Tranmere baby farmers 1879, convicted of "Wilful murder"

Sentence penal servitude for life

Sentence penal servitude for life

Liverpool Mercury, Sept 25th 1879



At the Birkenhead Police Court on Saturday, John and Catherine BARNES, husband and wife, were charged on remand with having neglected to provide proper nourishment for a child in their care and having wilfully murdered two others. Mr MOORE who prosecuted on behalf of the Treasury, said that since the prisoners were before the magistrate a fortnight ago the police had been unremitting in their inquiries, and when the whole of the phases of the case were revealed he thought such a history of crime would be disclosed as was almost unparalleled.

Correspondence had been discovered in the prisoners house relating to children from Hull, Leeds, Wigan, Bristol, Bath, Hereford, and about twenty other towns, and when the whole of the case is gone into it would be necessary to call 50 to 60 witnesses. Since the previous adjournment two children had died and the prisoners were charged with the capital offence. It was known that 30 to 40 children who had been given to the prisoners were missing and could not be traced. 4 or 5 had been buried this year, and some of these had been traced, but to the others there were no clue yet. The case was considered of such importance that at the next hearing the Solicitor of the Treasury would be present, so he Mr MOORE, proposed to call only sufficient evidence to justify a remand.

Mr WILLIAMS, master of the Birkenhead Workhouse said that the child known as Mabel died there on Wednesday, and the child called Alice HAMILTON had died early that morning.

Dr LAIDLAW said the cause of death in each case was long continued, mal-nutrition. The third child, Florence, was in a very weak state, but seemed likely to recover. - The prisoners were then remanded until Thursday, the female prisoner remarking, “In the end they will find there are no more children than they have already got. I can prove it in many ways.”

It has been ascertained by the police that the prisoners have passed by the names of, HOWELL, HALL, BANKS, BEARD and HAMILTON, but BARNES is understood to be their real name. During the past few years they have resided in various houses in Birkenhead, Tranmere and Bootle. Alice HAMILTON the child who died on Saturday, has been found to be the daughter of parents living in Hereford. The inquest on the bodies of the two children Alice and Mabel, was held on Wednesday.

Dr LAIDLAW said the deceased child Alice was suffering from inanition



At the adjourned inquest of Mabel and Alice the two infants who died at the Birkenhead Workhouse from the effects of gradual starvation whilst in the charge of , John and Catherine BARNES, husband and wife, baby farmers who lived at 124 Church Rd, Higher Tranmere resumed today before Henry CHURTON, Cheshire coroner, Mr MOORE prosecuted on behalf of the Treasury.

The first witness was Alice Maria RODENHURST a young lady residing in Hereford. She said she was the mother of the child Alice HAMILTON, its proper name was Alice Maria Emily RODENHURST, and it was born on the 15th April this year at Hereford, The child always seemed strong and healthy, and it remained under the care of the witness until the 17th May, when she gave it to the woman Catherine BARNES. It was dry nursed on milk and sometimes given bread and milk. She parted with the child at Hereford station, and she identified BARNES as the woman to whom she gave it. The child was well clothed and she also supplied BARNES with other clothes for it. Witness arranged to give £30 to bring up the child as her own, and she also gave her a sovereign with her expenses in going to Hereford. She said she was taking the child to 124 Higher, Tranmere, where she lived. Witness advertised in the Liverpool Mercury for someone to adopt a baby, and that is how she got to know BARNES. Witness saw the child next at the Birkenhead Workhouse on Thursday last. It was then very much emaciated and wasting away. At the time she gave the child to BARNES it was strong and healthy, but, had not been vaccinated. The witness identified the following document, signed, “C. HAMILTON”, “I agree to take your child for ever, and bring her up as my own for £30, and never to trouble anyone belonging to her again.” BARNES said she had no children, If witness had thought otherwise that she had more children, she would not have let the child go. She had no communication with the male prisoner, all the letters she received were from Mr BARNES. The clothes produced belonged to the child and some were never worn.

Dr LAIDLAW medical officer of the workhouse said he first saw the child Alice on the night of the 3rd instant, at first he thought it fairly nourished thinking it was a month old, but, next morning concluded it was between 3 and 5mths old. It was taken to the workhouse with the two other children. He said the deceased child Alice was suffering from nothing but inanition , the want of food. At the workhouse it did well for a few days but gradually fell off and died on Saturday last of passive diarrhoea, a post mortem examination showed the cause of death to be long continued malnutrition, which had thinned away the bowels, and prevented them doing their duty.

Mr S. SPRATLEY. M.D, member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and surgeon to the Birkenhead Borough Hospital, who assisted in the examination agreed with Dr LAIDLAW to the cause of death, he found no trace of disease in the organs of the child, but found the child had been so badly nourished that the intestines were transparent.

Emily RODENHURST sister of the mother of the deceased child said she was present at Hereford Railway station on the 17th May when the infant was given to Mrs BARNES, the child was then strong and healthy, the clothes produced were those her sister handed over to Mrs BARNES.

Louisa BARNES, aged 14, now an inmate in the workhouse said she was the daughter of the prisoners, she could nether read nor write, she remembered some time ago taking baby clothes to the shop of Mr BENTLEY to pledge. Her mother gave her a note to take, and on getting home she gave the money to her mother.

