Peter the Wild Boy




PETER was found in the woods of Hamelin, 1723, twenty-eight miles from Hanover, walking upon his hands and feet, climbing up trees like a squirrel, and feeding upon grass and moss of trees. Being presented to the king, while at dinner, his majesty made him taste of all the dishes that were served up at table; and, in order to bring him by degrees to human diet, commanded that he should have such provisions as he might like best. He was at that time judged to be about twelve or thirteen years old. Afterwards, he made his escape into the same wood, but was again caught on a tree. He was brought to England in 1726, and again introduced into the presence of his majesty and of many of the nobility. He could not speak, and scarce seemed to have any idea of things However, it was observed, he took much notice of his majesty, and of the princess giving him her glove, which he tried to put on his own hand, and seemed much pleased, as also with a gold watch which was held to his ear. At one time, he was dressed in blue clothes; at another time, in green lined with red, with scarlet stockings. At first, he appeared uneasy to be obliged to wear any: and he could not be brought to lie on a bed, but sat and slept in a corner of the room; whence it is conjectured; that he used to sleep on a tree for a security against wild beasts. However, be walked upright, and even sat for his picture. He was committed to the care of Dr. Arbuthnot, at whose house near Burlington Gardens, he either was, or was to have been, baptized; but notwithstanding all the pains he took, it does not appear the Doctor was able to bring this wild youth to the use of speech, or to the pronunciation of any words.

Mr. Burg gives the following account of this singular creature.


Peter the Wild Boy lives at a farmer Brill's at a place, or rather a farm, called Broadway, about a mile from Berkhampstead, where he has lived about thirteen years. The farmer said he was eighty-four years old. He has a fair dear countenance, and a quick eye, He is about five feet six inches high; and is still very robust and muscular,

In . his youth he was very remarkable for his strength.. He is said to have sometimes run seventy or eighty miles a day. His strength seemed so much superior, that the strongest young men were afraid to contend with him: and his strength continued unimpaired till about a year and a half ago, when he was suddenly taken ill, fell down before the fire, and for a time lost the use of his right side; since which, it has been visibly less than before. The farmer told me that his portrait had been lately several times taken

 I could get no intelligence of the old woman whom you mentioned; but I met with an old gentleman, at Hempstead, who remembers to have seen Peter in London, between the years 1724 and 1726. He told me, that, when he first came to England, he was particularly fond of raw fish and bones, (he is at this day very fond of bones, with which he will amuse himself for a long time after it has been picked by any other person, and that he was then always dressed in fine clothes, (the dress he remembers him in was green and gold) of which Peter seemed not a little proud. He still retains his passion for finery, fine curtains, clean breeches, smart hat, &c. and, if any person has any thing smooth or shining in his dress, it will soon attract his notice, and Peter will shew his attention by stroaking it. He is not a great eater. At dinner, he is commonly content with a bit of pudding or meat. He is fond of water; after he has drunk his breakfast one, or even of milk, he will often go to the pump, and drink several draughts of water.. He is not fond of beer; and till lately he would not drink it: but he is very fond of all kinds of spirits, particularly gin; as he is also of onions, which he will eat like apples. He does not often go without his master; but he will sometimes go to Berkhampstead, and call at the gin shop. They always know his errand, and will treat him. It is one of the most powerful means to persuade him to do any thing with alacrity, to sing with spirit, &e. Hold up a glass of gin at the time you tell him to sing better and louder, and he will undoubtedly smile and raise his voice. He cannot bear the taste of physic, nor the sight of an Apothecary who once attended him. He will not take physic, but under some great disguise, such as gin.

If he hears any music, he will clap his hands and throw his head about in a wild frantic manner. He has a very quick sense of music, and will often repeat a tune after once hearing. When he has heard a tune which is difficult, he continues humming it for a long time, and he is very uneasy till he is master of it. He can sing a great many tunes, and will always change the tune when the name only of another tune, with which he is acquainted, is mentioned to him. He does not always hit upon the tune at once which is asked, but he corrects himself easily with the least assistance.

Till last spring, (1782) which was soon after his illness, he always shewed himself remarkably animated by the influence of the spring, and would sing all the day long, and if it was clear, half the night. He is very much pleased With the appearance of the moon and stars. He will sometimes stand out in the warmth of the sun, with his face thrown up to it, in a very difficult and strained attitude, and likes to be out in a, starry night, if it be not too cold. Upon hearing this, a person would naturally inquire whether he has, or appears to have any idea of the great author of all those great wonders? Indeed I thought it a question of so much curiosity, that when I had left Broadway for several miles, I rode back to inquire whether he had at any time betrayed the least sense of a Supreme Being. They told me that when he came into that part of the country first of all, he was sent to school for some time, and different methods were employed to teach him to read, and with the principles of religion; but all in vain: he learnt nothing nor did he ever shew any conscienciousness of a God from his own feelings.

He is very fond of fire; and is often bringing in fuel, which he would heap ll.P as high as the fire place would contain it, if he was not prevented by his master. He will set in the chimney corner, even in the midst of summer, while they are brewing with a large fire, which is sufficient to make another person faint who sits there long. He will often amuse himself by setting five or six chairs before the fire, and placing himself in everyone of them by turns, as his love of variety prompts him to change his place.

He is extremely good tempered, except in cold and gloomy weather; for he is very sensible of the change of the atmosphere. He is not easily provoked; but when he has been made very angry by anyone, he would run after them, making a strange noise, with his teeth fixed in the back of his hand. I could not find that he had ever done any violence in the house, except that when he first came over, he would sometimes tear his bed-clothes to pieces, which it was long before he was reconciled to. He has never, (at least since his present master has known him) shewn any attention to women; and I am told he never did, except when he was purposely and jocosely forced into an amour.

He has run away several times since he has been at Broadway, but not since he has been with his present master. He has taken up for a spy in Scotland, in 1745, or 1746; as he was unable to speak. they supposed him obstinate, and he was going to be confined, and was threatened with punished for contumacy; but a lady who had seen him in England, told them who it was, and directed them where to send him. Some say he was found in Norfolk. When he ran away from his master, he used to live on raw herbage, and young tender roots of trees. The old people at the Two Waters told me a circumstance, which, as they could not, I think, have collected from his information, may have only the authority of conjectured tradition, that, when he ran away he always followed the course of the clouds.

Of all the people that are about him, he is particularly attached to his master. He will, often go out with him and his men into the field, and seems pleased in being employed in any thing that can assist them. But he must always have some person to direct his actions, as you may judge from the following circumstance. Peter was employed one day with his master in filling a dung cart. His master had occasion to go into the house for something, and left Peter to finish the work. The work was soon done. But Peter must have something to employ himself; and he saw no reason why he should not be as usefully employed in emptying the dung out as in putting it into the cart. When his master came out, he found the cart nearly emptied again; and learned a lesson by it which he never afterwards neglected.


Peter died on the 22d day of February, 1785, at the supposed age of 72.





Biographica Curiosa

or Memoirs of Remarkable Characters of the reign of George the Third

collected by George Smeeton & others

Published by Albion Press, Ivy Lane, London, 1822


From a copy that belonged to my Great Great Grandfather, John Gibbs of Aylesbury


from Charles Smith's 1808

Map of Hertfordshire