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Three Lost Children Daylesford

June 6, 2013

On June 30 1867, three small children from Daylesford wandered from their home,  while playing and looking for goats near the Wombat Creek, close to their home. The children were William Graham (age 6), his brother, Thomas (age 4) and Alfred Burman (age 5). The alarm was raised when the children didn’t return home and a search began immediately. The search was called off when it became too dark and was resumed early next day. The day was a typical sunny winters day but the severest frost of the year was reported that night.

July 1, 1867: The search continued with locals and mounted police also involved. Again there was no sign of the boys.

July 2, 1867: Again the searchers gathered to continue in their determination to find the young lost boys. There were more than 100 horsemen and miners and other locals on foot. Two small footprints were found, but when the search had to be called off, the boys were still missing.

Renactment done for interstate and overseas newspapers

Renactment done for interstate and overseas newspapers

July 3, 1867: Word had spread that three small boys were missing, and people came on horseback from miles away to search. Joining the search were 100 horsemen, over 500 people on foot including goldminers, woodcutters, splitters, sawmillers and locals from all walks of life, including both the upper and lower classes of society.

That night a  public meeting was held and it was decided to continue to search the next day, with all shops in town to close to enable more people to join the search. A collection was taken up at the meeting and over 72 pounds was raised to begin a reward fund.

from: Daylesford Express, July 4, 1867:The greatest excitement prevailed in the town last evening as night fell, and the hundreds who joined in the search returned in groups, each bearing the sorrowful tidings that nothing had been seen or heard of the poor little fellows. In every direction the people turned out with the most praiseworthy zeal, the great body of them assembling at the Specimen Hill works, and spreading out in the direction in which the boys were thought to have gone. All the work- men on the Corinella mine, the Telegraph saw-mills, Clarke’s mills, and nearly all the splitters in the forest, so soon as they heard of the search laid aside their tools and joined; but, as said, with no result, except that Mr. Joseph Parker, one of a considerable body of horsemen, and an admirable tracker, detected about two miles further bushward footprints in every respect the same as those seen on the previous day, but only at one place could the trace be got.

So soon as it was known that another day’s search had been fruitless, it was resolved, as if by a spontaneous ebullition of public feeling, to hold a meeting of the inhabitants at Bleackley’s Hotel. The towncrier went through the principal streets, and at eight o’clock the fire-bell was rung,  immediately after which the large room in the hotel was crammed to suffocation, and more were standing outside than would have filled it again. The mayor was called to the chair, and briefly stated the object of the meeting, and asked for such suggestions as were likely to ensure a proper search. A short but earnest discussion followed, in which the necessity of a more organised search than had yet been made was recognised. It was then proposed, and unanimously agreed to, that all places of business in the town be shut on the following day (Wednesday), that every inhabitant able to join in the search might have an opportu nity of doing so; and the Rev. Mr. Pollard, the Mayor, and Councillor Knox were ap- pointed and undertook to wait on the few merchants and tradesmen not present and ask their concurrence, that their employés might join the rest of their townsmen.

Mr. Inspector Smith stated what had been done, and that he had telegraphed to every place where there were black trackers to have them sent on ; and Mr. Joseph Parker said that he, so soon as the meeting was over, would start for and bring with him in the morning two young men who in following up a trail were equal to any black trackers. These statements were received with much applause, as was one made by Captain O’Connell, that the Volunteer Fire Brigade had, prior to the public meeting, resolved on turning out on the  morrow to a man and making a search.

Mr. Inspector Smith suggested that all who intended to join in the search should meet at the Specimen Hill works, the manager of which had, in case anyone might lose his way, offered to keep the engine whistle, which could be heard two miles, continually sounding for their guidance after nightfall. He also impressed on every volunteer the necessity of taking a little bread and wine with him, in case of discovering the lost ones, and cautioned those who found them against bringing them too suddenly into a heated room, and gave instructions for their treatment.

