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Babes in the Wood - April 11, 1842

Updated: Jan 9, 2022

On Monday, April 11, 1842, Jane Meagher was in bed with her newborn son, George. Her husband, John, was in bed sick with the measles. With both parents out of commission, eldest daughter, Martha, took over the household duties. Younger sisters, Jane Elizabeth, 6, and Margaret, known as Maggie, 4, were left to amuse themselves.

The Meagher home was located on Barker Road, near the western edge of Lake Loon Centre. At about 10 o'clock that morning, young Jane and Maggie walked north from their home and ended up walking a total of 5-6km, much farther than anyone estimated they would have wandered, to Huckleberry Hill, which today is known as Melancholy Mountain. Mr. J.G. McKenzie produced a scale map of their supposed route. You can also see on the map that he has plotted the spots where footprints and a bloodied scrap of dress were discovered during the search for the children.

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It wasn't until Monday afternoon, when a man who had been hired to help on the farm called for the children and they did not return to the house, that worry set in. Their father, a neighbour and other friends used torches to search for the sisters all night. It has been reported that a young man who lived east of Lake Loon heard cries that evening but did not investigate as he was afraid it might be wild animals.

By Tuesday, April 12, residents of Dartmouth and Halifax heard that the two young girls were missing and hundreds of people showed up to search. They found footprints in the snow. That night two inches of snow fell.

More searchers continued to arrive each day and on Thursday, April 14 more footprints, the print of a small hand, and a scrap of dress with blood on it were found. By Saturday, April 16, 3000 searchers had answered the call published by the Halifax Morning Post. One hour into the search that morning, a dog named Rover found the sisters, wrapped in each other's arms, on Melancholy Mountain.

On Tuesday, April 19 the sisters were laid to rest together in one coffin in Allen's Burial Ground, which is now known as Woodlawn Cemetery. Peter Currie, Rover's owner, used his reward money to help provide a gravestone for the children. The bronze plaque inscribed "Babes in the Wood", Jane Elizabeth and Margaret Meagher, Aged 6 and 4 years, who were lost at Preston April 11, 1842, was added in 1931. To the right of the girls gravestone is a gravestone bearing both of their names and the names of the rest of their family: their parents, John and Jane, their older sister, Martha, and their younger brothers, George, who was a newborn when they went missing, and John S.G., who was born in 1844.

If you are interested in learning more about this story, my resource for this post was the book Melancholy Mountain, What Happened in 1842? Revisiting the Babes in the Wood Tragedy written by Robert H. Lindsay. You can find the cradle that is said to have rocked both baby Jane (born June 1835) and baby Maggie (born October 1837) Meagher in the Giles House at the Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum.

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