The Baby Farmer

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John Makin

John Makin (14 February 1845 15 August 1893) and Sarah Jane Makin (20 December 1845 13 September 1918) were Australian baby farmers who were convicted in New South Wales of the murder of infant Horace Murray. Both were tried and found guilty in March 1893 and sentenced to death. John was hanged on 15 August 1893, but Sarah's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. On 29 April 1911, she was paroled from State Reformatory for Women at Long Bay in response to the petition of her daughters.


Sarah Jane Sutcliffe was born on 20 December 1845 to Ellen Murphy and Emanuel Sutcliffe; her father was a miller and former convict. Sarah was first married to sailor Charles Edwards on 29 April 1865 in Sydney, Australia. She later married brewery drayman John Makin of Dapto, New South Wales on 27 August 1871. John was the son of farmer William Samuel Makin and his wife Ellen Selena. John and Sarah eventually had five sons and five daughters. The couple turned to baby farming, the practice of caring for illegitimate babies in exchange for payment, as a source of income after John was injured in an accident.

Case of Horace Murray

In 1892, 18-year-old Amber Murray placed an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald in search of a mother to adopt a baby boy. Murray was unable to care for her illegitimate son Horace, born on 30 May of that year, and offered to cover child support expenses. The Makins replied that they were willing to take care of Horace in exchange for 10 shillings per week. Daughter Blanche Makin accepted an upfront payment of 3 and picked up the child.

John Makin continued to collect child support payments from Amber Murray while responding with excuses to her requests to see Horace. When Murray visited an address near Sydney that was provided by the Makins, the family was nowhere to be found. They had already moved to Macdonaldtown, New South Wales. Murray never saw her baby alive again.

Discovery of bodies

The Makins came to police attention on 11 October 1892, when worker James Hanoney was clearing a clogged underground drain in the backyard of a home in Burren Street, Macdonaldtown and found it blocked with the remains of two infant children. Investigators examined records to trace the Makins, who had moved again to Chippendale. The Makins and four of their daughters were arrested, though only John and Sarah were charged. Police exhumed remains from the backyards of eleven homes that the Makins had occupied since 1890.

A total of twelve dead infant bodies were recovered, though some sources count thirteen. Prosecutors believed the Makins sought to profit by taking in babies for child care payments, and found it easier to kill the children and deceive the parents to continue receiving money. One of their victims was Horace Murray, whose clothing would be identified by his mother Amber.


In March 1893, the Makins' own daughters testified against them in court. 16-year-old Clarice stated that she recognized clothing recovered from one of the dead babies that was previously in the custody of her mother. 11-year-old Daisy recalled that two young girls that followed them to Macdonaldtown, but not Horace. Another couple testified that they had also been paying the Makins 10 shillings per week for the temporary care of their illegitimate baby. However, they ended up paying the Makins 2 to cover funeral costs, as the child died within days. The Makins did not attend the funeral.


Both Sarah and John Makin were sentenced to death by hanging by the Supreme Court of New South Wales at Sydney for the murder of Horace Murray, with a recommendation by the jury that Sarah Makin be spared the death penalty. Before sentencing the Makins, the judge in the case spoke out:

You took money from the mother of this child. You beguiled her with promises which you never meant to perform and which you never did perform having determined on the death of the child. You deceived her as to your address and you endeavoured to make it utterly fruitless that any search should be made and finally, in order to make detection impossible, as you thought, having bereft it of life, you buried this child in your yard as you would the carcase of a dog... No one who has heard the case but must believe that you were engaged in baby farming in its worst aspect. Three yards of houses in which you lived testify, with that ghastly evidence of these bodies, that you were carrying on this nefarious, this hellish business, of destroying the lives of these infants for the sake of gain.
Justice Matthew Henry Stephen

After two appeals and a plea for clemency were denied, John Makin was hanged in the gallows on 15 August 1893 at Darlinghurst Gaol. Sarah's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment with hard labour at the State Reformatory for Women at Long Bay. After her daughters campaigned for her release, Sarah was paroled in 1911, having served 19 years in prison. According to court records, the Makins were not charged in any further criminal activity. On 13 September 1918, Sarah Makin died in Marrickville, New South Wales; she was buried in Rookwood Cemetery.

Effect on legislation

The case of John and Sarah Makin raised awareness of the institution of baby farming and led the New South Wales Legislative Assembly to initiate the Childrens Protection Act of 1892, to bring the care of orphaned and destitute children under state control.

In media

The story of Amber Murray and the Makin family inspired the 2008 Australian theater production The Hatpin, which played in Sydney and in New York City. In 2009, it was nominated for three Sydney Theatre Awards and won one for best actress.

