Baby-farmer Daniel Cooper hanged

16 June 1923

Newspaper caricature of Daniel Cooper (PapersPast)

A generation after the hanging of the infamous Minnie Dean (see 12 August), the murder trial of Daniel and Martha Cooper revealed that ‘baby farming’ and illegal abortion were still regarded as solutions to the problem of unwanted children in New Zealand.

After watching the Coopers for some time, police arrested Daniel in December 1922 for performing an abortion. The discovery of a baby’s body days later at their Newlands property, near Wellington, saw the couple charged with illegally detaining children and murder. By the time their trial began on 14 May, two more babies’ bodies had been unearthed.

Martha’s lawyer portrayed her as a victim of mistreatment, describing her as ‘a soulless household drudge without a mind of her own’. This was in sharp contrast to a reporter’s depiction of Daniel’s ‘dark piercing eyes set far back in his head and a mouth like the seam in a saddle bag’.

While the jury cleared Martha of all charges, Daniel was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was hanged at the Terrace Gaol, Wellington, on 16 June 1923.