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Margaret WATERS






A.K.A.: "The Brixton Baby Farmer"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: The first convicted baby farmer
Number of victims: 1 - 19 +
Date of murder: 1866 - 1870
Date of birth: 1835
Victims profile: Infants in her care
Method of murder: Drugged the babies with opiates, which suppressed their appetites leaving them to slowly starve
Location: Brixton, London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Horsemonger Lane Gaol on October 11, 1870

Katherine Field

Margaret Waters: A Convenient Villain

Margaret Waters was an English murderess hanged by executioner William Calcraft on 11 October 1870 at Horsemonger Lane Gaol (also known as Surrey County Gaol) in London.

Waters was born in 1835 and lived in Brixton. She was known for baby-farming, that is, taking in other women's children for money; a practice often resulting in infanticide.

Waters drugged and starved the infants in her care and is believed to have killed at least 19 children. Charged with five counts of wilful murder as well as neglect and conspiracy, Waters was convicted of murdering an infant named John Walter Cowen. Her sister, Sarah Ellis, was convicted in the same case for obtaining money under false pretences and sentenced to eighteen months' hard labour.


The Brixton Baby Farmer

Margaret Waters (1835 – Hanged 1870)

Margaret Waters, born in 1835, was the first convicted baby farmer to be hanged in England by William Calcraft at Surrey Country Goal on October 11th 1870.

Margaret turned to baby farming in 1864 after the death of her husband to make ends meet.

She started advertising in The Clerkenwell News for babies to ‘adopt’ for the sum of £10 supposedly passing them on to foster homes, who also advertised for babies to adopt for a fee in the local papers. Margaret would then pocket the difference.

She soon found it more profitable to dispose of the babies in her care.

It was far easier to drug the babies with opiates, which suppressed their appetites leaving them to slowly starve.

Five babies were to die in her care of diarrhoea, wasting and convulsions.

However, Margaret is suspected of murdering up to 19 infants.

Margaret would then wrap their frail bodies in brown paper before dumping them on the streets - a common sight in Victorian Britain due to the high cost of burial.

Eventually, Margaret was arrested and tried for the wilful murder of John Walter Cowen, the illegitimate son of 16-year-old Janet Tassie Cowen.

The arresting police officer wrote of his findings at Margaret’s house: “Some half-dozen little infants lay together on a sofa, filthy, starving, and stupefied by laudanum.”

Margaret Waters may have been the first to hang for baby farming, but she certainly wasn’t the last. Rhoda Willis, or as she was known, tried and convicted as, Leslie James, has that honour.


Margaret Waters, Child Care Provider Who Murdered Five Babies - 1870

The Guardian

Oct. 12, 1870

Margaret Waters, the baby-farmer, was executed yesterday morning at nine o’clock, within the walls of Horsemonger-lane Prison. Reporters say –

The prisoner appears to have conducted herself remarkably well since her conviction. On Monday night she requested to be allowed to write a statement of her case, which she desired to be published after her death. She said she pleaded guilty to obtaining money by false pretences, and admitted that she had laid down “the dead bodies of five infants,” but she declared that they all died of convulsions or diarrhoea. She said she perfectly understood why this case had been “got up,” and she considered the parents of illegitimate children who wanted to get rid of them by any moans wore more to blame than persons like herself. If there were no parents of this class, there would be no baby farmers.”

She did not betray any emotion while being pinioned, and appeared to have recovered all the firmness that characterised her during the trial After the rope had been adjusted, she, in a calm and composed tone, uttered what was described by those who hoard it as a beautiful extempore prayer. Though most of the spectators wore more or less inured to scenes of horror, several were visibly affected, one kneeling on the bare ground, and another leaning, overcome with emotion, against the prison wall. At last she said to the chaplain, “Mr. Jossopp, do you think I am saved?” A whispered reply from the clergyman conveyed his answer to that momentous question. All left the scaffold, except the convict. The bolt was withdrawn, and, almost without a struggle, Margaret Waters ceased to exist. Nothing could exceed the calmness and propriety of her demeanour, and this, the chaplain informed us, had been the case throughout since her condemnation. She had been visited on one occasion by a Baptist minister, to whose persuasion she belonged; but ho had, at her own request, forborne to repeat his visit.

The prisoner said ho was evidently unused to cases like hers, and his ministrations rather distracted than comforted her. The chaplain of the gaol has been unremitting in his attentions, and seemingly with happy effect. Though she constantly persisted in saying she was not a murderess in intent, she was yet brought to see her past conduct in its true light; and on Saturday last received the Holy Communion in her cell with one of her brothers.

On Thursday Dr. Edmunds, of Fitzroy-square, communicated to the “Dialectical Society” a voluminous statement of the woman, who said that her husband left her with £300, and that she had done her best to earn an honest living by means of it, but that she had gradually sunk into a state of chronic impecuniosity and debt. At first she had received women to be confined, and had then undertaken the care of their children:—

She thus had at one time four children in her care. She never advertised at this time; but finding herself going steadily down hill, she began baby-farming as a business. She advertised for children, and she had answers from persons in all stations. She drifted along in this course, getting from bad to worse; but she protested that she had no idea of injuring the children, though she did some things she was very sorry for, owing to the difficulties of her position.

At length she entered upon another branch of the profession: —

She took the Clerkenwell News, and there she used to find a whole string of advertisements from women who wanted children to nurse. She advertised herself for children to adopt, and she generally got £10 with one. When she got the child and the money she went to one of the other advertisers, and arranged to put the baby out to nurse. Upon paying two weeks in advance she was hardly ever asked even for her address, and when she went away, of course she never heard anything more of the child. She gained the difference between the £10 given her for adopting the child and the fortnight’s payment for nursing it. This was, after all, only a very precarious resource, and she fell into great distress. She went to a money-lender (whose name she does not conceal), and borrowed £28 from him on her furniture. He deducted £14 of the £28 for “expenses,” and made her pay £2 10s. a month until the whole £28 was paid him. Whenever she was a few days behindhand in paying one of the instalments, he threatened to seize all her things, and he only desisted upon being paid 10s. by way of fine. When the £28 was paid back in this way, she was so reduced that she was obliged to get another loan from the money-lender on the same terms. All this took place while she was at Bournemouth-terrace. At this time the children were as well attended to as she could manage it; and a medical man was always called in when they fell sick. When they died they were buried properly, and she had the undertaker’s receipts.

Afterwards her poverty suggested to her that she might dispense with this charge when they died, and even that she might get rid of them living: –

She took them one at a time into the streets, and when she saw little boys and girls at play, she called one of them and said, “Oh, I am so tired! Here, hold my baby, and here is sixpence for you to go into the sweets tuff shop and got something nice.” While the boy or girl went Into the shop she made off. The babies, she believes, were generally taken to the workhouse. On one occasion the boy to whom she gave one was served so quick that he came out again before she had time to get away. She therefore stepped into an oyster shop, and ordered some oysters. She saw the boy looking up and down with. the baby in his arms, and when he did not see her he began to cry. Some people gathered, and a policeman came up, to whom the boy showed the baby. The policeman then walked away with the boy, and she left the oyster-shop. and got off safe. Some of the persons who gave her the children for adoption were evidently well off. The babies were very well dressed. She used to have appointments often to meet parties at the railway stations, and a gentleman, accompanied by a nurse, would give her the child. Sometimes the children were given her within an hour after they were born – in less time, in fact, and before they were even dressed. One of the children found by the police at Brixton had been given to her only two days before. She got £20 with it, and the people that gave it promised her any sum if she only took good care of it.







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