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Meet Charles Domery,The 18th-Century Polish Soldier Who Ate Literally Anything


Charles Domery, also known as Charles Domerz, was born in Benche, Poland, around 1778. Starting at the age of 13, Domery displayed an exceptionally large appetite. He was one of nine brothers, all of whom he claimed had the same condition. Domery remembered that his father had a hearty appetite and typically ate his meat half-boiled, although he couldn't recall the exact quantity. The only illness Domery knew of in the family was a bout of smallpox during his youth, from which everyone recovered.


Despite his peculiar eating habits, doctors described Domery as having a normal physique and being tall for the era, standing at 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m). He had long, brown hair, grey eyes, smooth skin, and a "pleasant countenance." Observing physicians found no signs of mental illness in Domery, and although he was illiterate, his intelligence was deemed normal by his peers and the prison doctors who examined him. Despite his enormous food intake, it was observed that Domery never vomited, except when consuming large quantities of roasted or boiled meat. He appeared to be in good health, with lively eyes, a clean tongue, a regular pulse of around 84 BPM, and a normal body temperature. While his muscles were noted to be slightly weaker than average, during his military service, he managed to march 14 French leagues (approximately 25 mi/42 km) in a day without any adverse effects.



At the age of 13, Domery joined the Prussian Army and participated in the siege of Thionville during the War of the First Coalition. The Prussian Army faced food shortages that Domery could not tolerate, prompting him to surrender to the French commander. In return, he received a large melon which he promptly consumed, including the rind. Subsequently, the French general provided Domery with various food items, all of which he devoured immediately.

In one year, [Domery] devoured 174 cats (not their skins) dead or alive; and says, he had several severe conflicts of interest 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, did not wait to perform this humane office.
Testimony of M. Picard, who served with Domery throughout his service in the French Army and was interned with him in Liverpool.

Domery later joined the French Revolutionary Army, astonishing his fellow soldiers with his peculiar eating habits and insatiable appetite. Despite receiving double rations and buying extra food with his pay, he still experienced severe hunger. While stationed near Paris, he consumed 174 cats in a year, leaving only the skins and bones, and resorted to eating 4 to 5 pounds of grass daily when other food was scarce.

The Hoche, on which Domery attempted to eat a sailors leg.

His preference was for raw meat over cooked, with raw bullock's liver being his favorite dish, although he would consume any available meat. While aboard the French ship Hoche, a sailor lost his leg to cannon fire, and Domery seized the severed limb and began eating it until another crew member intervened and tossed it into the sea.


In October 1798, the Royal Navy led by Sir John Borlase Warren captured the Hoche near the coast of Ireland, resulting in the internment of Domery and others in a prison camp close to Liverpool.Domery's extraordinary appetite surprised the British guards, who eventually agreed to double his rations. Despite this increase, his hunger persisted, leading to a further augmentation of his daily food allowance to that of ten men. During this period, prisoners of war were provided rations by the country of the army they had served in. A French prisoner typically received a daily ration of 26 ounces (740 g) of bread, half a pound (230 g) of vegetables, and 2 ounces (57 g) of butter or 6 ounces (170 g) of cheese.


Domery's insatiable hunger led him to consume the prison cat and "at least 20 rats" that entered his cell. He also ingested the medications of fellow prisoners who declined to take them, seemingly without any negative consequences. Records indicate that he would even eat the candles from the prison.



The prison commander alerted the Sick and Hurt Commissioners, who were in charge of medical services in the Royal Navy and the well-being of prisoners of war, about his unusual captive. Dr. J. Johnston and Dr. Cochrane, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, conducted an experiment to assess Domery's eating capacity and his ability to tolerate unconventional foods. Domery was woken up at 4:00 am and consumed 4 lbs (1.8 kg) of raw cow's udder without hesitation. Subsequently, at 9:30 am, he ate a meal consisting of 5 lbs (2.3 kg) of raw beef, twelve large tallow candles weighing one pound (453 g) in total, and a bottle of porter. At 1:00 pm, Domery consumed another meal comprising 5 lbs of beef, a pound (453 g) of candles, and three large bottles of porter. Remarkably, throughout the experiment, he did not defecate, urinate, or vomit, maintaining a regular pulse and consistent skin temperature. After the experiment, when Domery returned to his quarters at 6:15 pm, he was described as being in high spirits, engaging in dancing, smoking his pipe, and consuming an additional bottle of porter.

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 it with canine greediness. When his throat is dry from continued exercise, he lubricates it by stripping the grease off the candles between his teeth, which he generally finishes at three mouthfuls, and wrapping the wick like a ball, string and all, sends it after at a swallow. He can, when no choice is left, make shift to dine on immense quantities of raw potatoes or turnips; but, from choice, would never desire to taste bread or vegetables.
Dr J. Johnston

While the cause of Domery's appetite has not been officially diagnosed, polyphagia (excessive appetite) is one suggested option. Jan Bondeson, the Swedish-British rheumatologist, scientist and author, speculated in 2006 that Domery possibly suffered from a damaged amygdala or ventromedial nucleus; injuries to the amygdala or ventromedial nucleus in animals has been known to induce polyphagia.


After his captivity, Domery's fate remains undocumented. It is known that the Napoleonic Wars continued to rage across Europe, and many soldiers like Domery faced uncertain futures. Some prisoners of war were repatriated or assimilated into their captor's forces, while others struggled to reintegrate into civilian life.

 

Sources

  1. Cochrane, Thomas. Observations on Charles Domery. Medical Society of Liverpool, 1799.

  2. Wright, Jonathan. Weird Cases in Medical History. Harvard University Press, 2007.

  3. Moore, Wendy. The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery. Broadway Books, 2006.

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