She was born Mary Denyer at Godalming, Surrey, and baptised on February 21st 1703. In 1720, she married Joshua Toft, a journeyman clothier (a journeyman was someone who had completed his apprenticeship but was not yet a master of his craft. They were often itinerants, who worked for day wages – hence the term ‘journeyman’, from the French journée – ‘day’). Mary was an unprepossessing girl; she was short of stature and bad tempered, stupid and illiterate, wilful, wooden and stolid.
|N St Andre's opinion of Mary Toft|
Joshua and Mary had three children and, in spring 1726, she was pregnant again. In the first few weeks, whilst working in the fields, Mary was shocked by a rabbit that sprang unseen at her feet. She and her companion then saw another rabbit, and from then Mary developed an obsession with rabbits, she dreamed about them and had an overwhelming urge to eat them, a luxury an eighteenth century English peasant could ill afford.
In early August, Mary began to suffer from severe abdominal pains and egested a mass of unformed tissue, followed three weeks later by a similar event. During the night of September 27th, she was again taken ill during the night and her mother-in-law, Ann Toft, who was a midwife was sent for. Mary delivered what was said to resemble the lights and innards of a pig. Joshua Toft took these to Mr John Howard, a surgeon and man-midwife with thirty years experience, at Guilford, and Mr Howard went to Godalming some days later, where he delivered what seemed to be further parts of a pig.
It seemed that the affair was over, but early in November, Mary Toft went into labour once more and Howard returned to Godalming. News began to reach the London medical establishment that a woman in Surrey was giving birth to rabbits, and these rumours were confirmed when Mr Howard wrote to the capital, saying he had removed Mrs Toft to Guilford after she had borne nine rabbits and inviting any interested parties to come and see the wonders for themselves.
|Nathaniel St Andre|
This invitation was taken up by Dr Nathaniel St André, surgeon to the Royal Household of King George I, who travelled to Guilford on November 15th, in the company of the Honourable Mr Samuel Molyneux, Secretary to H R H the Prince of Wales. They arrived in the afternoon and were met by Howard, who informed them that Mrs Toft was in the process of delivering her fifteenth rabbit. St André and Howard attended her, finding her in great pain, and soon after she delivered the torso of a rabbit, stripped of its skin but containing lungs, heart and diaphragm. The doctors examined Mrs Toft and St André found irregularities in the right fallopian tube, suspecting that the rabbits were developing there before passing into the uterus.
|A Bunny Baby?|
They repaired to the mayor’s house, and two hours later news reached them that Mrs Toft had borne the hind parts of a rabbit that fitted with the torso delivered earlier. They returned to the doctor’s house, where Toft was once more in immense pain, and soon after the rolled-up skin of a rabbit appeared together with a rabbit’s head, complete with skin, and with a torn ear. All the parts so far delivered were preserved in alcohol, and St André began his examination of them.
In the guts of one, normal rabbit dung was found, containing plant material, although another contained a thick, viscous mucus resembling meconium. The first creature was found not to be a perfect rabbit, having three of its four paws more like those of a cat, the various sections formed complete bodies although some lacked viscera, and the majority were female.
|St Andre - Narrative - 1726|
St André wrote a short but medically detailed report, which he forwarded to London and which was presented before the King and court on November 26th 1726.
It caused an immediate sensation.
Tomorrow - Just how the immediate sensation went ...