The utmost unanimity was shown in the wish to join in the search, and that it might be done effectually and systematically it was resolved that they act in companies, under the guidance of captains to be selected not from their position or status but from their qualifications as bushmen. Mr. Johnson produced a map of the district, and it was apportioned out among them us follows :—Messrs. Bleackley and Vickery — Stony Creek and Blind Creek; Messrs. Johnson, Wardle, J. Parker, and Hartley—Blind Creek (Upper) and Wombat Creek;–Messrs. Henderson and Kreckler—West of Kangaroo and Wombat Creeks; Messrs. Austin, Theo.

Parker, and Reynolds—The outlying districts as far as the Dividing Range, and from Leonard’s Hill easterly as far as Leache’s.

It was resolved that the fire-bell be rung at six in the morning, and that all the townsmen meet in Vincent Street at seven, so as to be at Specimen-hill, meet those there and be placed under captains, and commence the search at eight o’clock. The arrangements, are such as give a reasonable prospect of the missing children being discovered, dead or alive. So earnest and general a desire on the part of the people of Daylesford to aid in the attempt to recover the lost ones is in the highest degree creditable to them, and if anything in such circumstances could be so, must be gratifying to the disconsolate parents. We have said that after nightfall the whistle of the Specimen Hill engine will sound continuously, in case any of the searchers may lose their way. It was also stated that in the event of the recovery of the children the whistle would sound every ten minutes, to recall the searchers.”

 July 4, 1876: A huge crowd of searchers and 200 dogs joined in the search. There had been heavy rain, and with the many footprints that had been over the area, the search was almost impossible.

July 5, 1876: Again the search continued, but in very bad wintry weather conditions.

  July 8, 1867: Public meeting number 8 was held

  July 16, 1867: The fathers of the boys publicly thanked the searchers and townspeople of Daylesford through the local newspaper

from The Daylesford Express, 16 July 1867: “To the Editor of  The Express,  Sir,  Now that the public excitement has partially subsided with regard to the ‘Three Lost Boys’, we bneg to return our sincere and heartfelt thanks to the inhabitants of Daylesford and surrounding districts, for the great and praiseworthy search they have made for the recovery of the children.

None havee been more astonished than we have been at the mighty phalans of human aid, aye, and brute aid too, that have been engaged in this search, and although all efforts have been unsuccessful, the public sympathy envinced has been a source of great consolation to ourselves and the distressed mothers.

When we have returned home night after night to tell the same sad tale of our want of success; when we have recounted to them the deeds of endurance and energy, and the great sacrifice of time and money, this community have suffered, their tears have been dried, and we have all been satisfied with the assurance that all that human aid can do, has been done on this occasion.

We still trust and hope that with Divine aid the bodies of the children may yet be found ere long, not forgetting ‘There is a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew then how we will’.

In conclusion, we beg again to tender our heartfelt thanks to the public for the seal and energy evinced to restore us our lost children. Our prayer is that, no parents will ever have to mourn for the loss and death of their children in the wild bush of Australia. 

WILLIAM GRAHAM  BENJAMIN BURMAN Fathers of the Lost Children”

July 23, 1867: Letter to the Editor calling for the search to begin again

Even though the children had not yet been found, an inquest was held with the finding that they most likely died on the night of the first day that they went missing.

Sept 13, 1867: A dog belonging to a local came home with a child’s boot including a foot, in it’s mouth. Later that day the dog was found with a child’s skull in it’s mouth. A short search was conducted and a second boot was found.

Sept 14, 1867: The search resumed and the remains of the three boys were found that day. The two youngest boys were found huddled in the cavity of a very large tree with the older child William just outside.

from: The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 23 September, 1867: The great mystery which has surrounded the fate of the three children lost on Sunday, the 30th June, has been cleared away. Early on Saturday morning it became known that traces of them had been found on the previous afternoon, about a mile and a half from Wheeler’s saw-mills on Musk Creek, and about three miles from Specimen Hill, where they were last seen alive, and within a distance variously estimated at from 150 to 200 yards from the hut of a splitter  named McKay, and about the same distance from a road in daily use by splitters and men engaged in carting wood to the saw-mills, and early on Saturday fore- noon further tidings were brought to town that the bodies of two of the children had been found in a hollow tree, the bones of the third being scattered about. It is matter of surprise that from the tree in which they were they did not hear carts pass- ing, or that the carters did not hear or see the children; but it is probable that they arrived there at night tired and exhausted, and lay down and slept the sleep  that knows no waking. It is further probable, from the locality in which the children were found, that if their wanderings were not over on the night of the Sunday on which they left their homes, they did not live through the bitter cold of the following Monday night.

