The Rabbit Woman
19 November 1726 From Guildford comes a strange, but well attested piece of news. That a poor woman who lives at Godalmin, near that town, was, about a month past, delivered by Mr John Howard, an eminent surgeon and man-midwife, of a creature resembling a rabbit; but whose heart and lungs grew without its belly. About 14 days since she was delivered by the same person of a perfect rabbit; and, in a few days after, of 4 more; and on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the 4th, 5th, and 6th instant, of one in each day; in all nine. They died all in bringing into the world. The woman hath made oath, That two months ago, being working in a field with other women, they put up a rabbit; who running from them, they pursued it, but to no purpose: This created in her such a longing to it, that she (being with child) was taken ill, and miscarried; and, from that time, she hath not been able to avoid thinking of rabbits. People, after all, differ much in their opinion about this matter, some looking upon them as great curiosities fit to be presented to the Royal Society, &c. others are angry at the account, and say, that if it be fact, a veil should be drawn over it, as an imperfection in humane nature. (Mist’s Weekly Journal)
3 December 1726 Rabbits or no Rabbits has been the great dispute this week; the extraordinary woman that has been deliver’d of so many at Godalmin, is brought to town by his Majesty’s order, that a strict enquiry may be made into the affair. (Mist’s Weekly Journal)
3 December 1726 On Tuesday Night the Woman who hath been delivered of so many Rabbits at Godalmin, was, by order of his Majesty, brought to Town, and lodged in the Bagnio in Leicester-Fields. Sir Richard Manningham, Mr. St. Andre and Mr. Howard, came with her. Great Numbers of the Nobility have been to see her; and many Physicians have attended her, i n order to make a strict Search into the Affair; another Birth being soon expected. [The London Journal]
10 December 1726 The Woman from Godalmin in Surrey, said to have been deliver’d of seventeen Rabbits, is at the Bagnio in Leicester-Fields in Custody of the High Constable of Westminster, who hath order’d a Petty Constable to take Care of her: Wednesday she made a large Discovery of the Cheat, her Confession taking up several Sheets of Paper; but we hear she refuses to name her Confederates till she is assured of his Majesty’s Pardon: The Porter belonging to the Bagnio, whom she sent to Market with all imaginable Secrecy, to buy the youngest Rabbit he could get, contributed much to the Discovery; and several Noblemen, have been very active therein, not willing that so vile an Imposture, a Blemish on human Nature, should pass for Truth, and as such be inserted in our Histories. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]
17 December 1726 Mary Toft, the Rabbit Woman, is order’d to be prosecuted upon a Statute of Edward III. as a vile Cheat and Impostor. The learned Gentlemen, who find themselves mistaken at last in their Judgments of that Affair, are healing their Reputations as well as they can by writing of Pamphlets.
Last Week the Entertainment call’d the Necromancer, was perform’d at the Theatre in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, wherein a new Rabbit Scene was introduced by Way of Episode, by which the Publick may understand as much of that Affair, as by the present Controversy among the Gentlemen of the Faculty, who are flinging their bitter Pills at one another, to convince the World, that none of them understand any thing of the Matter. [Mist's Weekly Journal]
THE general Allarm [sic] that the late Imposition of Mary Toft has given, makes it necessary to spread the Detection of so infamous a Deceit as far as possible: that the Impressions this gross Fraud has raised, may be totally removed; and that the World may learn not to be so easy in their Belief for the future. I have, therefore, collected together, from the several Accounts published, a short and plain Narrative of the Proofs of this Imposture; and doubt not but you will give it a Place in your Paper, as it is complying with a Request for the publick Service.
IT appears, That while Mary Toft continued in the Country, the whole Business was so artfully managed, that both the Persons there, and those whose Curiosity carried them from London, in general gave into the Belief of it; and that those who now seem ashamed of their Credulity, if they did not then acknowledge themselves fully satisfied, yet express’d their Suspicions but in a very slight Manner. But on her Arrival in Town, on Tuesday the 29th of November, and being lodg’d at Lacy’s Bagnio in Leicester-Fields, a stricter Inquisition began to be made. And Dr. Maningham, who there attended her, gives the following Relation of what was observ’d from that Time to the Time of her Confession: and, considering that he himself was influenced by others to give too much Credit to the Cheat, he can the less be suspected in his Account of its Discovery. Tho’ the Observation cannot be concealed, that they who all along most countenanc’d the Imposture, have been the forwardest to express their Zeal publickly for its Detection.
