Daniel Lambert, favourite of Leicester, the heaviest man in the world.
Who was Daniel Lambert
Daniel Lambert was for many years thought of as the biggest man in the world. At his heaviest he weighed 52 stone 11 pounds, the weight of four average sized modern men.
Daniel Lambert was born in Leicester, a city in the centre of England, on 13th March 1770. At an early age he was apprenticed to an engraver in Birmingham but the firm declined and he returned home without completing his apprenticeship, to work with his father as Assistant Keeper of the Bridewell. The Bridewell was a corrective prison which also fulfilled a workhouse function.
He was huge
As he aged into his 20's Daniel Lambert grew in girth. He was a tall man for the period 5foot eleven inches and his measurements were immense. His waist was 2.84 metres and six men would fit into his waistcoat. His calf was 94cm more like a waist size. He was huge in a period where malnutrition meant that obesity was only a problem amongst the very rich. Lambert reputedly ate only one meal per day; perhaps it was huge quantities and an unregulated metabolism with an under active thyroid that caused his huge girth.
Prodigy of Nature
Daniel Lambert left the Bridewell and took up his passion of breeding and selling hunting dogs. He augmented his income by touring the country as a public exhibit. At one point he kept a house in London charging the gentry admission to meet him and gaze at his bulk. He was feted because of his size and regarded as a "prodigy of Nature". Lambert became a celebrity, being characterised favourably in the press. At the time of the Napoleonic wars, Lambert was used to characterise the achievements of a large and strong British Empire against a skinny, spindly Napoleon.
Lambert was presented to King George III as a unique human being. His huge bulk was painted by contemporary artists and he was referred to in novels by Herman Melville and William Thackery, including "Vanity Fair" and "Barry Lyndon". He was also mentioned in the writings of Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle.
The stories that grew around Daniel Lambert
As with all matters that are larger than life, myths grew up around Daniel Lambert, emphasising his kindness and abilities owing to his great size.
Daniel and the Bear
This is a story of Daniel meeting some entertainers outside his fathers house. They had with them dancing bears which were muzzled for the safety of the public. One of Daniel's dogs ran towards a bear and bit it causing the bear to fight back. Daniel intervened in order to save his dog and the entertainer was so incensed that he took the muzzle off the bear. Myth has it that Daniel fought with the bear and knocked the bear down cold with his own hands.
Despite being so large Daniel Lambert was regarded as being a keen swimmer, swimming as often as possible in the nearby River Soar. There are stories that he showed great kindness in teaching the local children to swim. The myth is that he could swim across the river carrying two men on his back.
Daniel the Gaoler
Daniel was regarded as an efficient but kind man. He ensured that the men were able to exercise, were fed and kept the prison clean. There are stories that Lambert tried to help prisoners at their trial and often when released from prison they cried because they were leaving his company.
A day at the races
Daniel Lambert went to Stamford, some 40 miles away from Leicester to attend the races. It was the 21st June 1809 and he was aged 39 years. Whilst staying at the Waggon and Horses Inn in the town, he died. In order to remove his body for burial a window and part of the wall had to be removed. He was buried in Stamford and it took 20 men to lower his coffin into the grave.
So ended the life of the heaviest man in the world, a title he was to retain for many years after his death. What is so amazing to me is that a man of his bulk was able to travel, to swim and to get out and about meeting people rather than remaining housebound dependant on the goodwill of family and friends.