Wednesday, October 21, 2009
"Mary Toft, the Rabbit Woman of Godalming [Guildford, Godliman], was a 25-year-old servant girl when she convinced several physicians, including the King of England’s surgeon, that she had given birth to rabbits. She craved a bit of fame and fortune, which she achieved, but her harebrained scheme was also rewarded with a short stay in prison awaiting prosecution for being "a vile Cheat and Impostor."*
Mary Toft's hoax happened in 1726, during the reign of King George I. Mrs. Toft had inserted the parts of several rabbits where no rabbit parts should ever be and summoned the local surgeon, John Howard. She feigned delivery and the astonished Howard was convinced he'd participated in a medical oddity worthy of widespread notification.
Eventually, King George sent his surgeon, Nathanael St. Andre, and Samuel Molyneux, an astronomer and secretary to the Prince of Wales, to investigate. In their interview with Mrs. Toft, she told them that before her misadventure with rabbit births she had had a strong craving for rabbit meat, she often dreamed of rabbits, and spent much time trying to catch them in the garden. She then repeated her variation on the rabbits-out-of-the-hat trick. St. Andre and Molyneux were so convinced of the worthiness of her effort that they did a scientific examination of one of the rabbit parts. A rabbit lung floated when placed in water. Thus, they concluded - though it is not clear why - that Mary was not tricking them.
Mary Toft's hoax didn't require much technique but it did require a bit of ingenuity. And, she must have been a pretty fair actress to have carried off her hoax. She kept up the lie even after she was brought to London, where large numbers of curiosity seekers camped outside her lodgings. Eventually, she confessed to her rabbit abuse and was imprisoned. The British Gazetteer reported on December 24, 1726:
A Prosecution is ordered to be carried on in the Court of King’s Bench, next Hillary Term, against Mary Toft of Godalmin, for an infamous Cheat and Imposture, in pretending to have brought forth 17 præter-natural Rabbits. She is still detained a Prisoner in Bridewell, where none but the Keeper’s Wife is permitted to go into the Room to deliver any thing to her; the infinite Crowds of People that resort to see her, not being suffered to approach her too near, and more especially her Husband, who is strictly search’d when he comes to the Prison.
However, after about four months in Bridewell, she was released without being prosecuted, a fact that brought joy to the heart of one of those who had believed in the rabbit births. This anonymous fellow wrote in The Craftsman in April 1727 that he was confident that Mary Toft's story was true because the authorities would not have released her "if there had been any reasonable Grounds to form a Prosecution against Her." " taken from The Skeptic's Dictionary There's also a lot more info on wikipedia here
Labels: Mary Toft