The Curious Case of Mary Toft
In the small town of Godalming in England, on September 1726, an obstetrician was called to a woman’s house named Mary Toft. Apparently, the woman was in labour. She already had a miscarriage last month and now she was not even yet pregnant. Then how could she be pregnant!
Well, she was not lying since she did go through labour. Any ideas, it was a girl or boy? You guessed it wrong! She delivered several cats’ legs and nine deceased baby rabbits. Na, she was not lying at all because the obstetrician, John Edwards helped her deliver the strange babies.
Readers, you are not the only ones in shock and disbelief. Our obstetrician was also on the same page here. He helped Mary Toft to deliver her extraordinary babies but he himself could not process this whole scene. Hence, he decided to write to medical experts in London to enlighten him on this medical marvel and seek advice.
Meanwhile, this miraculous news reached the court of King George I. The king was of course equally curious like us to find out what was going on. So, he sent none other than Nathaniel St Andre, his personal surgeon to Godalming to confirm the miracle delivery. St Andre was accompanied by Samuel Molyneaux, the secretary to the Prince of Wales.
When the two men finally reached the destination, they found that Mary Toft was still in the middle of giving birth to dead rabbits. And, it was baby rabbit number fifteen now which she just delivered. Her last baby rabbit was not her last, as several more also hatched from her. The two men questioned the new mommy about her opinion and thoughts on the matter as after all she is the star of this miracle.
She told them that a few months ago when she was pregnant with a human baby, she was working in the field; a rabbit came out of nowhere and startled her. She chased the rabbit to catch it but it ran away quickly. Obviously! Then another rabbit came and she ran after this one too but couldn’t catch this one either.
Hear St Andre’s exact words
That very same night she dreamed she was in a Field holding these two Rabbets in her lap, and she awoke with a sick fit that lasted till the next morning; from that time until today, she had a constant and strong desire to eat Rabbets, but being poor and indigent she could not procure any.
Have you heard about ‘maternal impression?’ It was a popular concept in those times. It was actually used for explaining genetic disabilities. Would Mary Toft have experienced something similar? Maybe yes, because she further told them that those two rabbits in the field and her craving for rabbit meat in her pregnancy had now led her to develop rabbit foetuses.
You are right, folks! Medically and scientifically, this does not make sense. It’s not possible that a rabbit would grow inside a human womb. Also, one of the dead born baby rabbits was cut into two. Sick! Hopefully, St Andre and Edwards would clear out the whole air by confirming to us that it wasn’t possible. Right, gentlemen? Well, both of them were convinced that the weird births were real.
Nobody was rightly swayed except the two men. So, this time a German doctor named Cyriacus Ahlers was called to the place. He witnessed the miracle births live and declared that it was clearly a hoax. St Andre and Mary Toft tried to persuade him that it was no hoax. He nevertheless sent the dead rabbits to the King as a piece of evidence that it was not real.
The King ordered to bring Toft to London for further observation on her. By now the whole nation had already heard the news of great Mary Toft. She of course became famous and newspapers published her story. In those times people would pay enormously to see such freaks. Our mysterious woman, Mary Toft also faced the same.
St Andre was again in doubt. He began the observation once more and asked for doctors, physicians, and midwives to witness the live births of the rabbits. Toft was under strict observation this time and she went into labour on and off from November 30 to December 3 but nothing happened. No dead baby rabbits came. Medical opinion was almost certain with what it had to say. Looks like we are close to the revelation.
St Andre couldn’t sit back seeing the popularity of the news and people’s mixed opinions on him. He wrote a pamphlet, ‘Short Narrative of an Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets’ on his theories and beliefs about the whole scenario and published it on December 3. Unfortunately, or rather luckily, on the day when the pamphlet was published, a porter was found smuggling a rabbit into Toft’s room. Interrogations took place and he revealed that Toft’s sister in law asked her to fetch the smallest rabbit for her.
On December 4, the doctors called for a Justice of Peace so that they would take Toft into custody for interrogation. The next two days were quite intense as they interrogated Toft for hours. The lady was still not admitting that she lied and how she weaved the whole drama. There is no way she was telling the truth. Well, not all the doctors there were intelligent like St Andre. In fact, there could be smarter doctors than him. They simply asked to perform surgery on Toft to see if she had different reproductive organs than other women. Because, how else they would know how she was giving birth to dead rabbits and other animal things.
The surgery solution scared Toft and she admitted that it was a hoax. Phew! Wait, then how those poor animals were coming out from her?! She confessed to them that in the desperation of earning money she shoved the poor things inside her vagina and pretended to give birth while getting them removed from inside her. That’s horrific! What happened next, was expected. Mary Toft was charged with being a “Notorious and Vile Cheat” and imprisoned on December 9.
Are you wondering what happened to St Andre? People believed that he was also a part of this scam. His reputation had a massive blow. And his pamphlet penetrated the blow even deeply. Andre did not accept the contribution. He even published an advertisement on December 9 in the Daily Journal conveying that he had no part in the matter.
Poor guy wanted to save his honour and pride but there was no turning back for him. He could never mend his reputation from Toft’s debauchery. As a result, he lost his business and died in poverty. Toft, on the other hand, was released from prison after a few months and went back to Godalming. However, in 1740 she was again imprisoned upon collecting stolen things but proved innocent in the trial. She eventually died in the year 1763.Add to favorites