The Trial And Execution Of Fredrick Baker

Shortly after eleven o’clock on the morning of Thursday the 29th of August, Frederick Baker was taken by cab from the police station to the town hall, where an angry mob awaited his arrival.

They yelled and hissed at him, as he was ushered inside to appear before the local magistrates.


The charges having been read out, George and Harriet Adams repeated the evidence they had given at the inquest two days before.

According to The Hampshire Telegraph:-

“The poor husband became dreadfully agitated while his wife was giving her evidence, and, looking towards the prisoner, frantically exclaimed, “You are a villain.”

The prisoner was apparently unmoved by the exclamation.”


Once all the witnesses had been heard, the magistrate asked Baker if he wished to make any statement in answer to the charge. “I am not careful to answer the charge at present,” replied the prisoner, “I am as innocent as the day I was born.”

The magistrate ordered him to stand trial for the murder of Fanny Adams at the next Hampshire Assizes.


Then came the difficult task of getting him from the Town Hall and back to the police station.

The Hampshire Telegraph reported on the mood of the crowd outside the Town Hall:-

“The removal of the prisoner from the Town Hall to the Police Station, preparatory to his removal to Winchester Gaol, was not effected without some considerable difficulty.

The moment the crowd outside caught sight of the prisoner they uttered frightful yells and execrations, and an attempt was made to upset the cab in which he was taken away, which, in all probability would have proved successful, had it not been for the very vigorous manner in which the driver of the vehicle plied his whip.”

An illustration of Frederic Baker.
Frederick Baker, The Alton Murderer. From The Illustrated Police News. Copyright, The British Library Board.


It was decided that taking him to Winchester Gaol by train would be too problematic, so he was taken the 18 or so miles by cab, arriving at around nine o’clock in the evening.

The fears of the police appear to have been well founded, as a huge crowd assembled at Winchester Railway Station awaiting his arrival. However, some of them did spot the cab on Winchester High Street, and, suspecting that Baker might be inside, they began to pelt it with stones, and even attempted to stop the conveyance, but were prevented from doing so.

Baker was soon lodged in a cell at Winchester Goal, where he was kept until December, when his trial took place at Winchester Castle.


The trial of Frederick Baker for the murder of Fanny Adams opened in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle before Mr. Justice Mellor on Thursday the 5th and Friday the 6th of December 1867.

Montagu Bere conducted the prosecution, whilst Baker was defended by Samuel Carter.


Opening for the prosecution, Bere contended that there was no direct evidence against Baker.

His case, he said, was made up of what is known as circumstantial evidence, by which he meant that there were a number of circumstances and facts all of which, perhaps, if each were taken by itself would not be conclusive, but, when joined together, made a chain linked so firm as to render it impossible for the person around whom it was formed to escape.

The witnesses who had testified previously were then called, and gave more or less the same evidence as they had at the inquest into Fanny Adams’s death and at Baker’s appearance before the magistrates.


For the defence, Samuel Carter argued that the prosecution had not proved beyond reasonable doubt that it was, in fact, Frederick Baker that had committed the dreadful murder.

But even if the jury believed that he had, they should still acquit him, as he could not be held responsible for his actions on grounds of insanity.


The defence called several witnesses, including Baker’s father and sister, who testified that Baker had a history of mental illness and that he was weak minded.


Once the various witnesses for the defence had been called, the prosecution and the defence presented their closing arguments, the judge gave his summing up, and, at five minutes past seven on the Friday night, the jury retired to consider their verdict, taking Baker’s diary with them.


Twenty minutes later, they returned and pronounced him – Guilty.

Mr Justice Mellor then donned the black cap and sentenced Frederick Baker to be:- “hanged by the neck until you be dead.”

The next day Baker was informed in his cell at Winchester Gaol that the date of his execution had been set for December the 24th.


Over the next few weeks there were determined campaigns by his supporters and several newspapers to obtain a reprieve on the grounds of insanity, but they would ultimately prove unsuccessful.

He spent his last weeks studying scripture and preparing to meet his creator.