‘I sat up with her all that Night; she often had the Motion (which he had before described) on the Right Side of her Belly, and sometimes very strongly. Wednesday the 30th, the Motion was more faint, and she passed the Night tolerably well. Thursday the 1st Instant, about Ten in the Morning, the Motion was very languid, and having intermitted for a while, she was seiz’d with Pains like those of Labour. I then prepared, as before at Guilford [sic], to deliver her; and having diligently search’d the Vagina, I found it clear, and received a Pain or Two, which were strong and exactly like Labour-Pains: Upon this I desired Dr. Douglass, who was then present, that He would please likewise to examine her, and openly declare his Opinion; which he did, and, in the Hearing of several Persons of Distinction, profess’d that he found the Vagina clear, and was of Opinion, the Pains were of the same Nature with Labour-Pains. I then took my Place again, and received more Pains of the like Nature, and perceiv’d the Os Uteri to spread a little and grow softer; her Face also flush’d and her Pulse was rais’d, as it always was whenever she had those Pains upon her. After some time the Motion on the Right Side of her Belly, which they called the Leaping up of the Rabbet [sic], began again, and those Pains, like Labour-Pains, went suddenly off; her Pulse soon became calm, as before, and the Flushing of her Face disappear’d. She pass’d the Remainder of the Day indifferently well, having for the most Part the Motion on the Right Side of her Belly, which I never observ’d had any Influence on her Pulse. Her Diet was Beef, Red-Herring, and such like. That Night she slept very well. Friday the 2d Instant, she had the Motion the greatest Part of the Day; towards Evening it increased extremely, insomuch that she fell into violent Convulsions, which I never before observ’d in her, with frequent Contractions of her Fingers, rolling of her Eyes, and great Risings in her Stomach and Belly. During the Fit, she would often make a whining Noise, and at Intervals be more than ordinary faint. She continued in her Fit near Two Hours; for some Minutes I could scarcely perceive she had any Pulse. When she came out of her Fit, she perceived her self very weak for some time; and when I ask’d if she remembred [sic] she had been in a Fit, she answer’d, No. She rested well that Night. On Saturday the 3d in the Morning, she was brisk, and all that Day had the Motion by Intervals; towards Evening she had another Convulsion Fit, though not so violent as the former; this Night she was very restless, and sometimes convulsed, had a Difficulty in making Water, and the Motion in her Belly was very little. On Sunday the 4th Instant, about Eleven of the Clock in the Morning, Dr. Douglass and my self did carefully examine her Belly, when we perceived a Swelling a little above the Os Pubis, such as we had never felt there before; it was long, and, as we apprehended, in the Cavity of the Uterus, which we observ’d had little or no Motion, this we could not account for; we each of us examined the Vagina, and found it clear as before, the Os Uteri soft and spread, as on Thursday last, but something more relax’d. About Three in the Afternoon, the Pains, like Labour-Pains, came on again: After having received several Pains, they, together with the other Symptoms of approaching Labour, vanished on the sudden, as formerly. In the Evening, Thomas Howard, Porter to Mr. Lacy’s Bagnio, made an Information against Mary Toft, before Sir Thomas Clarges, Bart. one of His Majesty’s Justices of Peace, concering a Rabbet she had clandestinely procured by his Assistance; upon which she was taken into Custody, and strictly examined by Sir Thomas: She very obstinately denied all the Porter had sworn; but her Sister, who nurs’d her, being examin’d to the said Fact upon Oath, acknowledged the procuring the Rabbet in a clandestine manner; but that it was not designed for the Use we suspected, but for eating only. Soon after Mary Toft confess’d she had procured the Rabbet, according to the Porter’s Deposition, but that it was her Intention to eat it, she having long’d for it, and most obstinately persisted that she was still big with a Rabbet. The same Evening I examined her again, and her Uterus appeared to me to contain something of Substance in it; whereupon I earnestly press’d Sir Thomas Clarges that she might not be sent to Prison that Night, being still apprehensive there might something come from her Uterus in a little Time; and, as the Fraud was not fully detected, I judg’d it might prove of very ill Consequence to remove her till the whole was found out. On Monday the 5th, I gave my Opinion to Sir Thomas, concerning Mary Toft; and, lest he should commit her to Prison, I spoke to several Persons of Distinction, and that Day wrote to the Honourable Mr. Molyneux to assist me in that Affair, well knowing how industrious they had always been, in endeavouring to find out this supposed Fraud; for I believ’d a sudden Commitment of her to Prison, before the Cheat did manifestly appear, would be a means of preventing a Discovery. After some Difficulty, I prevailed with Sir Thomas Clarges to let her remain in the Custody of the High Constable of Westminster, at the Bagnio, till the Cheat should be found out, or at least for a few Days longer; to which he agreed.’
