Notorious Sydney Cases: Sarah and John Makin, The Baby Farmers

Original newspaper article from the Rockhampon's The Capricornian. Saturday 19 November 1892. Source:
Original newspaper article from the Rockhampon’s The Capricornian. Saturday 19 November 1892. Source:

Sending their child to a baby farm was the only way some single mothers could cope with financial stress during the late 17th Century. Sarah and John Makin are two of the world’s most known baby farmers after 13 babies were found buried in their residences across inner city Sydney.

Sarah Jane Sutcliffe married brewery drayman John Makin on the 27th of August, 1871. They soon turned to baby farming – caring for babies born out of wedlock for profit – when John was injured on the job.

In 1892, eighteen-year old Amber Murray was unable to look after her baby Horace without a father, and on low income. She placed an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald stating that she needed someone to adopt Horace, and that she was willing to pay for his living expenses. The Makin replied to her classified, as long as she could give them 10 shillings per month. Miss Murray agreed and made arrangements for the Makin’s daughter Blanche to collect Horace and an initial payment of 3 pounds.

The Hatpin was based on the story of Sarah and John Makin

Amber became more and more distressed as months went by and her requests to see her son were constantly rebuked with excuses by the Makins – despite John collecting payment from her every month. She decided to visit the address, 139 George St Redfern, given to her when arrangements for Horace were first made. However, she was devastated to find they had moved without telling her. She never saw Horace again.

The Makins had moved to Burren St in Macdonaldtown.

In November that year, James Hanoney was working away on a blocked underground pipe in a Macdonaldtown backyard. He then discovered the grisly reason for the blockage – the remains of two small infants. Unfortunately, the Makins had already relocated – to Chippendale this time – and it took investigators a while to track them down in their new Chippendale residence.

Source: Pinterest
Source: Pinterest

The Makins and four of their daughters were arrested, with only Sarah and John charged. The police ordered searches on eleven homes the Makins had resided in over the past two years, and in total, 13 babies were discovered buried in yards across inner Sydney. They had continued to relocate to cover their tracks, profiting off the money the desperate mothers were passing over in exchange for the care of their babies. Little did they know that the Makins found murder easier than caretaking.

Justice for the mothers came in the form of two Makins daughters, who willingly gave evidence against their parents at the trial. Sarah and John were found guilty for murdering Horace and sentenced to death by hanging. 

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 buried this child in your yard as you would the carcase [sic] of a dog…
– Justice Matthew Henry Stephen

John Makin was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol on the 15th of August 1983. Sarah was granted clemency and spent 19 years of her sentence at the State Reformatory For Women until she was released on parole in 1911. She died in Marrickville on the 13th of September in 1918.

John Makin executed. The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 17 August 1893. Source:
John Makin executed. The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 17 August 1893.

Click here to watch ID Channel’s preview for The Baby Farmer, an episode of ‘Deadly Women’ about Sarah Makin

Book Recommendation
Click here
to purchase Deadly Australian Women by Kay Saunders (ABC Books). This is a book filled with compelling stories about notorious women throughout Australian history who turned to murder to fix their problems. An addictive, well-researched read by one of Australia’s finest historians. 

Read more:


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