During the 1890s depression jobs were scarce, there was no state welfare and it was difficult to avoid becoming involved in petty crime. When Rudolph Knorr was sent to prison in February 1892 for selling furniture being bought on hire purchase, his wife Frances was left pregnant and penniless. She managed by 'baby farming' - looking after children whose mothers could not care for them.
In September 1892 the bodies of three babies were discovered in Brunswick. Frances was arrested and sent for trial in December. The Weekly Times described the 23-year old woman as 'white and careworn'. She probably suffered from epilepsy. The public was deeply divided when she was sentenced to be executed. The hangman, Thomas Jones, committed suicide two days before the event. His wife had threatened to leave him if he hanged Mrs Knorr. Nevertheless, Frances Knorr hanged on 15 January 1894. This was the first execution of a woman in Victoria since 1863.
Frances Knorr found little support either among newspapers of the day or among government officials, for they had all come to believe in the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Her execution was intended as a warning to other wayward women. The city's health officer, Dr Neil, told a royal commission in 1893 that, of about 500 post-mortems he had performed on child bodies, more than half indicated murder.
Frances Knorr was a baby farmer who was hanged for killing the babies in her care.
PROV, VPRS 5900, Photographs of Prisoners Sentenced to Death and Coroners Inquest Sheets, P0, Unit 1
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