Hello, I’m William Graham, aged 7, and this is my little brother, Thomas, aged 4. We set off on an adventure looking for wild goats. My other little friend, Alfred Burman, came along too. In and around the village of Daylesford, we did everything together. We were inseparable.
As we left the yard, my mum called out, “I want you back here for lunch at one o’clock. You’ll be in trouble if you’re not.”
“Yeah, mum, we will be back.” I called back.
The three of us scampered out of the yard at about ten o’clock and ran down the steep hill toward Wombat Creek, laughing and singing all the way. Near the bottom we passed some diggings and waved to the men working there. We had passed this way often so they gave a friendly wave in return. We reached the creek and crossed over to the other side on stepping stones. Thomas nearly fell in and that got us laughing again.
After climbing the steep bank on the other side we made our way up the hill to Ballarat Road and headed into the bush on the other side. The trail we followed took us over a rise and down into Sailor’s Creek. It was narrow enough to jump and we climbed up the other side until we reached Black Jack Track.
That’s when we saw the first herd of wild goats. We called it “tracking them” but really, we were running after them hither and thither, first in the bush one side of the track, then the other, over and over again, in pursuit of the animals. We completely lost track of which side of the track we were on. When we got back to the track we had no idea which way we had come from. That’s when I noticed the position of the sun and thought that it must be close to mum’s deadline
Being not sure what direction to go in to get home a decision had to be made and I said “That way!” pointing up the track (in the wrong direction as it turned out). So we walked on confident that home was ahead of us. After crossing Sailor’s Creek again I realised that it was not in the same place we had crossed it before. No matter, we should hit a road or something if we keep going.
We finally reached a road. It was a gravel road and fairly wide.
I thought, “This must be Ballarat Road again. Good, we are heading in the right direction.”
We were just about to go into the bush on the other side when a man stopped us.
“It is going to be cold night, boys, better head for home.” He told us.
I said, “We are going home; it’s that way.”
He asked, “Where do you live?”
I answered, “Daylesford.”
“Then it’s that way”. He said pointing left of our course. “Follow the new telegraph lines and it will take you there. Better hurry; it’s getting late.” He advised seriously.
Of course, you now know that his name was Mutch and he was a storekeeper at Sailor’s Falls Village.
“What would he know?” I thought and continued on our present course into the bush, dragging the two smaller boys with me.
After skirting around a timber camp so as not to be seen by the men working there, I had started to form the opinion that we were going to get into big trouble when we got home, just as Mum had warned, so keeping out of the way seemed like a good idea at the time to delay the inevitable.
Thinking that we were in the clear we walked on in confidence that we hadn’t been seen and that we were going in the right direction. We reached the Daylesford to Ballarat train line. This was most unexpected and I was confused for a few moments. That’s when we met Quinn.
He asked, “Where are you three off to so late in the day?”
I told him, “We are going home to Daylesford.”
He said, “Going that way you’re not! Turn left and follow the railway line back to Daylesford. If you keep going in the direction that you are now heading you will be going to Bullarto, and that’s a very long way.”
With somewhat disguised confidence, I told him that I thought he was wrong, though niggling doubts were starting to creep into my head.
He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Think about it, son, you are going the wrong way. Be very careful”
As we pushed on through the bush and the gathering darkness I began to worry that the two men might have been right after all. Thomas and Alfred were getting very tired and I started to feel concerned and uneasy. We hadn’t eaten all day and all of us were very hungry. It was getting very cold as well. Though we were dressed for the winter cold we were starting to get chilled right through. It didn’t help the situation when we reached Wombat Creek again. With no stepping stones we had to wade through the freezing water. Now cold and wet, I was shivering uncontrollably when we reached the opposite bank.
I had to carry Thomas up the bank on the other side he was so exhausted. Alfred wasn’t fairing much better and needed help. I was feeling extremely weary from the effort afterwards. I knew that we had to find shelter and fast. While stumbling through the dark I happened upon a hollow tree. It was pure luck that I found it. The two youngsters were shoved inside and I pushed into the gap in front of them to give a small measure of protection from the cold. It was freezing! I had never been so cold or so uncomfortable. I was really worried and very scared now. How I wished I had taken the advice offered earlier
I didn’t know that a farmhouse was less than 100 yards away. You all know that now but I didn’t. The outcome could have been quite different had I known.
Thomas went to sleep eventually. That was good because his constant whimpering had been driving me mad with anxiety. Alfred went to sleep soon afterward.
I thought, “Good, they will get some rest and we can go on in the morning.”
I knew nothing about hypothermia and didn’t realise that they had both died from exposure to the extreme cold. I was having trouble keeping my eyes open so I huddled closer to try to keep my now dead companions and myself warm. As I lay down in the hollow I felt a strange feeling of peace and warmth come over me and shut my eyes.
Gordon Nightingale is a local author and poet and the convenor of the Daylesford U3A Writers’ Circle.
The bodies of the three boys were found on 13th September 1867, after a dog from a nearby farm brought home a small shoe with a foot in it. The same dog later brought back a skull. A search of the area found the remains of the boys in a hollow tree just 50 yards from the farmhouse.
Over 1,000 people attended the funeral service for the boys and another 1,000 were at the cemetery. They were buried in the same grave with their bodies arranged just as they had been found. The Graham family set up the Graham Dux Scholarship in the boy’s honour at Daylesford Primary School. The Scholarship still continues today.
Three Lost Children Walk
The Three Lost Children Walk commemorates the tragedy by following the approximate route that the children took. The walk commences at the Three Lost Children Memorial Park at the corner of Central Springs Rd and Ballarat Rd in Daylesford. It follows a well marked 16km (6 hour) route to the Wombat Creek Picnic area.