In August 2009, the Makin story was televised in the Discovery Channel documentary series Deadly Women. According to the third season episode "Blood for Money", which featured reenactments with actress Pip Moore as Amber Murray, the Makins moved more than 15 times in a period of 20 years.

Makin, John (1845 - 1893) (Australian Dictionary of Biography)

MAKIN, JOHN (1845-1893), drayman, and his wife SARAH JANE (1845-1918), midwife, became notorious as 'baby farmers'. John was born on 14 February 1845 at Dapto, New South Wales, fourth of eleven children of William Samuel Makin, farmer, and his wife Ellen Selena, ne Bolton. Sarah was born on 20 December 1845 in Sydney, only daughter and elder child of former convict Emanuel Sutcliffe, miller, and his Irish-born wife Ellen, ne Murphy. On 29 April 1865 Sarah married with Presbyterian forms Charles Edwards, a mariner, in Sydney. They had a daughter. On 27 August 1871 Sarah Jane Edwards, a 'spinster', married, with Free Church of England rites, John Makin, a drayman for a brewery; both were literate. They had five sons and five daughters.

After John suffered an accident, the Makins made a meagre living by taking care of illegitimate babies. Commonly John answered an advertisement, negotiated payment of 3 to 5 and signed 'papers' exonerating the putative father from further responsibility. The mortality rate for babies separated from their mothers was so high that public institutions were reluctant to admit them. Makin, either from fear of destitution or recklessly, accepted babies whom other carers avoided. The family moved frequently, sometimes owing rent.

The Makins came to police attention in October 1892 when workmen uncovered the bodies of two children at 25 Burren Street, Macdonaldtown. John, Sarah and their teenage daughters swore that there had been only one infant in their care while there and it had been returned to its parents. A coronial jury returned open verdicts. But four more bodies were found at Burren Street and police dug in eleven backyards where the Makins had lived since 1890, recovering thirteen bodies in all.

Inquests into the causes of deaths of the infants proceeded in November 1892 in a blaze of publicity. Unable to identify bodies or establish causes of deaththere was no evidence of violence or poisonon 28 November a jury returned open verdicts in four cases, but identified one body as that of the illegitimate child of Minnie Davis and Horace Bottamley and recommended a manslaughter charge against the Makins. Exceptionally, Bottamley and Davis had made weekly payments and visited every Saturday night. They were 'quite satisfied' with their baby's treatment. When the child had fallen ill, Makin sent Bottamley a telegram and the baby was taken to a doctor. The parents saw the body beautifully laid out and accepted Makin's offer to arrange burial.

Next month inquests were held into the deaths of four more of the infants, one of whom was Horace Murray, born on 30 May 1892, the illegitimate son of Amber Murray, who advertised for someone to adopt the baby. After Makin accepted 3, his daughter Blanche collected the baby on 27 June, two days before the family departed suddenly for Burren Street. A fellow prisoner testified that John had confided to him that no doctor could find poison but 'they will have me for perjury and illegally burying'. On 21 December a coronial jury returned a verdict of murder in the case of Amber Murray's child.

In March 1893 John and Sarah Makin were tried for the murder of Horace Murray or, if identification failed, of an unknown infant at 109 George Street, Redfern, on 29 June 1892. Neither defendant took the stand. Disregarding testimony of disfiguring sores, the trial judge when addressing the jury spoke of a 'healthy' infant dead within two days. The jury found both defendants guilty of murdering an unknown infant, but recommended mercy for Sarah.

On appeal, defence objection to wrongful admission of the testimony from other mothers (which established the Makins' reputation as 'baby farmers') was dismissed, on the grounds that it was impossible to suppose that such testimony had any influence on the verdict of the jury. An appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council also failedthe committee would not set aside a jury's decision, the jury having had the 'advantage' of seeing and hearing witnesses. The Dibbs government rejected a plea for clemency. John then signed a statement that the body was not Amber Murray's son, claiming that it 'was buried in the yard four to five weeks before we got her child'. John Makin was hanged on 15 August 1893 at Sydney gaol.

Sarah's sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life, which she served at Bathurst and in Sydney. Her daughters petitioned for early release in 1907 and again in 1911. On 29 April that year she was discharged from the State Reformatory for Women at Long Bay to the care of her daughter Florence on the grounds of her great age and declining health. She nursed her eldest daughter through a fatal illness, then lived with her son-in-law. 'Mother Makin', as she had been known during her notoriety, died on 13 September 1918 at Marrickville and was buried with Anglican rites in Rookwood cemetery. Three sons and four daughters survived her.

