daughter, Florence Richter, who was an actress of renown and performed throughout Australia. Details of her private life, including her birth, are obscure. It has also been written that Richter had a son who was born in 1889 and died in 1965. The records about this son are inconsistent.

Richter’s life in Wyong Creek from 1883 until his 1913 death in Sydney also lacks certainty. It seems likely he spent most of his remaining forty years living alone in Wyong. This would have been a major change in lifestyle for a man who had told how he had spent the earlier part of his life adventuring.

Evidence that Richter was a storyteller comes in his own words. In the 1909 letter he wrote to his daughter in Rockhampton he said that about two months previously he had stood under a veranda at Wilkinson’s Department Store in Wyong one very wet day telling a party of twelve men, mostly strangers, of his escapades. He clearly enjoyed impressing an audience.

Apart from the existence of the Richter Caves many of the details of his story have yet to be either confirmed with contemporary evidence or discounted. Every word may indeed be true. Or not.

John Richter offered some extra comments on two of his contemporaries in his 1909 letter to his daughter which appeared in a Rockhampton publication on 3 July 1909. Richter wrote that in 1862:

Mr Limmitson (Linnertson) of Wyong Creek was working for a sawmill at Wisemans Lagoons, about a mile west of Rockhampton. Henry Levett (of Wyong Creek) was also on the Dawson River Country about that time.

Hamilton Hill snr of Yarramalong was there… The blacks took a set on Hamilton, for, as you know he was not a prepossessing man, even to the people of his own (“Ham” Hill could not have been offended because he had died in 1905).

  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

SOURCES: Max Farley; A Pictorial History of the Wyong Shire, Volume 1-5, Edward Stinson. Image Source: GosfordWyongHistoricSites

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