During the Victorian era women who had inconvenient babies, usually out of wedlock, and had no support system were faced with a terrible dilemma. They could keep their child and starve or they could find someone who would look after the baby for a regular sum or an upfront payment. Amelia Dyer and the Baby Farm Murders by Angela Buckley is a look at one infamous case where a woman took in these children, murdered them and then kept the money whilst selling the child’s belongings. She was not the only one, as this book makes clear, and it was probable that she was joined in this crime by her daughter and son in law.
The book sounds sensationalist but it is, in fact, well written and the material is presented in a logical fashion. The author uses the opportunity to explore some social history and show how few options the women of the time had when it came to childcare. She then presents the information from the police investigation and the trial showing how the extent of the murders was discovered.
Amelia Dyer was a murderer with few qualms it seems. She liked to dispose of the children quickly, before they cost her any money or effort, and she deposited the bodies in the river. She moved around a lot to reduce suspicion and found the mothers of her victims by putting advertisements in the papers. She even engaged an older woman whom she met in gaol to help care for children where there was a chance of the parent returning.
I would have liked a bit more background detail with my story. How many baby farmers were there ? How many probably killed the children in their care ? What happened to the children who weren’t killed ? Did the young mothers really think that the children would be there when they came back for them or were they quietly complicit in murder ? It is the mark of a good factual book when it makes you want to read further around the subject but I felt that there was space here for a few more details.
An interesting story and clearly told.