The circumstances attending the discovery of the remains of the children appear to be as follows :— On Friday, about midday, M’Kay proceeded to the Fern Creek, a short distance from his horse, for a bucket of water, his dog accompanying him. On his return he met a neighbour named Charles Stewart, and while they were talking M’Kay’s dog passed, but without attracting any notice. M’Kay and Stewart parted, and on proceeding to his hut M’Kay’s attention was called to his dog by observing he had something in his mouth, which he found to be a boot with a part of a child’s foot in it. M’Kay at once guessed that the remains of the children could not be far distant, and he went in search of Stewart, to whom he showed the boot. They immediately commenced a search, which was continued without any success for two hours, when they left off, and word was sent to the saw-mills. Mr. Riddle then joined them, and the search was renewed, and kept up till night- fall. When M’Kay went home the dog brought up to the hut a skull, but the darkness and torrents of rain prevented   any renewal of the search till Saturday morning, when Mr. Wheeler, M.L.A., Mr. Riddle, M’Kay, Stewart, and two brothers named David and Ninian Bryan, met at M’Kay s. The dog was let loose, and they posted them- selves on as elevated situations as they could select to watch him, thinking he would direct his steps to the place from which he had twice brought such sad evidence of the fate of the little ones ; but he refused to leave the hut.

The party named then formed themselves into a search party, going abreast at a certain distance from each other. Proceeding in this way for a short distance, David Bryan, in jumping a log forming part of a fence, discovered some bones and clothes lying about, and exclaimed, ” Here they are!” His brother Ninian was next to him, but on the opposite side of the log. Starting to join his brother, he went round a large tree standing and forming a corner to two fences. On rounding it he found it hollow, and a glance disclosed to him the bodies of two of the children. He started back, and said to his brother, ” Oh, Mike, here they are.” The others were speedily attracted to the spot, and watch kept over the remains till the police, who were sent for, arrived, and took them in charge. The remains too surely evidenced that they had been gnawed by dogs.

Mounted-trooper Phelan had sent from Daylesford, some miles distant, three coffins, and then began the unpleasant but necessary duty of removing the bodies from the hollow tree, which was at least ten feet in diameter. This was done by Constable Daley and Mr. Riddle, and the bodies placed in the coffins were conveyed to the Farmers’ Hotel, Daylesford, where they await the coroner’s inquest.

The father of the boys. Graham, who now lives in Castlemaine, was sent for. The general impression at first was that the scattered remains were those of the boy Burman, and that the two bodies found in the tree were those of the boys Graham, but subsequent conjectures led to the belief that those in the tree were the younger Graham, and Burman aged four and five years. The position of the bodies in the tree and their general appearance would indicate that their spirits passed away peacefully and gently while in sleep. They were lying with their faces towards the inside of the tree, the smaller one furthest in, the larger lying outside him, as if to shelter him, with his right hand under and embracing the other, who lay partly on his body, as if nestling there for warmth.

A correspondent has favoured the Ballarat Post with the following description of the locality where the children were found, and their appearance :—

“The locality where the remains of the children who were lost from Table-hill on Sunday, the 30th June last, were found, in situate about a mile and a half from Wheeler’s sawmills on the Musk Creek. The bodies of the two children which were found in the hollow tree were when discovered in a state of fair preservation, considering the length of time which had elapsed since they were lost; but the remains of the third consisted only of a few bones and the skull. The two bodies in the hollow tree when found were lying closely cuddled together, as if the children had by the warmth afforded by each other endeavoured to ward off the bitter wintry cold. The younger child had been placed inside, and the elder and stronger one had lain down beside him on the outer side. The backs of both were turned to the entrance of the cavity.

