Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Possibly Baby Farmers

The Baby Farmers, 
by Annie Cossins
Some time ago I read a book The Baby Farmers by Annie Cossins. It is about Sarah and John Makin who killed at least 13 babies that they had taken in the early 1890s. The mothers of these illegitimate babies paid the Makins to take in their child, but the children died shortly after, either by being murdered, deliberately starved and neglected, or overdosed on Godfrey's Cordial (a freely available opiate used to quiet children when they were teething, unwell, or otherwise unable to sleep). At that time forensics analysis of corpses was not what it is now, so an exact cause of death could not be determined.

"Baby farming" was, sadly, a wide-spread occurrence at that time, particularly in Britain. Because of the high rates of infant mortality at the time these crimes often went undetected, but there were several high-profile cases in England resulting in the conviction of baby farmers.

Well, I think I may have discovered another case, possibly a hitherto unknown one. 

One of my clients gave me a pile of their family papers as part of the research I was doing for them. Amongst them were transcripts of the birth and death of a baby boy. I am changing the name of all the parties involved in case I have misinterpreted the case, though dates and places are as on the original

Albert Thomas Hunter was born on 31 Oct 1885 at Glebe Road. He was the illegitimate son of Mary Elizabeth Hunter who was aged 19.

Albert died just over two weeks later, on 15 November 1885, at Commercial Road, West Callan Park, Leichhardt. His cause of death was given as "Atrophy" (could just as well been called "failure to thrive") lasting about 3 days. The informant was "Sarah L.S. White, acting as adopted parent of child, in conjunction with her husband William White, Commercial Road, West Callan Park, Leichhardt".

The child was buried the next day in Balmain Cemetery, and the presiding minister was listed as Master Albert William White.

It's a bit suspicious. The child was so young, died of "atrophy", which could be a result of neglect or malnutrition, and it was reported by the "adoptive" parents (who are unlikely to have taken the child out of the goodness of their heart alone).

Maybe the Whites were innocent, but maybe they were undiscovered baby farmers. 


  1. Interesting! I look forward to the next instalment.(and I've also got another book to read)

  2. Could also have been genetic, about right time frame for a death where the child could not get nourishment. May also have been a bacterial infection caused by E coli which causes a failure to thrive syndrome.

    1. Yes, Helen, you are absolutely correct ... but it COULD also be something more sinister!

  3. I have a similar case in my family tree though the child was slightly older and there was an inquest. He had been in private care in Brisbane and was also illegitimate.