Historical Cases

PETER THE WILD BOY, VICTOR OF AVERON, MEMMIE LE BLANC, KASPAR HAUSER…

‘Ray’ the German Forest Boy discovered in 2011

Peter the Wild Boy, who died in 1785

Found in the forests of Europe, either caught or lured out, these children were (and still are) the subject of great debate and fascination.

Attempts to teach Peter, Memmie and Kaspar language, reading, writing, the daily tasks of normal life, were, to greater or lesser extents, unsuccessful.

Daniel Defoe, writing in 1726 about Peter the Wild Boy of Hanover, described him as being ‘in a state of Mere Nature…a ship without a Rudder’. Defoe judged that the Wild Boy had a soul (which rendered him ‘man’ rather than ‘animal’), but that it was not awoken in him. Despite the best attempts, Peter never learned to speak more than his name, he never fully grasped table manners and other social niceties, and had a habit of wandering off.

But it’s of course possible these children ended up living wild because they were showing some level of abnormality or delay in the first place. It’s a difficult idea, but raising dysfunctional or disabled children is, to some extent, a modern luxury. In communities where life is hard and resources are scarce the accepted practice may well have been to abandon babies or children with abnormalities, allowing them to die. Older children may have been confined or restrained, but if they escaped no-one would go looking for them.

OTHER SIGNIFICANT CASES

Alexander Selkirk, the Real Robinson Crusoe

Alexander Selkirk, rescued after 4 years alone

Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish buccaneer in the South Seas, was left on an uninhabited island following an argument with his Captain.

Selkirk was concerned about the ship’s seaworthiness (she later sank and almost all hands were lost), so he decided to castaway on an island 470 miles off the coast of Chile, expecting to be picked up by a passing vessel very quickly.  But armed only with a musket, some gunpowder, a knife and a bible, he was stranded for four and a half years.

He hunted goats, domesticated feral island cats and hid from enemy sailors until he was finally rescued by a British ship in 1709.  His was an incredible tale, fictionalised by Daniel Defoe in 1719.  Selkirk originally took to the sea because of a court summons for indecent behaviour in Church in 1695.  Finally back in England, he eloped with a sixteen-year-old maid, abandoned her, married a widow and then left for sea, where he died of yellow fever.

CONTEMPORARY CASES

–        German Forest Boy ‘Ray’ (now known to be a lad called ‘Robin’)

–        Estonian children with Dogs

–        Russian girl who moos like a cow (I need to look into this one!)

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