Here they must have lain and perished of cold and starvation. The elder boy had his legs completely under the body of the younger, and his cap lay on the floor of the cavity; the younger boy had his cap placed before his face. It is probable that the body of the  third boy was also in the tree, but had been dragged  thence by dogs. There are marks of hair outside on the  roots of the tree. The elder boy had boots on, the younger had none, but a laceup boot broken at the heel, was lying in the interstice of the tree just over his head.   In the cavity were two sticks which they had evidently used in their wanderings. When the body of the elder boy was placed in the coffin, as the corpse sank into the narrow shell, his right arm was pushed forward, and his hand fell over upon his breast, and his face became uppermost. This hand was white, plump, and apparently undecomposed, but the whole of his features were gone, and nothing remained but a ghastly skeleton outline, with the lower jaw detached and fallen. The face of the younger child was, however, in a state of preservation, but perfectly black. The members, of both bodies were much attenuated. The position of the tree is at the corner of an old cultivation paddock in which potatoes are now planted. It is melancholy to reflect that these unfortunate children should have reached so near help and succour and failed to find it. Had they proceeded 200 yards farther up the fence, they would have come upon the hut of M’Kay. It would seem they had reached this place at night, and finding their passage impeded by the brush fence, turned into the hollow tree, not wishing to lose sight of it, thinking that the dawn of morning would set them right. Thus they must have lain down to sleep their last sleep”.

 15 Sept 1867: Second Inquest was held. The verdict was that the children died from “exposure and want”

Although locals were pleased that the boys were found, Daylesford was overcome with grief. The children had been missing for 11 weeks and it appears that they did in the cavity of that tree in the first day or two after they went missing. The area where they were found was very close to settled areas where there would have been people who could have helped them. If they hadn’t been so tired and weak from walking for so long, and had walked just a short distance extra then it’s possible they would have survived.

The Mayor of Daylesford called for shops in town to close on the day of the funeral. The streets were lined with mourners as the cortege made it’s way to the cemetary where over 800 people witnessed the burial. The children were placed in the grave in a similar position to the way they were found, with the two younger children huddled together and the older child on top, trying to protect them.

Monument to the Three Lost Boys at Daylesford Cemetary

Monument to the Three Lost Boys at Daylesford Cemetary

Sources: Trove Newspapers

Yvonne L. Fix who I met by chance in Daylesford near the monument to the lost children, and who has been very generous in sharing her research with me.  Yvonne also very kindly gave me these photos.


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  1. What a very sad story. Thank you for sharing Jennifer.

    It is good to know that there is a memorial for the three young boys. My grandmothers family lived in Daylesford for a number of years and one day I shall visit the area. I will make sure that I look for the monument and pay my respects.

    Thanks again.


  2. thanks for sharing that story Jennifer, so sad. My husbands family come from Daylesford and when I relayed your story to him he said he could remember the countryside and how easily a child could become lost.

  3. Reblogged this on ancestorchaser and commented:
    Jennifer’s story caught my attention with mention of Daylesford in Victoria which is near where my husband’s mother was born and raised (Koorweinguboora) When I told him of this story he said he could well imagine how easily children may become lost in that countryside as he nearly did so himself as a child.
    Thanks for sharing the sad story about these poor lost boys Jennifer

