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Three Little Lambs Were Lost One Day

Updated on September 3, 2015

Actually, they were Three Little Boys!

Babes in the Bush. Off to have the adventure of their short little lives - the last they would ever have.

Their tragic journey began on 30th June 1867 and ended on an unknown date, some 13 kms (or nearly 8 miles) away.

They became lost, and their tiny bodies would not be found until almost three months later - on Friday, 14th September, 1867, despite the most desperate and extensive searching and tracking by vast numbers of people, on foot and on horseback. .

The father of two of the little boys had to move away from the little country town of Daylesford, in Victoria, Australia. His life was shattered.

Daylesford, Victoria was a promising gold-mining town - ...in the mid 1850's, after Gold was found in 1851.

A little of the story of this small Australian country town, recorded on the commemoration board erected by the Daylesford Rotary Club and Hepburn Council records the discovery of Gold in Daylesford in 1851.

After what was considered a slow start to a gold prospecting development - by 1855 there were believed to be thousands of 'diggers' populating an area surrounding the town.

The families involved most deeply in the story of our lost little lambs - namely, the Graham, Burman and Griffiths families - had all lived in the Connells Gully area for some years.

And where is this tiny corner - ... of our World?

The final resting place of our 'lost lambs' was South West of the town of Daylesford, along the Wheelers Hill Road at Musk Vale. There are many hills between the beginning and end of their journey, but you can only guess they must have mostly followed the gullies and waterways. The distance astounds you, nonetheless.

A marker -
Daylesford, Victoria, Australia
get directions

The Sad Story began

...on a beautiful but ordinary Sunday in June, 1867

This monument in a small park marks the spot in Daylesford, Victoria where the tragic journey began.

There were actually four children playing together to start with, but when the 'adventure' began to be seriously planned, one boy went home...and lived. The other three set off - to where? For what reason? Nobody really knows, although many possible scenarios have been suggested.

One suggestion is that there was a quarrel between the boys about venturing further afield - and this was why one went home. (That does sound like a line from Little BoPeep, doesn't it?)

Another line of thought is that it was all just 'a bit of an adventure' to start with - a show of bravado and typical little boy 'over-confidence', and the end result was that they became hopelessly lost and disorientated.

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Some believe the boys actually heard and maybe even witnessed the first searchers calling their names - and hid themselves. Perhaps at first for a bit of mischief, or, as others suspect - the children could well have hid themselves from the searchers, ashamed of the hullabaloo they had caused, afraid of the repercussions and potential punishment for disobedience.

Can't you imagine - particularly in those days - how heavily such considerations would have weighed on a small child's conscience?

Maybe later, as they began to realise how many were looking specifically for the three of them, they began to be afraid - and this was what kept them silent. Impossible to believe they never heard the voices getting hoarser and more desperate by the hour.

They couldn't hear the hearts and souls of their families, friends, searchers - all just praying for the miracle that would somehow present them alive - to be loved and cherished again. They couldn't know that punishment was the last thing in their loved ones' minds.

The Adventure begins - ...with what has been sorrowfully named - 'the call of adventure'

This is the first part of the story from the memorial board

This Was a Re-enactment - - oh-h-h, will you just look at those cherubs!

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You are not going to believe their ages. From eldest to youngest - 6, 5 and 4 years old!

They are SO small, and yet their spirit of adventure was SO large - only matched by their bravery (or lack of experience and knowledge of reality, more likely).

We were on holidays earlier this year, just driving along a picturesque stretch of country road, winding between many towering gums and thick bush, interspersed with lush paddocks - when we saw a signpost that caught our imagination - 'Lost Children Monument - 3kms'.

The car seemed to turn almost without our volition - and come to what had been the last resting place for these tiny adventurers.

The name of this lens occurred to me as I looked at the monument. They were indeed little lambs - as lost as they could be.

The Organised Searches

...SO many tried SO hard

The plaque tells us how the community of Daylesford and surrounding areas responded.

100 horsemen assembled and searched a far wider area, much faster than the almost 700 people who turned out over the next few days, despite the bleak and forbidding weather. You get the feeling that this type of weather would have driven the searchers to even more heroic and determined levels. They didn't have to imagine the conditions - they were living them as they searched. The unimaginable part would have been the cold and hunger and fear the babes must have been somehow surviving - for possibly three days and bitter nights, it is believed.

And the services of expert aboriginal trackers were called upon - but to no avail. That first night they were missing, was wet...extremely wet - and there was a heavy frost as well.

Oh-h-h babies - you poor, poor babies. Little wonder some people claim to feel your presence to this day - and believe they hear your voices, crying in the wind that howls sometimes around your final resting place.

Then, Nearly Three Months Later - ...success, I guess some would say.

The tragic conclusion is reached -

The sorrowful discovery

After eight successive public meetings, and 25 days of searching, it appeared that the tragedy of the Three Lost Children might never be solved.

But on Friday 13th September, a dog returned home to Wheelers Hill, some 13km from Daylesford, carrying in its mouth a small boot with a child's foot in it. The following day a number of Wheelers Hill residents combed the area and found the bodies of the youngest boys in the hollow of a tree. The remains and clothing of the older boy were nearby.

The anguish of the parents is beyond imagining. To lose a child to illness or accident would be amongst the worst of human tragedies - but to have gone through those three months of not knowing - and then at last be confronted with this grisly finale; to learn of their death from cold and hunger and thirst .... it's just too hard, too painful. Poor little boys. Poor grieving parents.

