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The Baby Farmers

In October 1892, a one-month-old baby boy was found buried in the backyard of Sarah and John Makin, two wretchedly poor baby farmers in inner Sydney. In the weeks that followed, 12 more babies were found buried in the backyards of other houses in which the Makins had lived. This resulted in the most infamous trial in Australian legal history, and exposed a shocking underworld of desperate mothers, drugged and starving babies, and a black market in the sale and murder of children. Annie Cossins pieces together a dramatic and tragic tale with larger-than-life characters: theatrical Sarah Makin, her smooth-talking husband John, her disloyal daughter, Clarice, diligent Constable James Joyce with curious domestic arrangements of his own, and a network of baby farmers stretching across the city. It's a glimpse into a society that preferred to turn a blind eye to the fate of its most vulnerable members, only a century ago.
Product Details

Table of Contents

Author's note Prologue PART I: WHO WERE THE MAKINS? 1 The hanging 2 Sarah Makin: convict daughter 3 John Makin: son of the middle class with a past 4 The deadly secret in Sarah Makin's body PART II: DIGGING UP THE BABY FARMERS' SECRETS 5 The baby trade 6 The Macdonaldtown discoveries 7 To catch a baby farmer 8 The first inquest: two babies called A and B 9 Constable James Joyce: Joycean fictions and the art of deceit 10 More digging and the strange behaviour of the Makins 11 The next five inquests: the Makins' lives stripped bare 12 The longest, saddest inquest: clothing and other complications 13 The mysterious Mr and Mrs Wilson give evidence 14 The obsessions of James Joyce: digging, redigging and more digging 15 Mothers, mothers everywhere: the George Street inquests begin 16 The day Miss Amber Murray visited the Makins PART III: TRIALS, APPEALS AND VARIOUS PETITIONS 17 The trial of the century: a judge out of his depth 18 The first appeal: the Makins' struggle against the hand of fate 19 The law passes sentence 20 Last stop, London 21 Makin's last chance: an 'innocent' man under the thumb of a 'fiendish' woman PART IV: SARAH MAKIN, REFORMED WOMAN 22 From convict daughter to convict 23 Was Sarah Makin really an evil, deadly woman? 24 The lives that were left Notes Acknowledgements Index

Promotional Information

The most common murder victim in 19th century Australia was a baby, and the most common perpetrator was a woman. Annie Cossins pieces together the fascinating story of the most infamous legal trial in Australia to reveal an underworld of struggling mothers, unwanted babies, and a society that preferred to turn a blind eye.

About the Author

Annie Cossins is an author, actor and criminologist.


'A very moving book... (It) brings to life the awful poverty and the immoral 'morality' of the times, that created conditions which broke that most sacred and powerful bond - that between mother and baby - and broke the hearts of impoverished young women.' - Gabrielle Lord. 'A very readable and accessible history of a terrible time. The writer has a passionate grasp of her subject and her time.' - Kerry Greenwood.

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