Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports compiled by Rictor Norton

Peter the Wild Boy

In 1725 a 12 or 13 year old boy was found walking on all fours in the woods of Hertswold, near Hamelin, Hanover, and brought over to England by King George I (the Elector of Hanover).

22 January 1726   His Majesty has been pleased to make a Present of the wild Youth, taken in the Woods near Hamburgh, during his Majesty’s Stay at Hanover, to her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, and he is sent for accordingly. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer

9 April 1726   There is arrived from Hanover the Savage Boy that was taken last Winter in the Forest of Hamelen, walking upon his Hands and Feet, running up Trees like a Squirrel, and feeding upon Grass and the Moss of Trees. He was first presented to the King in December last at Herenhausen, while his Majesty was at Dinner, who made him taste of all the Dishes that were served up at the Table; and to insure him gradually to Human Dyet, gave special Command that he should have such Provision as he liked best. He ran away once to the same Forest, but was soon taken again. He was carried Yesterday se’nnight into the Drawing Room at St. James’s, where every Body then present had an Opportunity to view him. He is supposed to be 15 Years of Age, and is cloath’d in Green lined with Red, and has Scarlet Stockings. He walks upright, and has begun to sit for his Picture. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer


3 June 1727

Epitaph on PETER, the Wild Youth:
Occasioned by the Report of his Death.

YE Yahoos mourn; for in this Place
Lies dead the Glory of your Race;
One, who from Adam had descent,
Yet ne’er did what he might repent;
But liv’d, unblemish’d, to Fifteen,
And yet (O strange!) a Court had seen!
Was solely rul’d by Nature’s Laws,
And Dy’d a Martyr in her Cause!
Now reign, ye Houynhnms; for
Have no such Peter left behind;
None, like the dear departed Youth,
Renown’d for Purity and Truth.
He was your Rival, and our Boast,
For Ever, Ever, Ever lost!
      [The British Journal]

Contrary to the preceding mock epitaph, Peter did not die until 1785, at the age of about 73. He died at Broadway Farm, near Berkhampstead. Prominent men such as Dr Arbuthnot and Lord Monboddo had declared Peter to be a genuine feral child. He never learned to talk very well. Eventually it was believed that he was dumb or retarded, and had been driven out of home by his stepmother.

(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, "Peter the Wild Boy", 28 November 2001, updated 23 April 2002 <http://grubstreet.rictornorton.co.uk/wildboy.htm>

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