Mr SCHOLFIELD juryman asked whether it was in the scope of the inquiry to ask Louisa BARNES some questions as to the treatment received by the children found in the house, it appears there were six children in the house altogether.

The Coroner, replied that he could not see any practical results would follow from asking the girl any further questions, a poor ignorant child as she was, it is a very delicate thing to do to ask questions that may involve the mother, it is well to avoid such a thing.

The inquiry into the death of Mabel, otherwise Emily GREEN who died on the 10th inst was proceeded with.

Ellen LONG, widow of Joseph LONG, joiner and builder of 17 Portland St, Leeds, was then called, and said that on the 20th April, a single woman named Emma GREEN was confined of a female child at her home which she could not suckle it was fed on milk and bread. It was a fine healthy child and nothing ailed it. When the child was a month old GREEN went to Manchester to take a situation leaving the child with the witness. She kept the child until the 19th July, its father paying 7s a week for its support, and on the latter day it was taken away by the woman BARNES, who came to the house in a cab. The father of the child was there at the time and it was with his consent she parted with it. It was a strong, healthy child, , and if it had been in the witness’s keeping it would be alive now. The child was well dressed, and two or three changes of clothes were sent away with it. Witness begged her to take care of the child and she said she would. She knew nothing of the arrangements between the father and Mrs BARNES. Witness had not seen either of the deceased children as they were buried when she arrived, she did identify some of the clothing worn by Mabel. Witness understood from BARNES that she and her husband had a little boy, and they wanted a little girl to adopt. Samuel BLYTHE, a young man from Wigan, said he knew the mother of the child Emily GREEN. She was a single woman and lived in Wigan He believed the child was born in April last In July he saw an advertisement in The Manchester Examiner and Times, paper for a child to adopt and replied to it. An answer was received from a, “C. HALL” of 124 Church Rd, Higher, Tranmere, and he went over there and saw the female prisoner at that address. She assured him that all was right with regard to the adoption of the child, that she only had one boy who was about 7yrs old, and at school, and she wanted to adopt a daughter. She took him to a school and brought out a boy who she introduced as her son. Some letters passed between them and witness believed that the prisoner at first asked for £50 for taking the child, but ultimately £10 was paid, and the child was taken over, the prisoner saying that it would be brought up in a religious manner. The impression on the witness’s mind after a talk with the prisoner, was that her husband was a Merchant in Liverpool.

The Coroner remarked that it seemed to be a most unnatural thing for a man or woman to dispose of his or her child for £10, and be absolved from all responsibility.

Witness replied that the woman said she took the child as a matter of affection and not for money.

He then said he would proceed with the case himself. Supt CLARKE and other officers had entered the house on a certain day at 124 Church Rd, Higher Tranmere where they found the prisoners who made no objection to them searching the place, the officers went upstairs and in one wretched den in the place they found one child and in another room two children lying on a mattress almost denuded of clothing, they were in a wretched, miserable, emaciated condition, if not for the visit of the officers on that day, the children would have suffered more ill-treatment and cruelty and everything else that was bad and detestable. In one room there was some straw on which the poor children had laid in nakedness, and no doubt in pain as their bodies rolled on the straw which had become chaff. The was scarcely a particle of furniture in the house, there was no food for the children, the only food found being a loaf of bread.

Upon the children being removed to the workhouse they were cleaned and fed and placed in comfort. Dr LAIDLAW was sent for and with the nurse attended the children until their death, so enfeebled had their bodies become through starvation that their digestive functions had lost their tone and they could not digest what was given to them. They lingered for some time, showing the great efforts of the medical people to save their lives, but unfortunately two children died and one is still living.

Det Officer James NELSON said on the 4th inst he found 38 pawn tickets in the house of the prisoners, two relate to clothing of the deceased which were pledged with Mr BENTLEY, Old Chester Rd, Tranmere and with Mr CALDERBANK, Grange Lane.

Mr William CALDERBANK, pawnbroker, Grange Lane, stated on the 16th June, Mrs BARNES pledged with him some baby clothes for 2s-6d, and Mary BENTLEY assistant to William BENTLEY, pawnbroker, Old Chester Rd, proved that a girl who lived with the prisoners pledged baby clothes on the 5th Aug last for 2s-6d, the girl always brought a note with her signed by the prisoner Catherine BARNES.

The Coroner, in summing up said he would like to know the difference between slow poisoning and slow starvation, and it would be for the jury, after listening in detail to the case, to consider what were the intentions of the prisoners with regard to the children. They must have seen long before the discovery of the children that they were ill. They were under their care, and they were as much responsible for the treatment of those children as if they had been under the care of their father and mother. They had arranged to receive the children under the most false circumstances. Falsity and deception appear to be most prominent features in the case. Did the prisoners intend to preserve the lives of the children ? He thought not, and his own idea was based upon the evidence before him, that if the children had not been rescued, they would have been dead, buried, and never known of except by a very few, and in all probability replaced by another little trio, who might have shared the same fate. The case rested entirely with the jury. He considered it one the like of which he had never before investigated in the country or ever heard of.

The jury after half an hours consultation, “We are unanimous in our verdict, that the two prisoners are guilty of the wilful murder of the two children of whose death we have inquired into, their deaths having been caused by wilful neglect and starvation.”

