1799: Polish glutton dines on dogs, cats, candles

An engraving of early modern gluttons at work

In 1799 Doctor Thomas Cochrane, a prison surgeon in Liverpool, reported on the unusual eating habits of a man in his care.

Charles Domery was a Polish-born prisoner-of-war, captured off the coast of Ireland while serving with French republican forces. According to Cochrane’s description, Domery was in good health and physically unremarkable aside from his above average height (six foot three inches). He had pale skin, long brown hair and a “pleasant and good-tempered” demeanour.

Domery’s appetite, however, was something else. His preferred diet was several pounds of meat, cooked or raw, followed by several large tallow candles:

“The eagerness with which he attacks his beef when his stomach is not gorged resembles the voracity of a hungry wolf tearing off and swallowing pieces with canine greediness. When his throat is dry from continued exercise he lubricates it by stripping the grease off candles between his teeth, which he generally finishes in three mouthfuls. [He then] wraps the wick like a ball, string and all, and sends it after in a swallow.”

According to testimony from Domery, corroborated by his fellow prisoners-of-war, he had previously supplemented his meagre military rations by eating whatever else he could find:

“When in the camp, if bread and meat were scarce, he made up the deficiency by eating four or five pounds of grass daily. In one year he devoured 174 cats (but not their skins), dead or alive. He says he had several conflicts in the act of destroying them, by feeling the effects of their torments on his face and hands. Sometimes he killed them before eating but when very hungry he did not wait to perform this humane office.”

Domery also reported eating several dead dogs and live rats, as well as discarded offal from cattle and sheep. He claimed to have once nibbled on the amputated leg of a fellow sailor.

While detained in Liverpool his daily ration included raw meat, liver and candles. On a single day Dr Cochrane watched Domery consume ten pounds of raw beef, four pounds of raw cow’s udder and two pounds of candles. Domery was released from detention in 1800 but his fate is not known.

Source: Letter from Thomas Cochrane, September 9th 1799; published in The New England Quarterly, vol. 2, 1802. 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.