On this day 149 years ago, eight year old Fanny Adams was brutally murdered by Frederick Baker, a 29 year old solicitor’s clerk. Her grave still stands in Alton Cemetery, adorned lovingly with teddies, tea lights and flowers. Perhaps her name is familiar to you. Maybe you have heard the phrase “Sweet Fanny Adams” or “Sweet FA”, you may even use it. Death & the Maiden’s co-founder Lucy Talbot asks how is it that this murdered child has come to mean nothing at all?
On the 24th of August, 1867 the remains of eight year old Fanny Adams were found strewn across a hop field close to her home in Alton, Hampshire. David Rowland, who has researched the case and written a detailed account of Fanny’s death, described the horrifying scene in graphic detail:
“Her head and legs had been severed, her eyes firstly having been removed from her head and were found in the nearby River Wey, where they were recovered from. The head, after the eyes had been gouged out was found stuck on a small hop pole. As well as the gouged-out eyes, one of her ears had been torn off. The torso had been split open and all the inside organs had been removed and then scattered around the hop field. Each arm was found in different places within the field, still clutched in one hand were the two half-pennies that Baker had given to Fanny. One foot was found in a field of clover. It was several days before every part of her body and parts had been recovered. Fanny’s remains were taken to a nearby surgery at No. 16, Amery Street, Alton where her body was put back together again.”
Earlier that day, around lunch time Fanny, her younger sister Lizzie and friend Minnie Warner had encountered Frederick Baker (a 29 year old solicitor’s clerk) on Tan House Lane. Giving the two other girls three half pence to go to the shop and buy some sweets, he also offered money to Fanny in exchange for accompanying him. She took the money and then refused to go. Baker is then believed to have scooped Fanny up in his arms and headed off towards the hop field.
Whilst frantically searching for Fanny, her mother spotted Baker and confronted him. Demanding to know what he had done with her daughter. His denial of knowing what had happened did not serve him long. When the police found him blood spots on his clothes outweighed any account Baker gave. It would be his own diary entry written on the day of Fanny’s murder that would later seal his fate in court:
“Killed a young girl. It was fine and hot.”
Baker was hung above the main gate at Winchester Jail (now a Wetherspoons) on Christmas Eve, 1867. Thousands (reportedly the majority of which were women and children) pitched up to witness his last breath.
The case of Fanny Adams was high profile to say the least, up and down the country people talked of the young girl and her hideous fate. The story was told long after Fanny’s death. In fact, Fanny still lives on the lips of many today. Just recently, I worked at a doctor’s surgery (whilst “in between dreams”) and was surprised when the Practice Manager exclaimed “he knew Sweet Fanny Adams about it” during our conversation. If you know the origin of this throw away phrase it is hard not to flinch a little. Because this little girl murdered 149 years ago today has come to mean “nothing.” Phrase.Org explains:
‘With typical grisly humour, sailors in the British Royal Navy came to use the expression [Sweet Fanny Adams] to refer to unpleasant meat rations they were often served – likening them to the dead girl’s remains.
Barrère and Leland recorded this usage in their A dictionary of slang, jargon and cant, 1889:
“Fanny Adams (naval), tinned mutton”
It wasn’t until later that ‘sweet Fanny Adams’ came to mean ‘nothing’. The term ‘fuck all’ has long been with us with that meaning, although how long isn’t clear as politeness caused it not to be recorded in print until the 20th century. It surely dates back to at least the early 19th century. The coincidence of Fanny Adams’ initials caused F.A. or ‘Fanny Adams’ to be used as a euphemism for ‘fuck all’. Walter Downing, an Australian soldier who fought in Europe in the First World War, wrote an glossary of WWI soldier’s slang called Digger Dialects in 1919. He is the first to record the link between F.A. (meaning ‘fuck all’) and Fanny Adams:
“F.A., ‘Fanny Adams’, or ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ – nothing; vacuity.”‘
Below are some pictures I took when I visited Fanny’s grave to lay some flowers back in April. It was a beautiful spring morning and I was pleased to see how well her grave is looked after.
Though many utter “Sweet Fanny Adams” with no idea to whom they are referring or are unaware of the connection “Sweet FA” or “sweet fuck all” has with a murdered child. I am happy that here in Alton, Fanny is remembered and cared for by the town she once called home.
30/04/1859 – 24/08/1867