The prisoners were then committed to the assizes for “Wilful murder.” Today [Thursday] they will be brought up on remand at the Birkenhead Police court.

Liverpool Mercury, Sept 29th 1879


Every day further disclosures are made with respect to the systematic operations of John and Catherine BARNES, who have now become notorious as the Tranmere baby farmers and are charged with the wilful murder of two infants. When the prisoners were taken into custody there were found in the house, the three children who were taken into the workhouse and three others the eldest of whom is Louisa aged about 12 to 13yrs. The prisoners said the latter three children were their own. When the police visited the house the girl Louisa had 24 letters relating to baby farming, at the inquest she claimed the prisoners were her parents. Since Friday a communication has been received by the police from a firm of Liverpool solicitors, showing that some years ago Louisa, or as she is now called, Maria Louisa WALLER was confided by her father in the care of the prisoners, who at the time were living in Victoria Rd, Tranmere Park, Birkenhead. With Louisa they received £60 and a document was signed by the respective parties when the child was handed over to the prisoners. Louisa whose parents belong to Leeds, was entitled to £1250 and the prisoners were lately trying to obtain the money. A letter has been received from a medical man in Tattenhall Cheshire stating that in 1877 he attended an infant at the house of Mrs WALKER at Newton-by-Tattenhall. The child who died of weakness was taken to Tattenhall by a woman called Mrs BARNES and gave her address as Nelson St, Birkenhead. It has transpired that since 1871 the prisoners have lived at 16 different places, in Liverpool, Birkenhead and Bootle etc.

Liverpool Mercury, Oct 1st, 1879


Prisoners brought up on remand yesterday at the Birkenhead police court before Mr C. J. PRESTON Stipendiary magistrate Mr MOORE again prosecuted for the Treasury, Mr PUGH represented the prisoners, who walked into court with apparently the greatest bravado. Great interest was exhibited in the inquiry and the court was crowded with witnesses and others.

Mr MOORE opened the proceedings by referring to a complaint made by the male prisoner, that he and his wife had been harshly treated by the police. Instead, however, every consideration had been shown them and he had written to that effect to Messers HANNAN and PUGH, solicitors to the accused.

Further Evidence

Mr MOORE called, Mr Charles Lloyd GREGORY who said he was assistant to his father, Mr Peter GREGORY, Registrar for births and deaths in the district of Birkenhead. He produced the register of deaths for the sub-district of Tranmere in it he found the registration of a death for a child named Ellen BRADBURY, aged 7mths, on the 5th September 1878, as having died at 28 Helmingham Rd, Tranmere daughter of Ellen BRADBURY, domestic servant, the certificate signed by Dr ELLISON. He found another entry of a child named William BARNES, aged 21mths as having died in Helmingham Rd, Tranmere on the 17th September 1878, the death certified by Dr LAMB. He found the registration of another child Ethel RUSSELL, aged 4, daughter of Maggie RUSSELL, domestic servant as having died at 6 Walker St, Tranmere on the 20th January 1879.

Mr John LANGLEY registrar of the sub-district of Tranmere, produced a certificate dated the 5th September, signed by Dr ELLISON of the death of a child, the person who brought the certificate signed herself as “C. BARNES” witness produced two other certificates of the deaths of the two children mentioned by the previous witness in these two cases witness signed, “C. BARNES”

The Magistrate asked the witness was his attention not excited by these deaths as two occurred within days and the third months after. Witness replied, he asked the lady what was the matter in the house. But this was not unusual as sometimes there were 3 or 4 deaths in one house and in all illegitimate cases they were very particular in getting the facts. Ethel RUSSELL and Ellen BRADBURY were illegitimate all the particulars were put in the book.

Magistrate, but you seem to have made no particular inquiry, you seem to have been no more particular in these cases than any other.

Witness, No.

Sarah BENTLEY daughter of William BENTLEY, pawnbroker, Old Chester Rd, Tranmere, produced a quantity of baby clothing pawned by a girl who represented herself as the prisoner’s daughter, on each occasion the girl brought a note signed, Catherine BARNES, the clothing had been identified on a previous day as clothing given to the prisoner by THOMPSON and GREEN who transferred their infants to the care of the prisoners. Det Officer NELSON produced the pawn tickets he found at the house relating to the articles identified by THOMPSON and GREEN. He also produced pawn tickets relating to articles identified by Mrs LONG belonging to the child Mabel. On the 19th September witness identified the body of Mabel at the dead house at the workhouse.

Det Officer MOORE deposed that on the 23rd Sept he accompanied Samuel BLYTHE father of the child Mabel, to the bridewell at Tranmere.

Female prisoner said, “Hello Mr GREEN, [was known by real name BLYTHE],”

Mr BLYTHE said, “Where is the child I handed over to you?”

Prisoner replied, “It is poor Mabel, the first of the two that died in the workhouse.”

Maria Louisa WALLER was then called, who said she was 14 and now a inmate of the Birkenhead workhouse up to this time she was known as Louisa BARNES.

Mr MOORE, we are in possession of an agreement drawn up in November 1873 by Messers LACES and Co, the witness was then 10yrs old [it seems from the agreement the prisoners got £60 for taking the girl WALLER, it also stated that when the girl reached 21 that she was entitled to a certain sum and the prisoners had written to the solicitors on the subject].

