Fanny Adams


In 1869, in a drive towards healthier and more convenient food, the Royal Navy Victualling Yard at Deptford came up with a new idea. Rather than issuing sailors with their usual salted meat they gave them tins of mutton instead. The sailors were not impressed by this new innovation or its contents. Comments began circulating around the fleet that the tinned mutton resembled the butchered remains of Fanny Adams - an 8 year old girl brutally hacked to death 2 years earlier. Soon the expression “Fanny Adams” became common naval parlance for “tinned mutton”.

Over the years “Fanny Adams” and “Sweet Fanny Adams” contracted to “Sweet F.A” and we all know what that means, don’t we?

About 1.00pm on Saturday 24th August 1867 Fanny Adams, her 7 year old sister Lizzie and their friend 8 year old Minnie Warner went for a walk down Tan House Lane in Alton, a village in Hampshire. About 400 yards from the village they were approached by a man dressed in a black frock coat. The girls thought that he was drunk. The man gave Minnie and Lizzie 3 farthings to take and spend on sweets. His plans for Fanny were much more sinister. As Minnie and Lizzie walked off the man offered her 1½d to walk with him to the nearby village of Shalden. Although she took his money Fanny refused to go with the man. He then picked her up and carried her into a nearby hopfield called Flood Meadow. This was last time that she was seen alive. The time was now about 1.30pm.

When Lizzie and Minnie got home at 5.00pm that afternoon a neighbour, Mrs Gardiner, asked where they had been. When they told her their story of the man in the black frock coat and how he had taken Fanny away Mrs Gardiner rushed off to find Fanny’s mother. Together they set off up the lane to see if they could find the girl. Instead they bumped into the man with the black frock coat. Mrs Gardiner stopped him.

“What have you done with the child?” she asked.

“Nothing.” he replied. “I gave the girls money, but only to buy sweets which I often do to children.”

He added that Fanny had left him almost immediately to go and look for Lizzie and Minnie.

Although he seemed to be inebriated, his respectable appearance and his claim that he was the Clerk to the local solicitor William Clement reassured the two women and they let him go.

At 7.00pm Fanny still hadn’t returned home so the villagers formed a search party to look for her. It wasn’t long before they found her. She was in the hopfield, dead, dismembered and mutilated beyond belief. It was a scene of overwhelming brutality. So savage was the butchery that scattered fragments of Fanny’s body kept turning up for days after.

The prime suspect was 29 year old Frederick Baker, Clerk to the solicitor William Clement. Although he protested his innocence, “I know nothing about it,” he said, his clothes were covered in blood, he carried two knives in his pocket and on later examination his diary showed this entry for Saturday August 24th..

“24th August, Saturday - killed a young girl. It was fine and hot”.

Bill of Execution

Frederick Baker was brought to court and tried for “the wilful murder - killing and slaying Fanny Adams”. His defence rested largely upon his mental state. His father had “shown an inclination to assault, even to kill, his children”; a cousin had been in asylum 4 times; his sister had died from “brain fever” and Baker himself had attempted suicide after a failed love affair. The judge Mr Justice Mellor suggested to the jury that they might consider the prisoner irresponsible for his actions through insanity, The jury were not impressed. After only 15 minutes deliberation they returned a simple guilty verdict.

Frederick Baker was hanged in front of Winchester’s County Prison at 8am on Christmas Eve, 1867 before a crowd of 5000, a large proportion of them women. His execution was one of the last held in public. Afterwards it was revealed that Baker had written to Fanny’s parents before his execution to express regret and forgiveness for the crime that he had committed “in an unguarded hour and not with malice aforethought”. He admitted that he was “enraged at her crying, but it was done without any pain or struggle”. The prisoner denied most emphatically that he had violated the child, or had attempted to do so.

Lizze and Minnie at Fanny's memorial

Baker’s fate was remembered in a folk song…

Prepare for death, wicked Frederick Baker,
For on the scaffold you will shortly die,
Your victim waits for you to meet your maker;
She dwells with angels and her God on high

Later a memorial to Fanny was raised by public subscription in the cemetery on the Old Odiham Road at Alton. The inscription says

Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams aged 8 years and 4 months who was cruelly murdered on Saturday August 24th 1867.

Fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. Matthew 10 v 28.

Fanny's memorial

As horrible and as widely publicised as the murder was, Baker’s execution and the raising of the memorial should have brought the tragic story of Sweet Fanny Adams to an end were it not for the sailors of the Royal Navy and their tins of mutton. Because of their macabre sense of humour the murder of Fanny Adams is one of the few cases where the victim rather than the murderer has achieved immortality.

At just that time, as chance would seemingly dictate,
The Navy changed its issue to the tars
From salted tack to low-grade tins of chopped up mutton,
Giving rise to rumours in the bars
That Fanny's end and their unwelcome ration
Were juxtaposed in some unpleasant fashion.

And so the English language found a new expression
From this sorry tale of local pain,
And far beyond the confines of the Royal Navy
Folk would use poor Fanny's name in vain;
And even here in Alton I would say
Not many now would give a sweet FA!

– from Martyn Day