Engraving of Clara Crosbie the twelve year old who went missing for three weeks in the Bush.
From the original edition of the Australasian Sketcher.
Clara Harriet Crosbie was twelve years old when she went missing in the bush near Yellingbo in the Yarra Valley in May 1885. ‘The child had been sent on a visit to a neighbour about a mile from her mother’s house’, reported the Argus, but ‘as a town-bred girl, of warm affections and quick impulses … she resolved to find her way home, although she did not know the way.’ Faced with the perilous wilds, Clara took shelter in the hollow of a tree for three weeks, emerging to crawl her way to a nearby creek, withered and athirst for water. Days would pass, Clara’s cooee’s for help unanswered. Eventually, her cries were heard – by chance – by two men named Cowan and Smith while they were in the vicinity searching for horses. A low sound, ‘like a young blackbird’s whistle’, had caught the acute ear of the two experienced bushmen and they followed the ‘wailing note borne softly on the breeze’ to its source. With the return of each low and piercing cooee, the men at last caught sight of the little girl, frail and woebegone. ‘The little creature was tottering towards us, in her ulster, without shoes or stockings on, but quite sensible’ and in a state ‘so weak she could scarcely stand’ the men recounted. Clara was admitted to Melbourne Hospital suffering lacerations, swollen feet and chafed knees. Suffering exposure and starvation from her ordeal, it was reported that ‘she had not tasted the least thing during the whole three weeks (except once having chewed a bit of bark).’ Her inclination to sleep and rest rather than wandering exhaustedly about accounted for her comparatively good condition. Upon being discharged from hospital, she was despatched to the Protestant Orphanage in Brighton where she remained for some time while authorities decided what to do with her. There were suggestions in the press at the time that Clara’s mother was an unfit parent and so, rather bizarrely, her caretakers determined that a desirable solution was to ‘offer’ the girl to Maximilian Kreitmayer, a Melbourne waxworks proprietor. Clara’s mother was favourable to the proposal and decided that Kreitmayer would ‘clothe, educate and bring Clara up properly.’ A further agreement was made whereby Kreitmayer paid Clara’s father a handsome three pounds a week for the privilege of exhibiting her. Twice each day Clara would perform a scripted account of her frightening story and of how she ‘lived in the Bush for 21 days WITHOUT FOOD.’ In December 1885 she proceeded to Sydney to repeat the spectacle. Some weeks later, on 11 January 1886, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that around 150,000 people had visited the show.
Source; National Portrait Gallery ACT