The male prisoner here said the girl was 13yrs of age.

The girl WALLER continued to say that the female prisoner had sent her with certain things to pawn at the shop of Mr BENTLEY, when she got back she put the money on the table and her mother took it. Before she was taken to the workhouse she lived with the prisoners who gave her plenty to eat. She went to school but not often, she went to the Holt School. She used to often nurse the babies down stairs by the fire, she often saw the female prisoner feed them bread and milk, the milk was got from MINKS’S and JONES‘S. Witness used to fetch it and it was sometimes sent, she went 2 or 3 times a day for milk and used to get a pint at a time. She got bread from the bread shop, and sometimes her mother [the prisoner] used to get bread and meat from the convent. Her mother went every morning to fetch the bread and meat. She sometimes gave the food from the convent to the babies.

Det Officer NELSON stated that when entering the house the prisoners said, the witness and the two boys found in the house were their own children. In consequence of a communication with Messers LACES and Co, Liverpool, he saw the male prisoners on Saturday last concerning Maria Louisa WALLER, he had received £60 for the girl, he asked where she was and the male prisoner said it was Louisa the girl in the workhouse.

Mr MOORE said this was the whole of the evidence he proposed to call concerning the deaths of Mabel and Alice, he would now call witnesses to support the charge of misdemeanour against the prisoners with regard to the child Florence.

Supt CLARKE deposed that on the night of the 3rd September, on entering the house he saw the female prisoner coming out of a bedroom with the child Florence on her arm, the child was very dirty and in an emaciated condition, it was huddled up in a “ruck” with only a piece of rag wrapped around its middle. The left leg, the hip and up the body were red and inflamed. The flesh appeared quite withered and wet, its eyes were sunken and there was a lump on its forehead sticking out about half an inch. The child could not sit up at all and had to be held in the females arms, it had no power in its limbs, it was all in a “ruck”. In one part of the room there was some straw which had been reduced to chaff, it resembled a bed for a dog. There were only two pieces of rag in the room and a very bad smell. There was no feeding bottle in the house for the children.

Andrew HORTON, master tailor, said that at the beginning of September he lived next door to the prisoners. H never saw the prisoners out with the children. His sleeping apartment was upstairs at the back, both day and night he heard cries from the back room of the house of the prisoners. They were cries of a baby 8 or 10mths old, they were pitiful cries, like a howl, the howl of a dog when chained. They were not natural cries. On one occasion witness went into the back yard during a heavy storm when the rain pored down in torrents, he saw the window in the prisoners back room was down to the bottom and found then the cries were those of a child. From the sound of the cries he sometimes had doubts if they were a child’s or not, the prisoners were not in but a fortnight when he heard the cries, he could not sleep for them. He never spoke to the prisoners about it, but, on one occasion complained to the male prisoner for assaulting his child.

The male prisoner, It is all spite, I did not keep another woman and starve my family, like you [witness].

Mr MOORE, Is there any truth in the prisoner’s assertion?

Witness, there is not the slightest ground for such an assertion

Dr LAIDLAW medical officer of the workhouse deposed he saw the child Alice on the night of the 3rd instant, it was about a year old. It had been neglected and was the most emaciated of the three children. Its abdomen was swollen and it had a lump on its forehead, The weight of the child was 14lb 4ozs, it should have been double this weight. Mr MOORE, looking at the state of the child and the condition of the room do you think it was improperly treated? Witness Certainly. Magistrate, and its life was in danger from that improper treatment ? Witness, Yes. The lump on its forehead was a result of direct violence, either from a blow or fall. The state of the child was not caused by dentition.

Mr Thomas WILLIAMS, master of the Birkenhead Workhouse , also proved the child Florence was in a dirty and emaciated condition when removed to the workhouse. The child since its admission to the workhouse, has made great progress and on the previous day had been sitting up in bed.

The Magistrate said the prisoners must remain in the bridewell till the following day for the production of witnesses for the defence, he should not commit them for trial till Wednesday. On their removal in a cab to the Tranmere bride well they were hissed at by a large crowd of people who had assembled outside the court


Various stories are told respecting the career of the two prisoners who have now become notorious as the baby farmers, some no doubt are correct, whilst others probably have no foundation. It appears in 1874 the prisoners had sub-farmed in Liverpool four children one of whom was Maria Louisa WELLER, [as spelt] the girl the prisoners said was their offspring and found at Church Rd, Higher Tranmere, when the police visited on the 3rd September. In the year named the prisoners who went by the name of HOWELL, left Liverpool and took up residence at 21 Midland St, Birkenhead, leaving the four children behind them. Some intimation of the prisoner’s baby farming transactions came under the notice of Mr Moritz SINAIHEGYI auctioneer of 32 Eastbourne St, Liverpool, and at considerable trouble he found where the four children where kept, and having got them together he took them to Birkenhead, and brought them before Mr PRESTON the stipendiary magistrate. His worship after duly considering the matter, decided the case did not come within his jurisdiction, and three of the children were handed over to the prisoners. The children it is said had a famished appearance at the time. The fourth child was in the keeping of a Mrs ROBINSON, of Stanley Rd, with whom the prisoners left it for five days , whilst they went [as they represented] to London to receive £500 on account of some property they had in Leamington. The prisoners, however, never returned for the child again, and it is still kept by Mrs ROBINSON. Instructions were given to the Detective force at Birkenhead to watch the movements of the couple, but it was not until the beginning of September that they found themselves in a position to take proceedings in the matter. It is supposed that at different times the prisoners have had in their charge 30 to 40 children, and with regard to a number of these infants it is feared that their lives have been sacrificed by starvation or other methods. It has been ascertained that before going to Birkenhead the prisoners lived at 7 or 8 different places in Liverpool and the neighbourhood.

