Mary Toft — the lady with a strange claim to fame

In September 1726, in the small town of Godalming in England, a local obstetrician was called to the house of Mary Toft. A month earlier, Toft had suffered a miscarriage, yet despite being no longer pregnant, she had somehow gone into labor.

The obstetrician, John Edwards, was shocked when he helped Toft deliver several cats’ legs and nine dead baby rabbits.

Puzzled by these unusual births, Edwards wrote to medical experts in London to advise them of the medical marvel and to seek advice. The amazing news reached King George I, who, wanting to find out more, dispatched his personal surgeon, Nathaniel St Andre, and the secretary to the Prince of Wales, Samuel Molyneaux to Godalming.

When the two men arrived in the small town, Toft was amazingly still giving birth to rabbits. They arrived as she gave birth to dead baby rabbit number fifteen, and this was followed by several more.

Toft claimed that a few months prior she had been working in a field and was startled by a rabbit. She ran after the rabbit but couldn’t catch it. Another rabbit appeared, and she chased that, but it also eluded her.

St Andre wrote:

“That same Night she dreamt she was in a Field with those two Rabbets in her Lap, and awakened with a sick Fit, which lasted till Morning; from that time, for above three months, she had a constant and strong desire to eat Rabbets, but being very poor and indigent cou’d not procure any.”

He concluded that while she was pregnant (with a regular human baby) her experience with two rabbits and cravings for rabbit meat had somehow led her to develop rabbit foetuses. This was a theory called ‘maternal impression’ that was popular at the time and used as an explanation for any congenital disabilities.

Medical sense, of course, showed that this was impossible. There was no way that a rabbit could develop inside a human’s womb. Besides, one of the rabbits that was ‘born’ had clearly been cut in two. Despite this, both St Andre and Edwards were convinced these supernatural births were real.


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