NEWLANDS. WELLINGTON. In the 1800s to early 1920s, there was another, more controversial, type of farming going on, baby farming. Baby farming is the historical practice of accepting custody of an infant or child in exchange for payment. This was usually due to the child being born ‘illegitimate’ (meaning the child was born outside of a marriage, also known as bastardy) and the social stigma that it carried on the mother.
Some baby farmers ‘adopted’ children for lump-sum payments, while others cared for infants for periodic payments. However, in the case of a lump-sum adoption, it was more profitable for the baby farmers if the child was no longer around, as the sum would not cover the care for the child for long. In these cases, the child was sometimes adopted out to other families, and in other cases, the child simply died due to unsanitary and subpar living conditions. However, finally and most sinister, occasionally the baby farmer would commit the most heinous of acts and murder the child; pocketing the adoption fee.
These acts came to light most infamously when English serial killer and baby farmer Amelia Dyer dubbed the Ogress of Reading was officially tried and hanged in 1896 for intentionally killing six children for profit but it is estimated the real number of child deaths she was responsible for was closer to 400.
New Zealand had its own baby farmer scandal late in the 1800s when Minnie Dean was tried and hanged for the murder of three children in 1895.
However, in the early 1920s, baby farming became a topic of controversy once more within NZ as a new scandal gripped the public. With headlines splattered over the NZ Truth newspaper such as “The Newlands Horror”, “A Gruesome Discovery” and “The Massacre of the Innocents”, the public was enraptured yet horrified with what was being uncovered. The case would go on to become one of NZ’s most discussed and pondered tragedies of the 1920s. This is the story of The Newlands Baby Farmer.
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