An amusing tale was told yesterday regarding the prisoners by a man at the inquiry calling himself a “financial agent” in 1874 he had some money transactions with the male prisoner, who, whenever he applied for a loan was well dressed and smoked a shilling cigar. The last loan obtained was £80, and as security the male prisoner gave a document purporting to be drawn up by Messers MEANBANK, ROBINSON and Co, solicitors, Chelsea, and referring to some property. Some time afterwards BARNES arranged to pay back on a particular evening the £80 to the financial agent, who arranged with his wife to prepare a bottle of brandy and cigars for his visitors. On the night arranged the prisoner called at the financial agent’s house and soon afterwards was joined by a lady and gentleman. The party were entertained in the drawing room with brandy and cigars, but before the financial agent got home the prisoner and his companions left without repaying the loan of £80. Suspicions were then entertained respecting the prisoners, and, upon writing to London the financial agent he had been victimised as there was no such firm as, Messers MEANBANK, ROBINSON and Co, solicitors, Chelsea. The supposition now is that the prisoners made the agents house a rendezvous for receiving a child from the lady and gentleman who joined them on the night in question.

Liverpool Mercury, Oct 2nd, 1879



John and Catherine BARNES, the Tranmere baby farmers were again brought up yesterday at the Birkenhead Police Court before Mr C. J. PRESTON Stipendiary magistrate charged with the wilful murder of two infants Alice and Mabel by gradual starvation, and a further charge of misdemeanour in having endangered the life of a child called Florence now in the Birkenhead workhouse, by starvation. Mr MOORE again prosecuted for the Treasury, Mr PUGH was for the defence, the interest in the case seemed unabated.

Evidence called for the defence.

Sarah MINKS wife of John MINKS, milk dealer, Prenton Lane, Tranmere, said her husband was near the house lately occupied by the prisoners who used to get milk from her night and morning, a quart in the morning and a pint in the evening, which she supplied for about 3mths, witness got a good deal of broken bread for them and potatoes. She knew nothing about them. In cross examination by Mr MOORE, witness knew the prisoners when they lived in Walker St, she kept no books as she was no scholar. The broken bread brought by the prisoners was to feed the fowl, they paid and only owed for a fortnights milk.

Mary HILL, wife of Thomas HILL, said she was a dairy maid at the farm of Mrs JONES, Higher Tranmere. She supplied the prisoner with a pint of milk every day, at night, for 6wks she served them up until the night they were taken into custody. They paid for one week and then owed for 5wks, they paid 4d a quart for milk.

Ann GIBBON, wife of John GIIBBON, Walker St, Higher Tranmere, said the prisoners stayed with her before they went to Church Rd, they left at the latter end of May. They came to see witness about the latter end of September, she remembers the child Florence coming to the house it was before Christmas. The child was very well when it first came to witness’s house, but had measles in January and seemed to waste away with the disease, it was also bad cutting its teeth. Witness’s four children also had the measles. The child Florence was very weak and poorly when the prisoners left the house in May. The female prisoner used to bring it downstairs often and show it to witness. She treated it well, but it got worse. She was never disturbed by the child crying, it did not cry more than children ordinarily cried. Mrs BARNES thought the child was bad and would not get better. In cross examination witness said prisoners occupied one room in the house, when they first came they brought three children 2 boys and a girl and afterwards brought Florence, who they said belonged to a cousin. Bread was brought to the house but she couldn’t say whether it was from the convent. Prisoners stayed at her house from September to May.

Mr PUGH said that was all the evidence he proposed to call on behalf of the prisoners.

Mr MOORE said the police could show that the bread given to the MINKS by the prisoners was given for milk, and there was no repayment in money at all.

Mr PUGH, I see nothing in that.

Female prisoner, the milk was paid for beforehand sometimes

Mr MOORE, [to last witness] Did not a child Ethel, a crippled girl, die at your house ?

Witness, I know nothing about that child at all, I never saw it dead or alive.

The inquiry concluded, the Magistrate committed the prisoners for trial at the assizes on a charge of wilful murder and misdemeanour. The prisoners were taken by cab to the railway station to be taken to Chester, outside the court they were hooted by hundreds of persons assembled to witness their departure to Chester Castle.

Liverpool Mercury, Oct 16th, 1879



The adjourned inquest on the body of the child Florence, one of the infants found in the house of the notorious baby farmers, John and Catherine BARNES, husband and wife, who lived at 124 Church Rd, Higher Tranmere, and died in the workhouse on Saturday morning took place yesterday. The parents of the child Florence have not yet been found.

Supt CLARKE was the first witness called, he said there was no evidence to the identity of the child Florence. He described the night he entered the house and found the children and the state the children were in etc as described previously.

