View previous topic | View next topic

Sweet Fanny Adams

Page 1 of 1

Frederick The Monk
291413.  Thu Mar 06, 2008 9:55 am Reply with quote

Fanny Adams was originally the name given by sailors to tinned meat, especially mutton and is recorded in 1889. It also by association became a term for stew or hash made from such tinned meat.

The origin of the term is gruesome and relates to the murder of an 8 year old girl in 1867. The new tinned mutton ration introduced in 1869 looked so horrible sailors compared it to the butchered remains of 'Sweet Fanny Adams'.

The Crime
On Saturday 24 August 1867 at about 1.30 pm, Fanny's mother, Harriet Adams, let Fanny and her friend Millie Warner (both 8 years old) and Fanny's sister Lizzie (aged 7) go up Tanhouse Lane towards Flood Meadow. In the lane they met Frederick Baker, a 24-year-old solicitor's clerk. Baker offered Millie and Lizzie a three halfpence to go and spend and offered Fanny a halfpenny to accompany him towards Shalden, a couple of miles north of Alton. She took the coin but refused to go. He carried her into a hop field, out of sight of the other girls.

At about 5 pm, Millie and Lizzie returned home. Neighbour Mrs Gardiner asked them where Fanny was, and they told her what had happened. Mrs Gardiner told Mrs Adams, and they went up the lane, where they came upon Baker coming back. They questioned him and he said he had given the girls money for sweets, but that was all. His respectability meant the women let him go on his way.

At about 7 pm Fanny was still missing, and neighbours went searching. They found poor Fanny's dreadfully mutilated remains in the hopfield. It was a sickening scene of carnage. The child's severed head lay on two poles, deeply slashed from mouth to ear and across the left temple. Her right ear had been cut off. Most horribly, both eyes were missing. Nearby lay a leg and a thigh. A wider search revealed her dismembered torso: the entire contents of chest and pelvis had been torn out and scattered, with some internal organs even further slashed or mutilated. So savage was the butchery that other parts of her body were recovered only after extensive searches over several days. Her eyes were found in the River Wey.

That evening Police Superintendent William Cheyney arrested Baker at his place of work: the offices of solicitor William Clement in the High Street. He was led through an angry mob to the police station. There was blood on his shirt and trousers, which he could not explain, but he protested his innocence. He was searched and found to have two small blood-stained knives on him.

Witnesses put Baker in the area, returning to his office at about 3 pm, then going out again. Baker's workmate, fellow clerk Maurice Biddle, reported that, when drinking in the Swan that evening, Baker had said he might leave town. When Biddle replied that he might have trouble getting another job, Baker said, chillingly with hindsight, "I could go as a butcher". On 26 August, the police found Baker's diary in his office. It contained a damning entry:

24th August, Saturday — killed a young girl. It was fine and hot.

This was a bit of a give-away. On Tuesday 27th, Deputy County Coroner Robert Harfield held an inquest. Painter William Walker had found a stone with blood, long hair and flesh; police surgeon, Dr Louis Leslie had carried out a post mortem and concluded that death was by a blow to the head and that the stone was the murder weapon. Baker said nothing, except that he was innocent. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder. On the 29th the local magistrates committed Baker for trial at the Winchester County Assizes. The police had difficulty protecting him from the mob.

At his trial on the 5 December, the defence contested Millie Warner's identification of Baker and claimed the knives found were too small for the crime anyway. They also argued insanity: Baker's father had been violent, a cousin had been in asylums, his sister had died of a brain fever and he himself had attempted suicide after a love affair.

Justice Mellor invited the jury to consider a verdict of not responsible by reason of insanity, but they returned a guilty verdict after just fifteen minutes. On 24 December, Christmas Eve, Baker was hanged outside Winchester Gaol. The crime had become notorious and a crowd of 5,000 attended the execution. Before his death, Baker wrote to the Adamses expressing his sorrow for what he had done "in an unguarded hour" and seeking their forgiveness. Baker's execution was the last to take place in Winchester.

Fanny was buried in Alton cemetery. Her grave is still there today. The headstone reads:
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. This stone was erected by voluntary subscription.

There is a popular (alright not that popular) song about Baker's execution here -
with the music here:;ttFREDBAKR.html

Frederick The Monk
291417.  Thu Mar 06, 2008 9:57 am Reply with quote

1889 BARRÈRE & LELAND Dict. Slang, Fanny Adams (naval), tinned mutton. 1927 Blackw. Mag. Feb. 259/2 ‘Fanny Adams’ (or preserved mutton) brought from the ship. 1962 W. GRANVILLE Dict. Sailors' Slang 46/1 Fanny Adams, general nautical slang for stew or hash.

291433.  Thu Mar 06, 2008 10:07 am Reply with quote

Frederick The Monk wrote:
Mrs Gardiner told Mrs Adams, and they went up the lane, where they came upon Baker coming back. They questioned him and he said he had given the girls money for sweets, but that was all. His respectability meant the women let him go on his way.

Given the description of the injuries, I'm surprised they didn't notice that he was drenched in blood from head to foot.

Frederick The Monk
291496.  Thu Mar 06, 2008 11:57 am Reply with quote

It is peculiar isn't it? From what I've read he killed her with a blow to the head, returned to the office and then went back later to mutilate the corpse. I can only assume that he saw Mrs Gardiner and Mrs Adams after murdering Fanny, which wasn't too bloody, but before he butchered her remains. There was certainly blood on his clothes at the time of his arrest.

298168.  Tue Mar 18, 2008 1:53 pm Reply with quote

So at what point did 'Sweet Fanny Adams' become a euphemism for 'fuck all'?

298304.  Tue Mar 18, 2008 5:37 pm Reply with quote

That's hard to say, but probably at about the time of the First World War. The first clear explanation that "Fanny Adams" is a euphemism for "fuck all" comes in a book of Australian military slang called Digger Dialects by one W H Downing, published 1919 (reprinted by OUP 1991, but even the reprint is about £300 on Amazon). is one of several sources which all say much the same thing; Partridge broadly concurs.

298319.  Tue Mar 18, 2008 5:51 pm Reply with quote

Mitch and I were debating this Michael Curtiz quote at the meeting, and it seems that we were both slightly wrong - or at least that our versions differed a bit from David Niven's in Bring on the Empty Horses:
"You think you know fuck everything and I know fuck nothing. Well, I tell you, I know fuck all!"

Frederick The Monk
298524.  Wed Mar 19, 2008 2:28 am Reply with quote

The earliest use of 'fuck-all' I've come across is in the court-martial of Harry Farr in 1916 (which has recently been overturned of course). The transcript is in the PRO (WO 71/509) and f.4 has this line:

He then said, ‘You are a fucking coward & you will go to the trenches I give fuck all for my life & I give fuck all for yours & I'll get you fucking well shot.’


Page 1 of 1

All times are GMT - 5 Hours

Display posts from previous:   

Search Search Forums

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2002 phpBB Group