While these Observations were making on her in Town, and she was thus dexterously counterfeiting, without producing any Rabbet, or Part of a Rabbet, strict Enquiry was made in the Country, whether any had been purchased for her there. And it appears by the several Depositions of Edward Coston, Richard Stedman, John Sweetapple, and Mary Peytoe, taken before the Rt. Honourable the Lord Onslow, that Joshua Toft her Husband, had bought of them at several Times, within the Time of this Transaction, 15 or 17 Rabbets, many of different Colours; that several he killed, and took out their Entrails in their Presence; and particularly, that two of them were bought the Day his Wife went to Guildford, and that he said he must carry them thither. Mary Coston, her Nurse, deposed, that she was with the said Mary Toft from the beginning of November to the Time she went to London; in all which Time the said Mary Toft never had any Rabbets dress’d for her; but that she saw the said Mary Toft deliver’d of seven Rabbets of different Colours, all in several Pieces, and that she never saw her delivered of any Guts belonging to the said Rabbets. Elizabeth Mason, at whose House the said Mary Toft lodged three Weeks, deposed, that there were no Rabbets dress’d at her House, or brought to the said Mary Toft to eat, in all that Time; and that she heard the said Mary Toft say, She could not eat a Bit of a Rabbet, were she to have a Thousand Pounds for so doing.
‘That upon her miscarrying, she was seiz’d with violent Floodings; and the Womb being then as she thought open as if she had been just delivered of a full-grown Child, she did verily believe one of her wicked Accomplices did then convey into her Womb Part of the Monster (as she call’d it) being the Claws and Body of a Cat, and the Head of a Rabbet; which put her to much Pain. After that Time she believed nothing was ever put into her Womb, but into the Passage only, by the Advice of a Woman Accomplice whom she would not name, who told her she had now no Occasion to work for her Living as formerly, for she would put her into a Way of getting a very good Livelihood, and promised continually to supply her with Rabbets, and should therefore expect Part of the Gain; or to that Effect. That Mary Toft asking what Way that was, the Woman told her she must put up her Body so many Pieces of Rabbets as would make up the Number of Rabbets which a Doe-Rabbet usually kindles at one Time, otherwise she would be suspected. Mary Toft asking also how many that was; the Woman told her, sometimes Thirteen. And that from that Time she the said Mary Toft did often, by the Assistance of that Woman, convey Parts of Rabbets into her Body, ’til at last she could do it by her self, as she had an Opportunity; and that she did continue so to do.’
Dr. Maningham on this observes, that by the constant Irritation of those extraneous Bodies, thus artfully convey’d into her Vagina, the whole Uterus suffer’d much, and became larger in Bulk than it ought to be in its natural State; and that the Bones, and other Parts of those Rabbets, so convey’d into the Vagina, did often offend the Neck of the Uterus; which, together with artful Management of her self, did occasion those violent bearing-down Pains, which came on by Intervals, and very exactly counterfeited the true Labour-Pains. He says, the Motions of her Belly
were partly Artifice, and partly real Convulsions; for that he had often observ’d some of the Motions in her soundest Sleep, and even after she had confess’d the Fraud, Part of her Motions being involuntary.
24 December 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. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]
24 December 1726 Several higglers from Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, and other parts, affirm, they have lost above a hundred pounds a man by the detestable Rabbet-breeding Woman; they being under contracts to take of the Warreners, weekly, a certain number, which afterwards came to bad markets, and they could not dispose of them, so that rather than she should escape punishment, they declare they would sue her for damage. (Mist’s Weekly Journal)
14 January 1727 Last Saturday the famous Rabbit Woman of Godalmin was brought up to the Sessions at Westminster, where the famous Surgeon of Guilford appear’d also, and having enter’d their Pleas, the first was sent back to Bridewell, and the latter admitted to fresh Recognizances, in order to take their Tryals (we suppose) at the Assizes to be held for the County of Surrey, for a late mysterious Piece of Iniquity. [Mist's Weekly Journal]
14 January 1727 Mary Toft, charged upon Oath for being an abominable Cheat and Impostor, in pretending to be deliver’d of several monstrous Births at several Times, was brought, on Saturday last, from Bridewell to the Quarter Sessions of the Peace held for the City and Liberty of Westminster, and was by the Court remanded back to Bridewell, and it is referred to Sir Thomas Clarges, Bart. to continue, Bail, or Discharge; and we are inform’d, that there will be an Information prefer’d against her and others the next Term, for a Conspiracy and Misdemeanor, in contriving and carrying on the aforesaid Cheat; and that they will be try’d at the next Assizes for the County of Surrey.