Dr William Goodfellow LAIDLAW, Medical officer of the workhouse, said he saw the deceased before she was removed to the workhouse, he described the bruise on her forehead caused by a blow or fall. The child was removed to the workhouse and improved, fell back again, and showed improvement again giving hopes of her recovery. Diarrhoea existed through her time at the workhouse. It took its feeds greedily every day, a few days before its death it fell back again and death occurred on Saturday morning. Before making the post mortem he thought death was due to diarrhoea. A variety of food was given to the child along with milk. The lump on the forehead gradually went down. A post mortem was undertaken on Sunday morning assisted by Dr SPRATLY. The child was very much emaciated the eyes sunken, there was some congestion in the forehead where the lump had been. Subcutaneous fat was almost absent and the muscular tissue very much attenuated., the witness gave his opinion that death was due to mesenteric wasting which might have been by natural causes or from inadequate supply of food. From the time the child entered the workhouse there was a gain of muscle and strength. The Coroner, remarked he saw the child alive and dead and it appeared to him to have gained no flesh at all, the legs seemed to be in the same emaciated condition. Witness, the child gained strength so that it could sit in a chair, but when it fell back on the last occasion it went down rapidly. Its dentition showed it was a child of about 1yr old.

The Coroner inquired whether the child had been under medical treatment before being taken to the hospital.

Supt CLARKE stated that Mrs BARNES stated the child had been under the care of Dr JONES, but that gentleman denied the statement.

Dr LAIDLAW said, the general state of the child showed that it had been suffering for a long time from diarrhoea, or from the want of food, or from some emaciating cause.

Mr Samuel. SPRATLEY. M.D, member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and surgeon to the Birkenhead Borough Hospital, who assisted at the post mortem said that he agreed with Dr LAIDLAW as to the cause of death. The abrasion of the mucous membrane was the result of long standing diarrhoea, it might have resulted from natural causes or long continued improper feeding.

The Coroner, absolute want of food would that produce the appearance ?

Witness, in the case of total deprivation of food he would have expected to have seen different appearances. The abnormal appearance might have been through natural causes or by chronic starvation.

The Coroner, does it not appear strange that this child after being removed to the workhouse and placed under the most favourable circumstances as to nourishment and food should not have recovered more strength and flesh, it was in the workhouse for a long time.

Dr SPRATLY, It did not appear strange to him, the child was scarcely ever free from diarrhoea, the child was under the most skilful care and food was given cautiously, yet they knew that in a case were the organs were so much impaired, after a time relapses took place, the food was undigested and became fermented and then passive diarrhoea ensued.. He thought the emaciation would prevent the food being properly assimilated, it having no recuperative power, it would not assimilate the food given.

Coroner, the case appears to differ materially from the other two.

Witness, very greatly.

Dr LAIDLAW said when the child was admitted to the workhouse he did not expect it to live half the time it did, he did not expect it to assimilate food at all, it was so weak he thought it would be the first to die.

Mr SCHOLFIELD [foreman of the jury] remarked that the jury might not understand the technical terms, asked Dr SPRATLY whether long continued neglect would cause the child not to assimilate food properly, did he think the child had suffered from long continued neglect.


Insp SPANN, said from the information he had received, he knew there were children in the house of the prisoners from the end of July, he went daily and heard the children cry. He saw BARNES and his wife, 2 boys and a girl, he heard on each visit faint cries of a babies upstairs, one child made a peculiar cry, not like that of a child, towards the end of the time he did not hear that chid. After what he heard from Mr BAKER he visited daily, John BARNES had no occupation, he used to walk to the Tranmere ferry in the morning, cross the river and sometimes return in the same boat. He lived and drank on money he got from somewhere or other. While on duty at night he heard cries from the back room in the house, in the dark, and no one to hear them.

The Coroner asked whether the police knew what occupation John BARNES was following.

Det Officer NELSON said that BARNES was at one time employed by a money-lender in Liverpool and having done him out of £80 he ran away, there was a warrant in Dale St, police station against him for obtaining money be false pretences. He was about 20ys ago employed at Birkenhead post office.

Supt CLARKE said he knew John BARNES 18yrs ago, he was then a letter carrier in the Birkenhead post office. BARNES and his wife had at one time kept a public house in Wales and there were three information’s against them but they ran away before they could be heard.

Det Officer NELSON deposed that on Saturday he went to Chester Castle and saw John BARNES he told him the child Florence had died, he asked who the child’s parents were and to give their names. BARNES replied that he and his wife received the child at Lime St, station, Liverpool, from a gentleman and young woman, he had not seen them since, the letters were signed, “G. NORRIS, Post office, Manchester” to “C. HALL, Post office, Liverpool”, and they had received one letter from Stalybridge post office, after receiving the child. He had received 3mths pay in advance for the child, and that he was to be paid quarterly. He did not know who were the parents and he had destroyed the letters.

Letitia ELLIOT nurse at the workhouse said on the 4th September, Florence was put in her care in the sick ward. She was very weak and emaciated and attended regularly by the doctor who directed what sort of food to give. She gave it boiled bread and milk and corn flour in small quantities which is always retained. Two days after being brought to the house the child had diarrhoea which lasted more or less till its death. It revived a little, but was thinner when it died than when it arrived. Florence was the most emaciated child, she never saw a child as bad.

