ON Saturday, August 17, 1907, a number of reward posters appeared in Burnham-on-Crouch.

“Lost”, they read, “Five young kangaroos escaped from the Home of Rest. The finder will be rewarded on restoring same alive to the owner. £1 reward will be paid for each animal returned”.

A similar advertisement appeared in the local paper, the Burnham-on-Crouch and Dengie Hundred Advertiser and even the town crier (Joseph Hawkes) bellowed out the bizarre announcement through the streets of the little riverside town.

The juvenile marsupials (joeys), it was said, had escaped from the Home of Rest. This was the Maurice Home of Rest, an institution in Belvedere Road that provided “joyous holidays for poor boys”, mainly from the East End of London.

The mysterious “expert” owner of the kangaroos, referred to simply as ‘GD’, advised that the missing animals would best be attracted by a cry that sounded like that of a wild peacock and that they would not be able to resist an offer of delicious “kangoo nuts”.

READ MORE: Stephen Nunn welcomes new air cadets in Maldon

Burnham’s enterprising grocers – Arthur Carter and the International Stores in Station Road, Alfred Newman and Luckin Smith in the High Street, and Sydney Read and Emma Sains in Station Road – somehow obtained supplies of the hitherto unknown nuts and offered them for sale in paper bags at reasonable prices.

Word spread throughout the community and the idea of winning anything from £1 to £5 was the excited topic of conversation in the bars of the local pubs. (It has to be remembered that average earnings at that time would have been about £1-6 shillings a week).

By 8am the following morning, search parties ventured into the surrounding countryside and out on to the marshes.

People could be seen beating the hedges with sticks, all the time imitating the distinctive croak-like sound of the peacock.

A local huntsman organised an impromptu meet and another man had to be stopped by the police from loosing his bloodhounds.

Children were kept indoors by anxious mothers and then, slowly but surely, reports of sightings started to be received.

Many people swore to having seen the young kangaroos - one old woman said that she had seen two of them jump up on to her garden wall and then jump down again and hop off.

On the fifth day after the posters had first gone up, ‘GD’ received a letter from an anxious resident stating that one of the kangaroos had just bitten off the end of his finger. Under the circumstances, the injured man wanted to claim his £1 reward as compensation.

‘GD’ apologised for the unfortunate incident and suggested feeding the captive on kangoo nuts, taming him with peacock noises and bringing him to the Home of Rest for inspection.

In reply the resident then informed ‘GD’ that the animal had died, but that it was a case of mistaken identity, as the animal turned out to be “Mr Bradley’s brown ferret”.

The search continued and the talk of the lost kangaroos lingered on in Burnham and the surrounding countryside.

That was until the September 5 when a follow-up “confession” appeared in the press.

‘GD’ finally admitted it was all an elaborate hoax.

He was a patron of the Home of Rest and regularly helped out with the entertainments there. He had been involved with a programme of fun activities for 70 boys when another volunteer, a “reverend gentlemen” (probably Rev Robert Robertson Hyde, the home’s secretary and head of another Maurice Hostel in Hoxton), announced that ‘GD’ would show the boys his five young kangaroos.

‘GD’ went along with the story and even got someone to make jumping and scratching noises behind the closed doors of an adjacent room.

That night magic tricks were performed, jokes were told, but the kangaroos were nowhere to be seen.

The following morning ‘GD’ was accosted by some of the by then angry boys who demanded: “Where be those kangaroos?”

Thinking on his feet, he said they had escaped and he was just on his way to advertise their loss.

Thus the legend of Burnham’s “Lost Five” was born.

It was said that for many years latter there was still talk of kangaroo sightings in and around the town, kangoo nuts continued to be a local delicacy and the weird cry of the peacock could often be heard on the saltwater breeze pervading the streets and country lanes.

Wouldn’t it be great if, all these years on, every August the kangaroo hunt could be recreated in memory of that elaborate hoax – thus establishing a fun, ongoing time-honoured Burnham tradition.