1744: Boy, 3, drinks ale, lifts cheese, has pubic hair

In 1747, the noted physician and obstetrician Thomas Dawkes reported a rare case of advanced ageing in Cambridgeshire. The subject, Thomas Hall, was born in Willingham in October 1741. At nine months of age Thomas was already beginning to show signs of puberty. Dawkes first examined Thomas in 1744, a few weeks before his third birthday, and found that he had pubic hair:

“…as long, as thick and as crisp as that of an adult person. The glans of his penis was quite uncovered [and] he could throw, with much facility, a hammer of 17 pounds weight… He had as much understanding as a boy of five or six.”

By Thomas’ third birthday he stood almost four feet in height. According to Dawkes, he could lift a large Cheshire cheese and balance it on his head, and drink a two-gallon cask of ale without difficulty. By the age of four, Thomas walked and talked like an adult. He had also started to grow a beard.

Sensing an opportunity for profit, Thomas’ father turned him into a public spectacle. The boy spent more than a year ‘performing’ in local taverns, where “he was often debauched with wines and other inebriating liquors”.

Dawkes examined Thomas again just after his fifth birthday. At this point he stood four feet six inches tall, weighed 85 pounds and had a penis six inches long and three inches in circumference. But Thomas’ rapid growth was also taking a toll on his health, which deteriorated rapidly through 1747. Dawkes visited Thomas in late August, a week before his death, and found him:

“…a piteous and shocking spectacle [with] several bald spaces in his head, and his visage and gesture gave the lively idea of a decrepit old man, worn out with age.”

Thomas Hall died in September 1747, shortly before his sixth birthday. He was buried in the churchyard at Willingham. On the evidence, it appears that Thomas suffered from progeria or a similar genetic disorder.

Source: Thomas Dawkes, Prodigium Willinghamense, 1747; The Scots Magazine, vol. 10, 1747. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.