The Edward Street Baby Farm by Stella Budrikis. (2020).
**3.5 out of 5 stars**
In Perth 1907, one of Australia’s most notorious baby farmers, Alice Mitchell, was arrested for the murder of 5-month-old Ethel Booth. During the inquest and subsequent trial, Perth’s citizens were horrified to learn that at least 37 infants had died in Alice’s care. How could this have happened, especially when the home was regularly visited by Perth’s first female health inspector, Harriet Lenihan, and by the children’s socialists specialist Dr Edward Officer?
I don’t often read non-fiction, so the synopsis would have to be very intriguing for me to pick it up. In this case, I am a true crime fan and I live in Perth so this one jumped out at me. I hadn’t heard of this particular case before so it was all new knowledge for me. It’s clear the author has engaged in extensive research for this novel, particularly from court transcripts and newspaper reports, and the references are provided. It explores not only the ‘baby farm’, but also the events both before and after, as well as the lives of various people involved; specifically focusing on Alice, the heath inspector Harriet and Dr Officer. It is truly baffling that Dr Officer managed to move on from Alice’s trial with basically no repercussions! It is interesting to ponder if Alice did indeed purposely mean for all of these babies to die, or if she just didn’t care for them well enough, or if indeed natural causes and hygiene of the times is in fact to blame for the high number of infant deaths.
Readers who are interested in true crime and/or Perth (or Western Australia) history should pick this one up.