A portrait of Mary Toft by James Caulfield, made in 1819 –which is a copy of an earlier portrait drawn in 1727, while Toft was in prison.
In September 1726, news reached the court of King George I of the alleged birth of several rabbits to Mary Toft (1703-1763) of Godalming, near Guildford, in Surrey.
Mary was a twenty-five year old illiterate servant, married to Joshua Toft, a journeyman clothier. According to reports, despite having had a miscarriage just a month earlier in August 1726,
Mary had still appeared to be pregnant. On September 27th, she went into labour and was attended initially by her neighbour Mary Gill, and then her mother in law Ann Toft.
She gave birth to something resembling a liverless cat.
The family decided to call on the help of Guildford obstetrician John Howard.
He visited Mary the next day where he was presented with more animal parts which Ann Toft said she had taken from Mary during the night.
The following day, Howard returned and helped deliver yet more animal parts. Over the next month Howard recorded that she began producing a rabbit’s head, the legs of a cat and in a single day, nine dead baby rabbits.
Howard sent letters to some of England’s greatest doctors and scientists and the King’s secretary, informing them of the miraculous births.
The curious King dispatched two men to investigate to see what they could ascertain about this case: Nathaniel St. André, Swiss surgeon-anatomist to the King, and Samuel Molyneux, secretary to the Prince of Wales.