Media Releases

New from Kirsty Johnston. Nellie’s Baby: An asylum, an adoption, and a search for the truth

Released at 10:15 am on 11 March 2024

Title "Nellie's Baby" overtop old photographs and a dark hallway

Photo: RNZ

Sarah is born in a psychiatric hospital, taken by the state and adopted to a new family in secret. By the time she tracks her birth mother down, it is too late: Nellie has died in suspicious circumstances, and Sarah is left with nothing but questions. 

Nellie’s Baby is an eight-part documentary podcast that follows Sarah’s journey to uncover the truth about her birth mother’s tragic life and mysterious death. It is presented by RNZ’s award-winning investigative journalist Kirsty Johnston. 

Out of the blue in 2022, Kirsty receives an email from a stranger titled: “Investigating the possible murder of my mother”. The author is Sarah, a young woman who was born in a psychiatric hospital in the mid-1980s in Wellington. Sarah was adopted out, and only learned the true circumstances of her early life recently, after her birth mother, Nellie, died. She wants help to look into her past, and to answer the many questions about Nellie. Why was she in an institution? Did she have another baby? And most of all, was her death an accident, or something worse?

Kirsty and Sarah go together on a journey that mixes moments of joy, darkness and confronting reality. It’s a uniquely New Zealand story, holding a mirror up to our past, present and future and reflecting back an image of ourselves that’s not always flattering. 

Kirsty mentions how lucky we are to share Sarah's story.

"This is an important story, laying bare parts of our mental health system - and our own social and moral conscience - which we may have found it easier to ignore. 

“We are very proud to tell this story, and enormously grateful to Sarah and her family for their bravery and tenacity in sharing it.” 

Kirsty’s key collaborator on the podcast is William Ray, the award-winning producer and presenter of many RNZ Podcasts including Black Sheep and The Aotearoa History Show. 

RNZ’s Executive Editor (In Depth) John Hartevelt says Nellie’s Baby is not like anything that’s come before it. 

“This is a confronting yet accessible story that will make New Zealanders think about how we, as a nation, care for the most vulnerable in our communities. But it’s also an exciting, sometimes uplifting and funny tale we know listeners will love. 

“Kirsty’s investigative and story-telling skills combined perfectly with William’s peerless talent for podcasting to create a seriously binge-worthy series. 

The first three episodes of Nellie’s Baby will be out on Friday 15 March at and podcast platforms. The remaining five episodes will be released daily from Monday 18 March.