28 January 1727 Monday last being the first Day of Hillary Term, the Lord Chancellor and Judges went to Westminster Hall with the usual State and Solemnity, when Mr. John Howard, the Surgeon at Guildford, was continued on his Recognizance. [The London Journal]
13 April 1727 Mary Toft, the Godalmin Rabbit Woman, was last Saturday discharg’d from her Recognizance at the Quarter Sessions, Westminster, there being no Prosecution. [Daily Post. Repeated in the Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer 15 April.]
Notwithstanding the notorious Infidelity and Libertinism of the Age, in which we live, with regard to all sorts of Prodigies, Portents and Omens, I am not ashamed to acknowledge some belief in such extraordinary Appearances, especially when they are confirmed by subsequent, extraordinary Events; which I think cannot be entirely rejected, unless we discredit the concurrent Testimonies of the best Historians antient and modern, sacred and prophane; particularly Livy, Clarendon and Echard. I shall not dwell on those wonderful apparitions, so generally known, which preceded the Assassination of Julius Cæsar and the great Duke of Buckingham, but hasten to the point in view by making some observations on those equally surprizing Omens, which happen’d, as it were but Yesterday, amongst our selves.
Indeed, the last year may be justly esteem’d a Year of Wonders, not inferior to any recorded in History, whether we consider it either with relation to those uncommon, præternatural Effects, which have raised the astonishment and curiosity of the Publick, or to those extraordinary Events that have succeeded them; the latter of which, in my opinion, ought to be looked on as the completions or accomplishments of what the former were design’d to be Types, Notices and Predictions.
It would be endless to ennumerate all those stupendious Prodigies, mishapen Monsters, strange Sights and unheard of Wonders, which have been lately exhibited to our Eyes. Not to mention the wild human Youth brought forth by an old Oak, in a desart, uninhabited Forest abroad, or the young Lyons whelp’d, in so uncommon a manner at home, we have seen black Swans, white Bears, six-leg’d Cows, Men with two heads, flying Horses, speaking Dogs and dancing Elephants in abundance, which would have employ’d all the attention of antient Oracles to explain. Channel-Row was never so plentifully stock’d, as it hath been for the last Summer and Winter, with portentous Rarities of all kinds: which at the same time that they serve to amuse the vulgar and ignorant, excite the curiosity of learned Men, and prepare their minds for Events, suitable to such ominous Prognostications.
I shall confine my self, at present, to only three of the most amazing Phænomena, which have lately made their appearance amongst us, viz. the famous Rabbit Breeder of Godalmin in Surry; the prodigiouis three-leg’d Eagle, which was taken alive this Spring in the Weald of Kent; and the wonderful Young man, who was delivered but t’other Day of a chopping Girl in Fetter-Lane.
Tho’ I have my self suffer’d a great deal of Slander and Ridicule, in common with these skilful Adepts and Operators, for my Credulity in this affair, yet I found my self, every Day, more and more confirm’d in the Belief of it, by what has since happen’d amongst us; of which I take that surprizing occurrence to be a remarkable Presage; and I think nobody can doubt it any longer, after the full Discharge of Mrs. Tofts [sic] from her confinement, and all future enquiry about it; which I am confident she would not have obtain’d, if there had been any reasonable Grounds to form a Prosecution against Her.
The truth therefore of this wonderful Conception and Delivery being thus establish’d, as I think, beyond all dispute; it remains to be considered what Event such an anomalous Production can be supposed to prognosticate or point out to us: but this is a subject of so tender a naure, that it is not yet a proper reason to enlarge upon it any farther; I must therefore leave it, at present, to the conjectures of every discerning Reader; not in the leat doubting that Time and a little Patience will explain it, in the fullest manner, to the most common apprehensions.
