Born on the 30th April 1859 Fanny Adams was the fourth of the seven children of George Adams and his wife Harriet Mills. George Adams was a labourer who later progressed to the status of a bricklayer, but was otherwise a man of no historical consequence, other than for the fact that his daughter Fanny was destined to become the victim of a particularly macabre and brutal murder and thus earned for herself a certain unsought for immortality.
The Missing Child
The Adams family lived at Tanhouse Lane in Alton, which is a small town lying in the Wey Valley roughly halfway between Southampton and London. It was on Saturday the 24th August 1867 that the eight year old Fanny and her younger sister Elizabeth or Lizzie, left home about half past one and joined their friend Minnie Warner to go and play in the Flood Meadow some four hundred yards away. Lizzie later came home alone about two o'clock, and then went out again before returning again at four, but her mother thought nothing of it, thinking that Fanny had simply gone to see her father who was playing cricket on the Butts. It wasn't until around five o'clock that Harriet began to be concerned about the whereabouts of little Fanny and began to make enquires of her neighbours.
As Minnie Warner was to explain whilst they were playing in the Flood Meadow they had been approached by a man dressed in a "black coat, light waistcoat, trousers and a tall hat". According to her subsequent testimony the man in question had "said he would give me a penny to run down with Fanny into 'the Hollow'. We did that. He said he would give me another halfpenny, and if we would go into Mr Chalcraft's field he would pick some berries for us. We went, and he picked some berries for us. He then told us to go home, and he took up Fanny and carried her away." However at the time she told no one of these events, and innocently continued playing, and it was not until Fanny's mother later came looking for her that this story came out.
It was therefore around half past five that Harriet Adams and her neighbour went off towards the Flood Meadow in search of Fanny with Minnie Warner in tow. They soon came across a man walking away from the Flood Meadow whom Minnie identified as "the man who gave us the pennies". The gentleman in question in question however contradicted her, and pointed out that it "was three halfpennies I gave you, and the others a halfpenny". Asked by Mrs Gardner "What have you done with the child you took away", he denied knowing anything of Fanny's whereabouts and further declined to give his name, saying that he could be found at "Mr Clement's office"; Mr Clement being a solicitor at Alton.
The Portions of the Child
Word of Fanny's disappearance soon spread and naturally the neighbours rallied round to conduct a search of the surrounding area. It was a Thomas Gates who later went into the hop garden adjacent to the Flood Meadow around twenty minutes to eight. It was there that he first found a piece of a child's dress covered in blood, following which he found a head lying between two hop poles. Some twenty yards further ahead he then found a leg, and a bit further on the trunk which had been "cut open like a sheep that had been killed" in that the torso had been cleaned out with the bowels removed. These discoveries seemed to have quite unnerved Thomas Gates and it was a Charles White who gathered up the "portions of the child" in an apron, and carried them to the Leather Bottle and later gave them to the police.
Charles White performed the same functions on behalf of one Henry Allen who found the heart, together with some other organs, in the hop field around nine. Although in Allen's case he possessed sufficient courage to return the next day when he found another arm under a hedge in the field above the hop garden.
It was Superintendent William Cheyney who took possession of the bundle handed over by Charles White. Cheyney examined the head and noted that both of the eyes had been scooped out and that the right ear had been cut off and was missing. It wasn't therefore until Tuesday the 27th August that Police Constable Joseph Walter found an eye in the middle of the river Wey some seven hundred yards from the murder, whilst the other eye was found by another constable about a yard away.
George Adams was duly called on to identify the remains as being those of his daughter, whilst a doctor named Louis Leslie, who was the police divisional surgeon, was given the job of examining the remains discovered. He concluded that the dismemberment had taken place after death, and that Fanny Adams had been killed by a blow to the head by a stone. It must be said that this was a fairly straightforward deduction give that a William Walker had already found a large stone in the hop field, with blood, long hair and a small piece of flesh adhering to it.
The Killer Identified
It didn't take long for the police to identify the man who could be found at "Mr Clement's office" as being a solicitor's clerk by the name of Frederick Baker. When Superintendent William Cheyney approached Baker, the later insisted that "I am innocent", although he also said that "I am willing to go were you like" and was quite prepared to co-operate with the police investigation.