Daylesford Remembers - ...the Unforgettable

There was a large funeral and the three children were buried together in the Daylesford cemetery. An impressive monument was erected there by public subscription - you can see it today on the Daylesford-Trentham road.

The Distraught Father - ...wanted to ensure the little boys were never forgotten

- and so -

In 1889 Mr. Graham, the father of two of the lost boys, established a scholarship to be presented each year to the best boy and girl pupils at Daylesford State School. In this way, the memory of the Lost Children has been kept alive in the Daylesford District.

- and it continues to this day.

Look at those eyes. So sad. Haunted. He looks as though part of him never accepted the despair of his loss.

Their Sad and Lonely Last Resting Place - ...has gone now

It was a huge burnt-out tree. For many years after the 'babes in the bush' perished beneath it's shelter, it stood defiantly against the odds. But finally, even a fence erected around its base to provide some protection, failed...as the tree was finally just too old to battle the elements any longer. Being in the middle of a paddock, the cairn and remembrance garden are alongside the road at the nearest point possible.

Nevertheless, some say you can hear those precious voices carried on the wind...if you just listen carefully enough - with your heart even more than your ears.

And nearby to that last resting place - ...They Are Remembered.

Despite countless difficulties...against all the odds...and 'minor events' like bushfires wiping out all her work, one woman has single-handedly created this amazing and beautiful garden and carpark area around the second memorial cairn she fought for - and won.

Her name is Yvonne Fix...and she is quite a lady...simply an exceptional human being.

Sincerest thanks Yvonne, for introducing me to the story of these special 'babes in the bush' - The Three Lost Children of Daylesford' - and through your generosity, enabling me to pay my tribute, also.

Can't help thinking of the proud line from the Anzac prayer -

"They shall not grow old...as we who are left grow old......"

The Memorial Garden - ...before and after the fires of 2009

A plaque at the site reads like this -

Three Lost Children - A Daylesford Story

Here stands a monument to three small boys who went on an adventure in 1867 that cost them their lives. Their names were William and Thomas Graham and their friend and fellow adventurer Alfred Herbert Burman. It was an adventure that would have these children written into the local folk lore of Daylesford and through a grieving father's legacy, still has their story remembered today.

This cairn, erected in the centenary year of their walk, marks the discovery of the children on 14 September 1867, almost three months after their fatal journey began. The tree in which they were found stood symbolically approximately 120 metres East of this site until 1950, a reminder of the value of community spirit and a town built on timber and gold.

The Lost Children's Monument site fell victim to the Hogan's Lane-Muskvale-Musk Creek fire 2009.

Left standing was the monument cairn of quartz and steel placed there in 1967 and a lacquered pine plaque with the children's story in brief written on it.

Could it be that the children's spirits still rest within the ghost of the powerful tree that sheltered them in times faded? Perhaps not.

For the full story of why this particular incident was/is so important to the people of Daylesford and surrounding districts visit The Daylesford Museum or walk where the children are said to have walked.

This site was created by Yvonne L. Fix of the Daylesford Historical Society in 1988 and again in 2009 after the fires.

A poem recording the tragedy

by Yvonne L. Fix

The birds were silent, not one song,

the bush was quietly weeping,

the softened tears of rain was shed,

Hush, three little boys are sleeping.

The cloud came down and hid the sun,

the Blackwoods spread their branches,

the track was gone from whence they come,

Hush, three little boys are sleeping.

The month of June was cold that year,

when the boys they went to wander,

the children never knew the fear,

they caused their saddened mothers.

For weeks the townsfolk searched the bush,

for weeks the mines were silent,

for weeks the sounds of shouting, clear,

but the little boys were quiet.

No more the laughter could be heard,

or children's happy chatter,

they disappeared without a word,

Hush, three little boys are sleeping.

The 'Babes in the Bush' - ...once again.

You know me...I just have to see special photos just one more time

And I never knew this tragic story before our visit, just a short time ago.

I Didn't Know That Australia - was ever known as The Country of Lost Children

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    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 3 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Your article reads almost like a work of fiction, so it's even sadder to realize it is true. It's very special that the story of these tiny tots has been preserved with this memorial so that they will never be forgotten. Thank you for your beautiful tribute to them and to the people like Yvonne L. Fix who 'remember' them.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: They were cold, hungry and dehydrated. Sad, Sad story.. :(

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Very touching story indeed!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

      Such a sad story, I can see why you wanted to memorialize it. In my travels around Australia, we never happened past Daylesford, so I missed this.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      What a tragic story.

      Does anyone know how they died?

    • RawBill1 profile image

      Bill 5 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      So sad. I had never heard this tale before and have never been to Daylesford despite spending 25 years of my life living in Victoria. You have done an amazing job of bringing this tale to the world.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      @cdcraftee: Just wanting to say thank you for a great piece on the lost boys. The graham boys were my great grandfather's cousins. William and Sarah not only lost these two sons in that year they also lost their baby (James Stevenson Graham) to illness.

    • cdcraftee profile image
      Author

      Christine Larsen 6 years ago from South Australia

      @Lady Lorelei: Thank you for your visit. Contacting you personally.

      Christine

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      What a sad tale. To lose a child is too painful to even imagine. They are so young.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Their story is really a mystery. I have heard another explanation for their tragic deaths but in any case, the three little boys lost their lives. Jane Duff and her little brothers survived 9 days and 8 nights in the winter of 1864. I could not have done so