The Baby Farmers

We begin the story of the Makins when they saw an advertisement in the Sydney Newspaper. It read that a Miss Amber Murray was looking for a "kind person to take charge" of her baby boy, Horace Murray for a small fee.

Amber was a young woman who had given birth to her son out of wedlock on March 30 1892. By June 23, 1892 when she placed the advertisement she was finding it difficult to juggle work and a baby on her own. Little did she know but by placing the advertisement she had signed her baby's death certificate.

A kindly-looking man answered the advertisement. A Mr J Hill wrote to Miss Murray and offered to adopt the baby into his family for a meagre 6. Mr Hill told Miss Murray of his plight. His wife had lost a baby boy herself recently and was in a very melancholy state. He believed little Horace would be a perfect addition to his loving and caring family.

Amber Murray was comforted by this idea and headed to the George Street, Sydney address. At the door, Amber was greeted by John Makin, who Miss Murray believed was Mr Hill, a scruffy man but with a kind and gently voice and his two teenage daughters.

Miss Murray paid the Makin the small amount of money she had and was given a receipt in the name of Makin's alias Mr J Hill. Before leaving her baby in the hands of the kindly strangers, she asked if she could still see her child on occasions. She was devastated by having to give her baby up for adoption but hoped it was for the best interests of her 3 month old baby boy.

When the door closed behind her, Miss Murray was to never see her baby alive again. She tried to contact the Makin family at the George Street house, but was informed they had moved away.

In October 1892 builders were renovating a house in Burren Street Macdonaldtown. While digging in the garden they uncovered the skeletal remains of two infants. Instantly suspicion was laid on the previous occupants, the Makins, at one point the couple had at least six children residing in the house.

Soon after the discoveries the Makin's other previous residence, George Street, was also excavated. Three babies were uncovered in the yard. A third yard yielded two more tiny corpses.

In the 1890's birth survival rate was indeed low and so far there was no reason to believe the babies had been murdered. With three women of child bearing age in the house, it was possible that the babies had been their own. So at the moment the only crime had been concealment of death. Both John and Sarah Makin were arrested along with their two daughters. The four of them remained in prison while autopsies and coronial inquests were held into the death of the seven babies.

The decomposition of all but two of the babies made it difficult to establish identities or cause of death. However sources claimed that the babies were pierced through the heart with knitting needles when they were no longer needed.

Two of the babies however could be identified, one of them was indeed Horace Murray , the other was the baby of Horace Bottomley and Minnie Davis.

So next the question was why had the Makin's "adopted" these babies only to kill them. Well it became obvious that they were taking the babies and selling them to wealthy childless couples. When they had babies that they could not sell they would kill them.

The two Maikin daughters were the prosecutions star witnesses. They told how they had pawned the clothes of many babies for their parents.

The trial was a sensation and gained quite a crowd, the newspapers covered the story closely and quoted the trial judge, Justice Stephens as saying at sentencing of John Makin to death

"You were carrying on the hellish business of destroying the lives of infants for the sake of gain"

Makin was hanged for his part in the murderous campaign. His wife Sarah received a milder sentence. She was sentenced to life imprisonment. She was released in 1911.

The Baby Farmers
John and Sarah Makin

Sydney: 1892

On Oct. 11, 1892, drainer James Hanoney was digging in the soft earth to clear an underground drain in the backyard of a house in Macdonaldtown, a suburb of Sydney, when he found the cause for the blockage. Two bundles of foul-smelling clothing. Baby clothing. He removed the offending material and found the decomposing remains of two babies inside the clothing. He called the police immediately, and they uncovered the putrefying corpses of another five infants in various parts of the backyard.

Through tenancy records, detectives traced the previous tenants of the cottage, 50-year-old John Makin and 47-year-old Sarah Makin, to a house in nearby Redfern where they uncovered the buried remains of more babies.

When police eventually tracked the Makins down to their new family home in nearby Chippendale, they found more dead babies buried in the backyard, bringing the grisly tally to 12.

The entire Makin family -- Sarah, John and their four daughters Florence, 17, Clarice, 16, Blanche, 14, and Daisy, 11 -- were placed under arrest. John and Sarah Makin were charged with murder.

The Makins trial was held in the Sydney Supreme Court, and the courthouse was packed to overflowing each day with huge crowds waiting outside constantly being updated by runners on the progress in the courtroom. The defense told the court that the Makin family were professional child minders who looked after babies for a weekly fee until the mother came to take the child away, or until they found suitable parents for babies up for adoption.

In some cases the Makins arranged for a mother to visit her baby after it had been found a new home and loving parents, the defense said.

The prosecution told a different story. The Makin family had found it easier and much more profitable to murder the babies and keep on collecting a weekly contribution from the mother, who was prevented, through deception, from seeing the baby.