  4. Yvonne Fix permalink

    Hi Jennifer. Finally found a little space in my schedule to check out your blog. As is today, yesterday’s newspapers tend to put their own spin on information they get ‘over the wire’. Great that you found the Sydney Morning Herald write up. A little inaccurate but that was the newspaper’s fault not yours. You aught to see the report when it got to New Zealand. Went to a lecture yesterday about the life of ‘the other father’ Alfred Burman’s father Benjamin and a brief report on how this father reacted to his youngest son’s disappearance. Gave us a little more insight to township of Daylesford and the passion that found so many people from the district taking part in the search. Did you realise that this year, the 146th anniversary of the children’s disappearance is a mirror of 1867 with the calendar days exactly the same. 30th June this year fell on a Sunday. 16th July when the notice from the fathers was placed in the Daylesford Express falls on a Tuesday. That day I hope to have published in the Daylesford Advocate published on Tuesday16th July an article incorporating the notice, a condensed version of the story and a plea for involvement in a couple of projects that will lead up to the 150th anniversary in four years’ time. The discovery of the children in September, the inquest, and the funeral will all be on the same calendar days. The weather is not quite the same as back then but if one should venture out on the ‘official’ track second half of the walk from the Ballan to where they were found in the last few days it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the conditions the boys found themselves in.
    Yvonne 8 July 2013

    • I’m pleased ypu read this Yvonne. I didn’t realise that the dates this year were a mirror image. That really is interesting. I’ve put a note in my diary to get a copy of Daylesford Express on July 16. Keep in touch.

    • Amosity permalink

      Were you ever able to find more photos from the time this happened?

  5. Nikeesha Downes permalink

    I’ve actually been to the Monument of The Three Lost Boys, it is so sad. I actually am curious to go on the walk though, has anyone been on it?

    • I agree, yes, the monument is very touching. I dont know anyone who’s done the walk but Im hoping to do it very soon.

      • Rob permalink

        Very sad story – Been going to Daylesford area for over 50 years and always remember this sad event sop long ago

  6. Sue Simpson permalink

    My gg grandfather James Stevenson from Creswick was an uncle of the Graham boys being their mother’s brother. He took time off from his surveying duties to go and help look for the boys. I have not been for the walk but have been to both cairns and the memorial in the cemetery. The Graham’s also lost their baby boy James Stevenson Graham to illness in the same year.

    • Great to hear from you Sue. I didn’t realise their other child had died. Very sad for them. I have a FB page for them. If you have anything to contribute would love to have you do so

  7. Jess permalink

    I grew up around Daylesford. This story is part of the fabric of the town. I clearly remember my grandmother telling me the story and visiting the monument as a small child. Facinating to hear more of the story. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Ronnie Graham permalink

    Was tracking my Name, Googled Graham Daylesford and came across this very moving story. will be visiting the cemetery this weekend xx

    • I appreciate your interest.

      • Ronnie Graham permalink

        My Pa had a property in Ridges Road [ Daylesford ], and his brother my Great Uncle lived across the road from Victoria Park Daylesford.

  9. Sheryl Lamb permalink

    My uncle Guthrie Hore was told by his great aunt Isabella Bryan nee Spence that her husband Ninian’s brother David Bryan and her brother David Spence were among the search party that found the Graham children after their dog was barking on investigation they discovered the boot of a child which lead to the recovery of the 3 deceased children.

    • I’m very interested to hear that Sheryl. I haven’t heard from anyone with a family connection to the search. Thanks for letting me know.

  10. David Roper permalink

    My wife and I have just returned from a road trip to Daylesford. This story of the three lost boys touched us deeply. We are grandparents of three boys of similar age. We visited the grave and paid our respects. It seems that some tragedies are timeless.

    • I understand how you felt David. I’m also a grandparent of 3 boys which is why I was so struck by this story. Thanks for dropping by

  11. How awful for those poor little boys. So close to being safe. And what gruesome details they included in that write up.

    • They didn’t mess around in those days. Newspapers usually said it as it was. Very sad. Thanks for reading and commenting

  12. Such a sad story Jennifer but what community spirit to all join together in the search. At least they found the bodies, I can’t remember the name of the children but there were 3 in Adelaide I think that went missing years ago and have never been found. I can’t imagine losing a child and especially in these types of circumstances. Thanks for sharing xx

    • That was the Beaumont children that you remember. After their disappearance, parents became more vigilant. The innocence was lost after that. I also cannot imagine mourning a child who has never been found.

  13. This is a very sad tale. Thanks for sharing the story.

  14. So tragic. Thank you for sharing this.

  15. Alison Lukstin permalink

    My family the Appleton’s lived there at the time and would surely have been in the search, they were community minded people.

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