The Coroner addressed the jury and went over the case. After consulting for an hour and twenty minutes the jury returned a verdict of “Wilful murder” against the prisoners

Liverpool Mercury, Oct 29th, 1879



Yesterday at Chester Assizes before Lord Justice BRETT, the notorious baby farmers, John and Catherine BARNES, were indicted for the wilful murder at Tranmere, of three female children known as, Mabel, Alice and Florence, by not providing them with sufficient food and nourishment. The case created great interest and the court was crowded, Mr MCINTYRE. Q.C, Mr SWETENHAM, and the Hon R. C. GROSVENOR, instructed by Mr R. B. MOORE of Birkenhead, appeared for the prosecution, Mr MARSHALL instructed from the dock, for the defence. The prisoners pleaded “not guilty” the female adding the words, “not of wilful murder.”

The female prisoner on making her appearance in the dock, seemed to feel her position very acutely, and when Mr MCINTYRE was addressing the jury she apparently swooned, but some water having been given to her she rallied, and afterwards listened attentively to the evidence, although occasionally she gave way to fits of crying. The male prisoner was firm and collected in his demeanour, and paid great attention to the statements of the several witnesses. It was agreed first to take the case of Alice.

Mr MCINTYRE stated the case to the jury at considerable length. The learned counsel then called witnesses who gave evidence as previously detailed

Those called :-

Marian Watt MORTON and Andrew MORTON husband and wife, of 126 Church Rd, Higher, Tranmere next door neighbours of the prisoners.

Superintendent James CLARKE

Inspector Detective officer James NELSON

Inspector SPANN

Mr Thomas WILLIAMS, Master of the Birkenhead workhouse

Letitia ELLIOTT wife of William ELLIOTT, nurse at the workhouse

Alice Maria RODENHURST single, mother of the child Mabel

Samuel BLYTHE of Scholes, Wigan, father of Alice, real name Emily GREEN, mother Emma GREEN

Ellen LONG of 17 Portland Crescent, Leeds, Emma GREEN confined at her house.

New witness

Elizabeth Ann THOMPSON deposed that on the 14th Oct 1878 she was confined of a female child at Wakefield workhouse, she put the child out to nurse for 6mths and then saw an advertisement in a Bradford newspaper from a person signing “Mrs HAMPSON, 36 Oxton Rd, Birkenhead” requesting the adoption of a child. She wrote to the address and on the 7th March last received a letter from Mrs HAMPSON, prisoner said she would be glad to take the little girl, her premium would be £15, the child would be under the treatment of good Christian people and would “know nothing by us but love and protection”. Letters passed and ultimately the witness met the prisoners by arrangement at Tithebarn St railway station. The female met her and took her to a tea shop where the male prisoner was, he ordered her some tea, and asked if she was Miss THOMPSON. He remarked that her child was a “bonny girl” he said he kept a cow and that he had a carriage to drive around Birkenhead Park. He told her not to fret as her child would be well brought up and educated, he did not allow drink in the house. Witness then signed an agreement to hand over the child, she gave them £6 and agreed to pay the remainder at £1 a month, witness told them she was a servant and was confined at the workhouse. She afterwards sent them a letter asking could her mother see the child, but she received an answer signed, “W. C. HAMPSON, saying they had company at the house and the child could not be seen.

Hannah DEVINE, single and living in Liverpool, said that in March last the prisoners engaged her to keep a child, they brought it in April, she would be paid 5s a week, they gave her £1, she kept it a month and they took it back, about four weeks later the male prisoner brought it back, it looked very thin, she kept the child and was promised £5 but only got 18s for 12wks maintenance. Finally witness gave the child to Miss THOMPSON [previous witness] it was suffering diarrhoea and she had to sell her blankets to keep it.

William CALDERBANK and Mary BENTLEY, pawnbrokers

James BEVINGTON, Clerk with the Manchester Examiner and Times, produced at letter requesting and advertisement on June 26th, relative to adopting a child.

Mr Moritz SINAIHEGYAR auctioneer and money lender, Liverpool, identified handwriting on Manchester newspaper advertisement request and pawn tickets as that of the prisoners.

Maria Louisa WALLER, she was brought up as the prisoner’s child, as Louisa BARNES

The trial to be resumed Wednesday morning [today]

Liverpool Mercury, Oct 30th, 1879



The trial of John and Catherine BARNES, the Tranmere baby farmers, for the wilful murder at Tranmere, of three female children known as, Mabel, Alice and Florence, by starvation and neglect resumed yesterday at the Chester assizes before Lord Justice BRETT, Mr MCINTYRE, Mr SWETENHAM and the Hon R. C. GROSVENOR, instructed by Mr R. B. MOORE of Birkenhead, who appeared for the prosecution, and Mr MARSHALL for the defence. As on the previous day the case exited great interest the court being crowded. During the day the male prisoner appeared cool and collected but his wife occasionally cried bitterly, and apparently took little or no interest in the proceedings.

Annie DOBSON, wife of John DOBSON, porter at the Birkenhead workhouse said she received the three children, on the 3rd September, she took them from the police officers and cleaned and fed them, Florence seemed neglected in nursing the other two were not that bad. The children were dirty, Florence could not sit up but the other two could. In cross examination witness said she fed the children on milk, sugar and water.

Dr William Goodfellow LAIDLAW, Medical officer of the Birkenhead workhouse, gave evidence as written previously. Confirming that the deaths of the children were through starvation.