On the morning of December 24th, he dressed himself in his clerk’s garb, and, bizarrely, even went so far as to don his tall hat, before enjoying a final hearty breakfast.

People had been arriving in the city throughout the night to ensure that they had a good view of the execution when it took place, and, by dawn, the crowd was several thousand thick, consisting, according to press reports, of:-

“Some hundreds of working class of Winchester, as many by early trains from Portsmouth and Southampton, a few shopkeepers, a large proportion of women, and a few nondescripts.”


The scaffold at Winchester Gaol was located on the roof, and the execution was to take place at 8 am.

The Aldershot Military Gazette published a report on it in its edition of Saturday the 28th of December:-

“At the hour fixed, he was brought out and conducted along the corridors and across the courtyard to the pinioning room. He wore a well-brushed black hat, and had evidently been rather attentive to his dressing.

He walked steadily enough, and while somewhat pensive, did not manifest any particular emotion.

Guarded by warders, and followed by the hangman and those of the officials who are obliged to be present, he went unassisted up the stairs to a room where he was pinioned while sitting in a chair.

From thence he went without help to the scaffold, and took his place under the beam.

Baker stood on the drop until the hangman had covered his face and secured the rope.

Then, while left alone for several terrible moments to allow the rev. chaplain to finish his service, the wretched man quivered from head to foot.

The warders stretched out their hands to support him, but as they did so the bolt was drawn, and the miserable culprit soon ceased to exist.”

An illustration showing the murder of Frederick Baker.
The Execution Of Frederick Baker. From The Illustrated Police News. Copyright. The British Library Board.


It later transpired that in the days leading up to his execution, Baker had made a full confession.

He had also written a contrite letter to the George Adams, asking for such forgiveness as might be afforded him.

George, so the papers reported, had returned him a consolatory message.


As to how the murder of Fanny Adams came to be remembered in the saying Sweet Fanny Adams?

Her murder coincided with the Admiralty’s starting to manufacture its own canned beef to be issued to sailors in the Royal Navy.

The seafarers found the contents of the tins so unappetising that, with typical sailors black humour, they began to suggest that the tins contained the remains of Fanny Adams.

Sailors would utilise the empty tins, once the contents had been consumed, as mess tins, and these became known as “Fannies.”

During the First World War, soldiers in the trenches got to know the expression Fanny Adams, possibly from sailors onboard the transport ships taking them to the front, and, appropriating the name, they began to use the expression Sweet Fanny Adams as a substitute for something far ruder, but with the same initials, and used it to refer to something of little or no value.


There is a poignant postscript to the Fanny Adams story.

On Sunday, April the 21st, 1907, Lloyd’s Weekly News published an article under the headline. “COUNTRY HORROR TERRIBLE CRIME RECALLED BY VICTIM’S FATHER”.

The article began:-

“One of the most atrocious crimes of the last century is recalled by the tiding that George Adams is still alive at the age of 78, in the workhouse at Farnham.

An effort is now being made to raise sufficient money to enable the old man to spend his last years outside the Union walls.”


George went on to give an interview to a Lloyds representative, in which he recalled the events of the awful day on which Fanny had been murdered, his eyes filling with tears, and his voice faltering as he spoke.

“The murder was such a terrible blow to my poor wife”, George Adams told the reporter, “that I had to move from Alton, so that she might be reminded of it as little as possible.

We went to London, where I worked for a builder for 26 years. Now she is dead and I’m forced to come here.”


It would appear that sufficient funds were raised for George to spend some time with his married daughter, Elizabeth – the Lizzie who was with Fanny on the day of her murder.

However, he later returned to Farnham Workhouse where he died on the 17th of February 1908.


And thus the story of Fanny Adams draws to a close.

It is horrible story, but also a poignant one.

It is often the case with murders that the victims become overshadowed by the notoriety of their murderers and can become almost secondary characters in their own stories.

At the time, more press coverage was certainly given to Frederick Baker than to the eight year old girl whose life he cut short so horrifically and so viciously.

Yet Fanny’s grave is still cared for in Alton cemetery, and people still visit it to remember her and to leave flowers to the memory of the girl who went out to play on a long ago summer’s afternoon and never returned.