Lost Children’s Tree.

On Sunday morning, 30 June 1867, a group of young children from Connells Gully near Daylesford wandered into the bush past familiar shallow gold diggings to look for wild goats.

William Graham, aged 6½, his brother Thomas, 4 years 3 months, and Alfred Burman aged 5, crossed Wombat Creek and headed towards Muskvale.

But when the boys failed to return home for lunch their dads began to search, concentrating their efforts near the junctions of the Wombat, Stony and Sailors Creeks.

That evening the police were notified, and the search went well into the night.

At dawn the next day, the search began in earnest. And as news of the previous day’s sightings circulated, the search area widened.

Community anxiety grew and by Tuesday more than 100 horsemen assembled. But the horses and the wet and cold conditions obliterated all signs of evidence.

By Wednesday, after a public meeting the previous night called by the Mayor, Cr Bleakley, sympathy for the distressed families was so heightened that almost 700 people turned out in cold, miserable weather to continue searching.

National and international newspapers closely covered the unfolding story.

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 then weeks after the disappearance, on Friday 13 September, a dog returned to Wheelers Hill, some 10 km from Daylesford, carrying a small child’s boot.

The following day several residents combed the area and found the bodies of the boys in the hollow of a tree.

The original searchers had been within 50 metres of the spot, most likely several times, but had failed to discover the boy’s final resting place.

It’s thought the children almost certainly died their first frosty night, which had been the coldest for 20 years.

There was a large funeral, and the three children were buried together in the Daylesford Cemetery. An impressive monument was later erected by public subscription.

In 1889, Mr. Graham, the father of two of the lost boys, established a scholarship for the pupils at Daylesford State School to keep the memory alive.

For a nearly century tree the Lost Children’s Tree remained a local shrine until it blew over in a storm in 1950. A memorial cairn was built in 1967 near where the tree stood near Musk on the edge of the Wombat State forest. There is also a message tree.

A second, more accessible Cairn, in Daylesford marks the beginning of a 16 km “Lost Children’s Walk”.


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