Not for the faint hearted, today we'd like to share with you a mad piece of local trivia. What better time than Easter to tell the story of Mary Toft, a servant girl whom in 1726 fooled the nation into believing that she had given birth to rabbits?
Mary Toft, a servant living in Godalming, made national news when she claimed to have given birth to the parts of several rabbits. The local surgeon, John Howard, lent some legitimacy to these claims, attesting that he had delivered "a creature resembling a Rabbit but whose Heart and Lungs grew without its Belly".
The story fascianted the Royal Family, particularly George I, who sent his royal surgeon, Nathaanel St Andre to investigate. In an Interview with St Andre, Mary claimed that she had dreamt of rabbits, had a strong craving for their meat and spent time chasing them in the fields where she worked. Further fascinated, King George sent a slightly more sceptical, doubtless more qualified and splendidly-named surgeon called Cyriacus Ahlers to have a look.
He was suspicious of Howard's refusal to allow him to help with delivery, and finally decided to apply some science to the mysterious matter. Upon inspection of the rabbit parts, he found that they had been cut with a man-made instrument, and sent his findings to the KIng and other notable scientists of the time.
A separate investigation found that Toft's husband had recently bought large numbers of rabbits, and,after having been brought to London, Toft confessed that it was a hoax. She was sent to prison for the crime of being "an infamous Cheat and Imposture(sic)", while the eminent scientists who believed her story suffered life-long ridicule from the famous satirists of the day.