The first witness was Amber Murray who, as an 18-year-old, had given birth to an illegitimate son, Horace, in March 1892. Unable to care for the child by herself she offered him up for adoption in an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald, which said in part that she was seeking a kind and loving mother to adopt her baby boy. In the same ad she added that she was prepared to pay a weekly premium for the childs support.

She received a reply from a married couple in the working class suburb of Redfern in Sydney. They said that they would love to take the child on for a premium of 10 shillings per week.

Amber Murray called at the address the following day and met John and Sarah Makin and two of their daughters, all of whom fell in love with little Horace on the spot and couldnt wait to take him into their home and give him love and attention, especially since they claimed to have lost a little boy of their own.

Amber Murray didnt find it unusual that there were five or six other babies in the house because the Makins explained they were just minding them for friends for a short time. His mother left little Horace with the Makins after they had made a deal that she would pay the money each week on the proviso that she be able to visit little Horace from time to time. It was agreed.

It was the last time she ever saw her baby alive.

John Makin called in each week as regular as clockwork to collect the 10 shillings from Amber Murray, but every time she asked to see her boy she was put off with some excuse.

One day when John Makin was collecting the premium he told Amber that the Makins were moving from Redfern to Hurstville, well out in the western suburbs of Sydney, and he would forward her the address after they had settled in in about six weeks time. In the meantime he still called each week to collect the 10 shillings.

But the Makins didnt move to the western suburbs. Instead they took a house in nearby Macdonaldtown and moved in clandestinely in the dead of night. During the trial, daughter Clarice Makin would give damning evidence that when they moved from Redfern to Macdonaldtown, there was no sign of little Horace Murray.

Although Clarice didnt actually say the words, it was inferred that tiny Horace had already been murdered and John Makin still went on collecting his weekly premium.

The Makins did not stay long at Macdonaldtown and in August moved to Chippendale, where they were eventually arrested after drainer James Hanoney made his horrifying discovery on Oct. 11, 1892.

Amber Murray and three other grieving mothers identified clothing that had been pawned by Sarah Makin as belonging to their babies. Another couple testified that they delivered their illegitimate child to the Makins and gave them a considerable up-front payment, agreeing on 10 shillings a week until they could take the baby back after they had sorted their affairs out. Within days the baby had died, and the grieving parents gave the Makins two pounds toward the funeral, which they did not attend.

On the witness stand, the Makins lies were shredded by the prosecution. Time and again when they denied any knowledge of keeping any babies, of murdering babies or taking weekly premiums from parents, they were caught up in their own webs of deceit until even their own children chose to go against them.

Sixteen-year-old Clarice Makin took the stand and testified against her parents by identifying clothing found on one of the dead babies as clothing she had seen in her mothers possession. Daisy Makin testified that only two baby girls accompanied them when they moved from Redfern to Macdonaldtown, inferring that little Horace Murray had been murdered and buried at Redfern.

The verdict was a forgone conclusion and the only penalty was death. As he sentenced John and Sarah Makin to death by hanging, Justice Stephen looked at the pair in the dock and in reference to baby Horace Murray, said;

You took money from the mother of this child. You beguiled her with promises which you never meant to perform and which you never did perform having determined on the death of the child. You deceived her as to your address and you endeavoured to make it utterly fruitless that any search should be made and finally, in order to make detection impossible, as you thought, having bereft it of life, you buried this child in your yard as you would the carcase of a dog No one who has heard the case but must believe that you were engaged in baby farming in its worst aspect. Three yards of houses in which you lived testify, with that ghastly evidence of these bodies, that you were carrying on this nefarious, this hellish business, of destroying the lives of these infants for the sake of gain.

The judge then passed the death sentence. John Makin held his wife up as she collapsed in the dock. The judge promised to pass on to the Executive Council of New South Wales the jurys recommendation for mercy on Sarah Makin.

After two appeals were dismissed, John Makin went gallantly to his death on the gallows. Sarah Makin won her reprieve and was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor. She was released in 1911 after serving 19 years behind bars and faded into obscurity.

None of the Makin children had a conviction recorded against them.

John Makin

A.K.A.: "The Baby Farmer"

Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: John and Sarah Makin turned to baby farming, the practice of caring for illegitimate babies in exchange for payment, as a source of income after John was injured in an accident
Number of victims: 12 +
Date of murder: ???? - 1892
Date of arrest: October 1892
Date of birth: February 14, 1845
Victim profile: Illegitimate babies
Method of murder: Suffocation? (no evidence of violence or poison)
Location: Australia
Status: Executed by hanging on August 15, 1893

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