Dr Samuel SPRATLEY of Rockferry confirmed the evidence of Dr LAIDLAW.

Dr George RANKIN a surgeon in the Bengal Army and now on furlough in this country, who said, he had considerable hospital experience in England before he went to India, where he had been over 4yrs. He had numerous opportunities of seeing children die from starvation and diarrhoea, and had carried out post mortem examinations on such cases. He considered on the medical evidence given there was nothing in the appearances found in the post mortem examinations inconsistent with death from simple diarrhoea. In the case of death from starvation the subcutaneous fat would be lost, children would whine from starvation or pain. 18 children in one room as was the case in the Birkenhead workhouse, where the three children were taken to, would have the effect of inducing diarrhoea or any other disease.

The Judge - Taking all the symptoms together, and if those symptoms were as a result of diarrhoea, might it have existed for a long time ? - Witness I think diarrhoea of three weeks standing would produce the symptoms.

Judge - Would the diarrhoea be constant and severe - No off and on, the witness was further cross examined.

Sarah MINKS wife of John MINKS, milk dealer of Tranmere next called, evidence given as previously written.

Mary Hill wife of Thomas HILL, dairymaid, employed by Mrs JONES, Tranmere, evidence given as previously written.

Ann GIBBON wife of John GIBBON, Walker St, Tranmere, said prisoners came to live in their house in September last and stopped till May. They brought the child Florence with them, it was well when it came but it had measles in January and fell away. It got very bad with its teething. Mrs BARNES nursed the child and treated it well, she never saw Mrs BARNES feeding the child. Mrs BARNES said she had taken the child to see a Doctor. The prisoners occupied a room in her house, the child seemed worse when they left the house. There were three other children with the prisoners at the time, Louisa, John and Henry. - In cross examination witness knew of no other children at the house, she did not know of a crippled child called Ethel who died on the 10th January 1879, at 6 Walker St, being in the house with the prisoner. She could not say that the child Ethel RUSSELL was not at the house, Maria SMITH used to visit the prisoners. Witness never went in the room, she was paid 2s a week for the room which was unfurnished. Mrs BARNES said the child belonged to Mr BARNE’S cousin, they said they came from Wesley St, Higher, Tranmere.

This being the whole of the evidence the court was addressed by Mr MARSHALL and Mr MCINTYRE, former for the defence, the latter for the prosecution, Mr MCINTYRE urged the prisoners to contemplate what ultimately occurred, namely, the deaths of the children.

Male prisoner, “Allow me My Lord to state”

The Lord justice, these children have died in consequence of your conduct, the jury guided by me may take the merciful view which the law of England requires.”

The Lord Justice commenced to sum up the evidence at 6.10pm, the first question the jury had to consider was whether the conduct of the prisoners had conduced the deaths of the children, was the conduct of a criminal character, whether it amounted to such criminality as to make the prisoners guilty of “wilful murder” or render them guilty of Manslaughter. The first they knew of these people was that they had lived in 16-18 different houses under different names in a short period of time. All their goods were sold some years ago by a money lender to whom the male prisoner owed money, since then he had carried on no occupation, at the end of 1878 it was shown they were in such poverty, that they rented a room at 2s per week, clearly the representations the female prisoner made early in 1879 as to the position of her husband and herself was false. Referring to the case of the child of Miss THOMPSON, and the language used by the prisoners in their letters, his Lordship said, a more vile and heartless hypocrisy could not be conceived. He referred at length to the medical evidence, which showed death was clearly due to starvation or mal-nutrition, caused by an insufficient supply of food or improper food and neglect. At the close of the summing up he advised the jury that it would not be safe to find the prisoners guilty of murder unless they were convinced that the intention was present in their minds to cause the deaths of these children, because the law of the land did not allow persons to be convicted of murder for mere brutality or negligence, however wicked it was.

The jury retired at 5mins to eight and after an absence of 21mins returned a verdict of “Manslaughter” against both prisoners.

His Lordship asked Mr MCINTYRE if he had any information to give as to the previous career of the prisoners, Mr MCINTYRE, called witness, Mary SMITH, who stated that during the time the prisoners lived with Mrs GIBBONS, the child Ethel died, witness saw it dead before the fire. Mr MCINTYRE said a child also died during the time the prisoners lived in Helmingham Rd, he believed that in all the prisoners had, had, in 10yrs no less than 18 children in their charge, but the police had not been able to trace the whole of them. They had however traced the child Louie, who had been handed over to them some years ago for the sum of £60. His Lordship in passing sentence then said, for years and years the prisoners had carried on the vilest trade that human malignity could have invented, and though the jury, by his direction had found them not guilty of murder, they had committed a series of premeditated and reiterated crimes which were in a hair’s breadth of murder. It was true they had been convicted of manslaughter but there were degrees of manslaughter, and in such a case as the present there would be only one punishment, that of penal servitude for the rest of their natural lives. [loud applause in court]

The male prisoner on realising he was not on a capital charge leaned over and addressed the solicitor for the prosecution saying, “Thank you Mr MOORE.”

The prisoners were then removed. The male prisoner maintained his defiant demeanour, but the female prisoner was in a fainting condition, and had to be assisted below.

The court rose at 8.15pm.


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