I shall now beg leave to pass on to the second strange and portentous Phænomenon which I have just mention’d and proposed to consider; namely, the monstrous great Eagle with three Legs, which was lately caught by a Kentish Shepherd, whilst He was committing the most terrible Ravages on the young Lambs under his care in Romney Marsh. This omen, I think, may be easily understood, explained and apply’d by any Person, who hath the least knowledge in Emblems and Hieroglyphicks; for an Eagle being the known Symbol of Empire, as a Lamb is of the British Woollen Manufacture, it cannot be doubted that, by this wonderful triple-leg’d Bird of Prey, ought to be understood the late Confederacy of Those very formidable Potentates (viz the Emperor, the Czarina and the King of Spain) in order to suppress our Manufactures, and deprive us of our Trade and Commerce. It is further obvious to infer (and I observe it with the greatest pleasure) that as this lordly-feather’d Tyrant and ravenous Invader of Property was timely surprized in his Depredations, by the vigilance and courage of a careful Shepherd, so those ambitious, ungrateful and daring Monarchs will be shortly obliged to desist from their exorbitant Demands and unwarrantable Usurpations, by the unshakeable resolution and most indomitable Integrity of a British Administration.
We may explain the other Heterogeneous Production in almost the same political manner; for the Circumstance of a Young-man’s being got with Child and actually brought to bed of a Daughter, is so contrary to all the ordinary Laws of Nature, and such a total Inversion of the properties of his sex, that it seems to bear no small resemblance to that unaccountable Conjunction, which, according to a late excellent writer, was out of the Road of all Policy and of which he found it so difficult to give any reasonable solution.
I know that some Persons have endeavour’d to explain this Phænomenon, by applying it to the late Transmutation of Sexes at our Masquerades and other polite Assemblies; but I chuse rather to adhere to the former Exposition as more apposite and momentous; or at least to apply it to the latter, only in a remote and secondary sense.
It may indeed be objected to both these Interpretations, that the Type is preceded by the Anti-tipe [sic], and that the symbol or Thing signifying comes after the Thing signified; which, we are told, by a late Writer, often happens in Prophecies and typical Applications. But, I shall leave this point to be controverted by our modern Religious Disputants, it being of no importance in the present Case, which relates to political matters, as it cannot destroy that Analogy or Resemblance between two or more extraordinary Events, which is all that I design or desire to prove in this Paper.
I cannot conclude without observing that as our Enemies have entered into a most unaccountable Conjunction, out of the Road of all Policy (to which our late Prodigies and portents bear so near a Relation) and some Protestant Princes have thought fit to join in a Popish Plot against the Liberties of Europe; so it no less wonderfully, and as it were, Providentially falls out, that a very powerful Popish Prince finds himself inclin’d (as no doubt it is his Interest) to unite cordially with us, and enter into a Protestant League to defeat such delights, and curb the Ambition of these Popish Confederates.
At the same time, it must be confessed that this is a scene of wonder and astonishment, since which we ought to be very thankful to Providence; for this Infatuation of our Enemies in concerting a Treaty, so contrary to their own Interest, is, perhaps, the only Thing, which could have established so firm a League, Union and Friendship between us and some of our present Allies. [The Craftsman]
18 May 1727 We hear that this day a trial comes on at the Sittings in the Court of Common Please, Westminster, between Mr. Lacy, Master of the Bagnio in Leicester-Fields, and Mr. St. Andre, about a Bill of Charges, in the affair of the Rabbit Woman, for Lodging and Money laid out on that Occasion. (Daily Post)
Saturday, 19 August 1727 We hear from Godalmin, that the famous Mary Toft, the Rabbet-Woman, is breeding again; which may be the subject of curious speculation to those ingenious gentlemen who went deep into her former affair. (London Journal)
28 May 1730 Thursday, May 21. On sunday last was married at Hesson, near Hounslow in Middlesex. M. St. Andre, (the famous Surgeon) to Lady Betty Molineux, of Kew-Green in Surrey, Relict of Sam. Molineux, Esq; and sister to the Earl of Esex.
(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)
CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "The Rabbit Woman", 23 November 2001, updated 1 January 2006 <http://grubstreet.rictornorton.co.uk/rabbit.htm>
CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "The Rabbit Woman", 23 November 2001, updated 1 January 2006 <http://grubstreet.rictornorton.co.uk/rabbit.htm>