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An Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets: see the Mary Toft collection online

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17/03/2009

By | From the Collections

The Library holds a comprehensive collection of early printed works concerning the notorious case of Mary Toft, a woman who claimed to give birth to rabbits. Around 22 18th century pamphlets and books have been scanned cover to cover and are now available via the Library catalogue.

In November 1726, a woman named Mary Toft was at the center of a public debate that included some eminent physicians of the day. Mary Toft became known as the Surrey Rabbit Breeder, based on the account that after a series of miscarriages, she began to give birth to rabbits. This continued in the presence of a Swiss anatomist connected with the court of George I, Nathanael St. Andre. St. Andre published A Short Narrative of an Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets, and other pamphlets and broadsides followed. Toft came to London, where, after the 17th rabbit ‘birth’, many became convinced the matter was a hoax. Toft then confessed and St. Andre apologized.

The Library holds the key texts on the case, representing the views of both those who defended Mary’s claims and her sceptics. In particular is a volume (EPB T.347) assembled around 1851 by Edward Hawkins, keeper in the British Museum’s department of antiquities. It contains a number of original pamphlets as well as manuscript copies of others, made by Hawkins. The Library also holds a Hogarth print of Mary Toft giving birth to the rabbits.

There are a number of other similar volumes put together in the 19th century, one at the Royal Society of Medicine and another in the Osler Library at McGill University, Montreal.

Author: Julianne Simpson

Christy Henshaw

Christy Henshaw

Christy Henshaw manages digitisation at the Wellcome Library. @Chenshaw. Linkedin

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2 comments on An Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets: see the Mary Toft collection online
  • Owen

    30/03/2009

    Wonderful stuff. Another set of Toft pamphlets is held in the library of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London (I catalogued it!)

    The catalogue links to the digitised versions don’t seem to be working at the moment, sadly.

  • Christy Henshaw

    30/03/2009

    Thank you for your kind words Owen. The link in the blog post takes you to a list of relevent records in our OPAC. Clicking one of these shows the full record, including a link near the top to the PDF. It is working for me today. If you still can’t view the PDF, please describe in more detail, and I will try to fix the problem! – Christy

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