Members Login: Remember Me Need your login details?

Victorian Baby Farming

Baby farming was a horrific Victorian practice which took advantage of mothers unable to care for their children and desperate to give them a better life.

Unmarried mothers had no support

The practice occurred in an era when contraception was limited, abortion was illegal, and illegitimate children were looked down on. The 1834 Poor Laws regarded poverty and illegitimacy as moral issues. The law was designed to restore female morality and stimulate thrifty, industrious workers. They contained a Bastardy clause that absolved the reputed father of responsibility for his child, which left many unmarried mothers socially and economically victimised and unable to provide for their children.

Unwanted children

Murdering of unwanted children by their mothers typically resulted in the death penalty. Most of the reported cases took place in London but there were no doubt incidents in every large city, including Southampton and Portsmouth, where a transient population and appalling living conditions were evident.

Some mothers probably sold their babies to childless couples. Others were fostered or adopted for a few pounds. Unmarried mothers were often so desperate that they answered newspaper adverts placed by seemingly reputable people….the so called baby farmers who in return for payment would find new families for unwanted babies.

Murder by baby farmers

Sadly, a few baby farmers found killing the babies less arduous than caring and finding adoptive families for them. Murder gave a quick profit, without the need to provide childcare at their own expense. Many of these babies died of malnutrition, neglect and abuse. In an age of high infant mortality, deaths of babies and small children were quite common and attracted little attention. Where a baby’s body was found, it was usually impossible to trace the mother.


By the end of the 19th Century, legislation was being brought in to protect against baby farming. The Infant Life Protection Act of 1897 and the Children’s Act of 1908 gave local authorities more powers to investigate baby farmers. These were later followed by legislation to regulate adoption and fostering.


Adapted from ‘Education Spot – Baby Farming’, an article by Tony Knight first published in the Hampshire Family Historian, Vol 34 No 1, June 2007.
This article is strictly for non-commercial use and remains the copyright of both the Author and the Hampshire Genealogical Society. It must not be copied, published or reproduced in any form whatever without the express written permission of the Society.
©Hampshire Genealogical Society 2007, 2009 ES0002.pdf

Latest News

Old Alresford village booklet now available

Old Alresford, (VB100) is located midway between Alton and Winchester just north of New Alresford which is on the A31. Alresford Pond is a large lake created in the 12th Century at the head of the River Arle, a tributary of the River Itchen. Several water mills have existed along the river with the restored […]

Knowle War Memorial

Knowle Hospital was open in 1852 as the Hampshire County Lunatic Asylum. The asylum was renamed Knowle Mental Hospital in c.1923 and following the 1948 introduction of the National Health Service Act, became Knowle Hospital. At the beginning of the 20th century, Knowle Hospital was home to over 1000 patients and staff and was a self […]

Free Data in the Members’ Area

For some time HGS has had the intention of making some of its large collection of Family History data available to members in the Members’ Area of our website. With the development of our website we have now been able to begin this process and the first set to be introduced is of various ‘small churchyards’ […]

RIP Private Herbert Frank French

Herbert Frank FRENCH was born on 21st April 1884 at 11 Hyde Close in Winchester, the illegitimate son of Emily. On 18th January 1908 he married Sarah Ann (Annie) BIGNELL in Meonstoke and then settled in the village to raise their daughters Emily and Ivy. Herbert was initially in the Territorial Army then when WWI […]

Can you help

 We have recently been passed a copy of a photograph with a request for more information, maybe the location or the purpose. A comment with the photo says that the men were in training but didn’t say what for. 

All News...