Detective Fictions: The ‘baby-farming detective’ in Britain, 1867–97

Jim Hinks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines a series of investigations into the activities of women engaged in the provision of paid childcare and collectively labelled with the term ‘baby-farmer’. This paper looks at the practice of writers representing themselves as ‘baby-farming detectives’. Along with exploring the use of the detective investigation as a stylistic device, it will contend that the strictures it imposed informed the relationship these writers have with paid child-carers. The article also explores how the notion of ‘detectives’ and ‘suspects’ spoke of an assumed right to subject working-class women to inspection. It concludes that these detective fantasies were ultimately unsuccessful as they were unable to solve either the cases they encountered, or the symbolic problem of baby-farming, leaving these narratives curiously unresolved and their writers impotent. This article not only seeks to explain how and why the link between pecuniary childcare and infant murder was forged and maintained but asserts that this narrative technique has wider implications for scholars of nineteenth-century culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-29
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Victorian Culture
Issue number1
Early online date9 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2022


  • BMJ
  • baby-farming
  • childcare
  • detection
  • detective fiction
  • nineteenth century

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