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.
'A very moving book...[It] brings to life the awful poverty and the immoral 'morality' of the times... conditions which broke that most sacred and powerful bond - 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
'Cossins is both relentless in her search, and engrossing in her writing' - Lucy Sussex
As in the very best true crime, criminologist Cossins uses the murders she recounts as a way of exposing an aspect of society that has been hidden. The horrific attitude toward infants in late-19th-century Australia is brought to light through the story of John and Sarah Makin, baby farmers in Sydney (in the Victorian era, children born out of wedlock were often given to professionals, who raised them at a price). Their story reveals a larger societal problem infanticide was so rampant at the time that the newspapers actually ran tallies of the numbers of dead babies found in a week. Against this background, Cossins, who was inspired to write the book after portraying Sarah Makin on an episode of the TV docu-drama series Deadly Women, gives a gripping account of the investigation and prosecution of the Makins after 13 corpses of babies were unearthed in 1892 in the backyards of homes where the Makins had lived. The book's power stems from its devastating details; Cossins establishes a tone so vivid it's reminiscent of Dickens. Photos.