Baker admitted that he was the man who had approached the children, and that he had also give them money, although he claimed that he was simply in the habit of giving children money. There was blood on his waistcoat and the sleeves of his shirt that he could not account for, whilst his boots, socks and trouser bottoms were wet as if they'd been hurriedly washed clean, although Baker simply argued that he was "constantly in the habit of walking in the water". He was found in possession of two small knives, one of which was stained with blood, whilst the examination of witnesses confirmed that he had left the solicitors office shortly after 1pm, and not returned until 3.25pm, before going out once more at around 5.30pm.
All of which was of course highly suspicious, but not conclusive given the state of forensic science at the time. The real breakthrough came on the following Monday, when the police were searching Baker's office desk and found his diary and read the entry for the 24th August. It read simply; "Killed a young girl. It was fine and hot." The police arrested Frederick Baker.
It was therefore on the 27th August, that the Deputy Coroner Robert Harfield opened the inquest into the "very melancholy tale" of the death of Fanny Adams at the Duke's Head Inn. The evidence was heard and despite Baker's assertion that he was entirely innocent, the jury returned a verdict "Wilful Murder against Frederick Baker for killing and slaying Fanny Adams". He was accordingly held in custody pending the committal hearing, which was held at Alton Town Hall on Thursday 29th August before local magistrates. Although Baker still protested his innocence, he was duly the committed for trial at the next County Assizes.
The Trial of Frederick Baker
The trial of Frederick Baker opened at Winchester Crown Court on the 5th December. The prosecution simply outlined the details of Fanny's death, leading up to the clinching evidence of the confessional diary entry. Baker however continued with his plea of not guilty and the defence case consisted of making the point that the evidence against their client was purely circumstantial, whilst arguing that the diary entry simply recorded the fact that a girl had been killed, without implying individual responsibility. The jury retired at seven o'clock on the second day of the trial and returned within fifteen minutes with the verdict of guilty. Frederick Baker was duly hanged in front of Winchester Prison on the 24th December 1867, with William Calcraft presiding as the hangman before a crowd estimated at some 5,000.
It was on the day of the execution that The Times published a letter from one William Dyer who wrote that "I beg to inform you that the father of the child, Fanny Adams, informs me that he has this morning received a letter from Frederick Baker, confessing the murder." The paper subsequently printed the details of Baker's confession in which he "denied that he had committed any other crime", i.e. he hadn't sexually interfered with the young girl in anyway, whilst claiming that Fanny's death had been quick and had occurred "at the instant the crime was done". Baker didn't attribute the crime to insanity but claimed that he was "maddened by drink" when he did it, but otherwise failed to provide any explanation as to why he'd chosen to end the poor girl's life.
Little Fanny Adams was buried in the local Alton Cemetery off the Old Odiham Road on the 28th August 1867, although as The Times later reported on the 6th April 1868 a public subscription was raised to pay for a headstone which was erected bearing the following inscription;
Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams aged 8 years and 4 months
who was cruelly murdered August 24th, 1867
Fear not them which kill the body,
but rather fear Him who is able to kill both body and soul in hell. Matthew 10:28.
This stone was erected by public subscription
Whilst the headstone remains standing to this day and provides a tangible reminder of Fanny's short life, her true memorial lies elsewhere. Shortly after her death the Royal Navy began issuing its recruits with a new convenience food in the form of tinned mutton. The sailors soon concluded that there was a connection between the rather greyish looking and unappetising texture of the ingredients, and the remains of the unfortunate Fanny Adams. As a result when Albert Barrère and Charles G Leland compiled their work A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon And Cant which was published in 1889, they duly recorded the fact that the phrased 'Fanny Adams' was the naval slang for tinned mutton.
The phrase Sweet Fanny Adams therefore came to mean something worthless or nothing at all, as noted by Walter Downing in his Digger Dialects of 1919, a glossary of military slang during World War I, who duly recorded that "F.A., 'Fanny Adams', or 'Sweet Fanny Adams'" signified "nothing; vacuity." It is simply matter of coincidence that Fanny Adams shared the same initials as the phrase 'fuck all', but it explains why the phrase Sweet Fanny Adams or Sweet F.A. is often regarded as a euphemism for the former.
Mainly sources from the contemporary reports of The Times, particularly the report of the inquest under the headline 'The Murder in Hampshire' from Wednesday, Aug 28, 1867; and of the later trial 'The Alton Murder' on Friday, Dec 06, 1867 and Saturday, Dec 07, 1867, together with other references from Tuesday, Dec 24, 1867 and Monday, Apr 06, 1868. See also;
- Tony Cross, ‘Adams, Fanny (1859–1867)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- The true story of Sweet Fanny Adams
- Sweet Fanny Adams http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/341000.html