Alice Ann Lemm lived in Russell Street, Adelaide near Tidmarsh’s Soap Factory. Russell Street still exists and runs between Wright Street and Gilbert Street. The soap factory was on Sturt Street, with frontages on Norman and Russell Streets, so I can only guess Alice’s house was near the corner. She probably lived in a small terraced single-storey house, similar to the ones in this photo of Sturt Street from 1877.
The fact that ‘near Tidmarsh’s soap factory’ was mentioned in the newspaper articles about Alice Lemm is very interesting. In 1878, it was referred to as ‘J. Tidmarsh & Co.’s stink factory’. In 1883, a person identifying him-or-herself as ‘Citizen’ wrote a letter to the “The South Australian Advertiser” stating:
“I beg to state that while I was residing in King William-street south (from 1875 to 1882) I and my family have continually been annoyed and sickened by the horrible stinks arising from that soap factory whenever the wind blew from that direction. Generally when after a spell of hot weather a cool change set in we were obliged to keep all our doors and windows shut on account of the smell, and could not get our rooms cooled like other people who lived farther away…My idea is that it emanates from every part of the factory, and not only from the fluid running into the sewer. My chief reason for leaving my residence in King William-street was the obnoxious smell from that soap factory, and I think it would be a blessing for the whole of South Adelaide if the factory could be stopped and re-established a long way out of town.”
A house so noticeably close to the factory would have been cheap to rent, and I can’t imagine the living conditions would have been too pleasant. Alice shared the house with four babies, one of whom was her own and the other three were the children of women Alice had met in the Lying-in ward of the Destitute Asylum whilst confined with her own baby.
Her three charges were named Edward James Satchell, William Frederick Garten Thomas and Annie Harris. She had also cared for the child of a woman called Hannah Saunders, but Hannah took her baby away after only two weeks. Edward and William both died in November 1879 – Edward was sixteen weeks and William was seven months.
When Edward died, a death certificate was given and his body was buried without an examination. According to the Genealogy SA database, an Edward Satchell died in 1879 and his relative was given as his father, James Wallace Tormey. Following Edward’s death, the City Coroner (Mr. Ward) made further enquiries and he and Detective Hammill found Alice living with the three other children, all of whom were extremely emaciated. Two were “lying on a deal box in an empty room with nothing but rags to lay on and cover them, and their lower extremities were very cold”. The Local Board of Health was notified to the situation, and the Coroner believed that two of the remaining three children were not likely to live. These two children were probably Alice’s child and Annie Harris, as witnesses at the inquest into William’s death said he was the strongest-looking of the three. Alice was also reported to the police by neighbours, who reported hearing the babies ‘roaring’ and that they were dirty and thin.
Grace Thomas, William’s mother, planned to take William to the Destitute Asylum for medical treatment but he died the day before. Dr. John Scott Wilson, junior house surgeon at the Adelaide Hospital, saw William before he died and gave a death certificate when asked for one, giving the cause of death as marasmus (a severe protein deficiency). William’s relative was listed as his mother, Grace Thomas. However, William could not be buried until the coroner had been consulted because another child in Alice’s care had also recently died.
The coronial inquest, held at the Old Queen’s Arms Hotel, found that William had been with Alice for two months and she was engaged as a ‘dry nurse’. He was fed bread, Neave’s food (a formula for babies and invalids) and a mixture of milk, water and sugar. After Edward’s death, Alice had asked William’s mother, Grace Thomas, to care for William herself but Grace pleaded with Alice to keep him for another week. Grace took charge of William a week before he died and had made arrangements to go to the Destitute Asylum with him.
Patricia Sumerling’s essay, “The West End of Adelaide”, mentions that three children died within a space of ten weeks. The Genealogy SA databases show an Annie Harris, daughter of John Bowden, and an Edith Alice Lemm, daughter of Alice Lemm, both dying in 1880.
In January 1880, Susan Harris was charged in the Adelaide Police Court with “abandoning her infant, whereby its health was permanently injured”. Following the inquest into William’s death, Susan gave Annie to a Mrs. Ashton and promised to pay her 10s a week. Susan then went to Lacepede Bay and did not pay Mrs. Ashton anything, so Annie was ‘sentenced’ to the Industrial School for three months, while charges were laid against Susan. Annie was “in a very emaciated condition, and it is doubtful whether [she] will live.” On Wednesday, 25 February 1880, a certificate stating that the Attorney-General was of the opinion that there was no case against Susan Harris was filed in the Supreme Court.
Alice Lemm, Grace Thomas, Theresa Satchell and Susan Harris were all ‘confined’ in the Lying-in ward of the Destitute Asylum and were typical of its younger inhabitants. Alice, Susan and Grace were all recent migrants (Theresa might have been too, but it wasn’t mentioned in the reports). Alice was a domestic servant in Adelaide before she fell pregnant. Susan Harris also lived with her, but it appears that she must have worked and Alice cared for the babies. Grace worked as a general servant at the Buck’s Head Hotel in North Terrace. Theresa was also a domestic servant and was unable to find work with her son, which is why she gave him to Alice. 84% (449 out of 533) of unmarried mothers of children born in the Destitute Asylum between 1873 and 1883 were domestic servants.
An article that appeared in the Chronicle on 7 July 1883 pointed out that domestic servants rarely had any other home in the colony besides the one in which they worked. If they ‘offend[ed] against morals’, their options were extremely limited. With no job and no ‘parental roof’, the Destitute Asylum was the only place for them. This appears to have been the case with Alice, Grace, Theresa and Susan.
The ‘Alice Lemm case’ was spoken about in Parliament and it, along with other ‘baby farming’ cases (although Alice Lemm was not, strictly, a ‘baby farmer’) that occurred around the same time, led to the establishment of the State Children’s Department and the changes to the Destitute Persons’ Act that made unmarried mothers remain at the Destitute Asylum until their babies were six months old.
‘An Alleged Nuisance’, Advertiser, 25 January 1883, p. 5
Barbalet, Margaret. The Adelaide Children’s Hospital 1876-1976. Adelaide: The Adelaide Children’s Hospital, 1975.
‘Coroner’s Inquests: A Case of Baby Farming’, Advertiser, 26 November 1879, p. 6
‘Death of an Infant’, Register, 7 November 1879, p. 4‘Maternity of Children: Destitute Asylum’, Chronicle, 7 July 1883, p. 5
'Nolle Prosequi', Chronicle and Weekly Mail, 28 February 1880, p. 11
[No title], Register, 13 January 1880, p. 1
‘Suspicious Death of an Infant’, Register, 26 November 1879, p. 6