Circumstances force eight-year-old Sarah Scrase and her widowed mother Ellen to enter the notorious St Giles and St George's Workhouse.
When Ellen dies in childbirth, the independent-minded Sarah falls foul of the workhouse master, Trigg and his cruel wife.
Sarah's ordeal seems to be over when philanthropist and sugar mill owner James Arbuthnot takes her into his home.
But her wealthy benefactor reports Trigg and his wife. And blaming Sarah for their misfortune, in a fit of revenge the couple decide to take the law into their own hands.