The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits —- The Mary Taft Hoax
In 1726 a bit of odd news swept Britain, apparently in Surrey a woman named Mary Toft was giving birth to rabbits. According to Toft, one day when working in a field she was startled by a rabbit. Since then she had been continuously giving birth to still born rabbits and rabbit parts. News of such an anomaly became sensational, attracting the attention of some of the most popular and learned physicians of the day.
Under observation by a number of physicians for several weeks, it was noted that Mary Toft gave birth to nine whole baby rabbits (all of which were dead at birth) as well as various assorted bunny parts. Over time Toft’s case became even more sensational as she gave birth to parts of other animals such as cats and eels. Incredibly, a number of physicians examined her, all of whom declared the phenomenon to be genuine and natural. Many traveled hundreds of miles from other countries, and were considered to be the most learned and educated men in all of Europe.
In December of 1726, Thomas Onslow, the Earl of Onslow investigated the matter and discovered that Toft’s husband, Joshua Toft, had been purchasing rabbits for the past several months. On December 3rd he caught Joshua in the act of smuggling the rabbits into Mary’s room. Mary Toft was threatened with a painful exploratory surgery to uncover the truth of the matter, at which point she confessed to the hoax.
As it turns out, over the past several months Toft had been appearing to give birth to rabbits by inserting small rabbits and rabbit parts into her nether regions up where the sun don’t shine. While weird and disgusting, the hoax created a continent wide scandal that rocked the medical community. People all over Britain and Europe were shocked that supposedly the best physicians and scientists in the world could be so foolishly misled. Those who had been duped by the hoax saw their reputation and careers instantly ruined, among them the noted physician Dr. Nathaniel St. Adre, personal surgeon to King George I.
As for Mary Toft, the rabbit birthing woman was charged with fraud, but acquitted upon intervention of the medical community, who didn’t want the trial to continue leading to further embarrassment. Toft was later arrested and imprisoned for receiving stolen goods. She died in 1763.