In September 1842 a young man called William Howard went to the army recruiting depot at Coventry, hoping to join the 35th Infantry Regiment. As is usual on these occasions, he was examined by the medical officer, one Dr Macann. The good doctor had a surprise in store, as he later reported to the Provincial Medical Journal and Retrospect of the Medical Sciences:
On looking at him in a state of nudity, as is usual on such occasions, my attention was at once attracted by the appearance of the scrotum, which seemed fuller and larger on the right side than on the left. A minute examination of the part was in consequence made, and the following facts, carefully ascertained, were noted down upon the spot:-
The scrotum was not at all pendulous, but drawn up and corrugated as in a healthy man, so that the difference in size and form between the two sides was very striking. On applying the hand to the part, one testicle was found in its proper place on the left side of the raphé.
The scrotal raphe, also known as the scrotal septum, is a layer of tissue which divides the scrotum into two compartments.
In size and form and feeling, also, this testicle was perfectly natural, and may be considered, therefore, as a standard wherewith to compare the others. On the right side of the raphé, and on the same level as the former, another testicle was found, in all respects perfectly natural, and similar to that on the left side; and of which, therefore, it may be considered as the proper counterpart. So far all was perfectly regular; but on this side of the scrotum also (the right), another body was now felt, so similar to the other two just noticed, in size, in form, in feeling, and in consistence, as to leave no doubt of its being a third testicle.
This body was situated within the scrotum, between the groin and the proper testicle of this side, with which, however, it did not seem to be in immediate contact, but to be suspended, as it were, by a shorter cord, or hung up in a separate sac; in fact, it seemed as if it had dropped from the abdomen after the other, but had not been permitted to fall so low in the scrotum as. to touch it. In consequence of this arrangement the lower testicle was not at all pressed upon by the upper.
Dr Macann was at first concerned that this extra appendage might in some way compromise the man’s virility; but not a bit of it:
The penis was well formed, and all the parts were fully developed, extremely dark, and well furnished with black hair; in fact, there was about the man every indication of vigor and efficiency so far as the parts of generation were concerned, and in all other respects he presented the appearance of a strong, active, well made man; his height was sixty-nine inches, and the circumference of his chest thirty-five. He was himself perfectly aware of the existence of the third testicle, which had occupied, he said, its present situation as long as he could remember, and had never caused him any inconvenience.
Confused, Dr Macann asked a colleague to check that he hadn’t – as it were – missed anything.
At this examination every particular of the foregoing detail was investigated anew and fully confirmed, and the conviction was thus, I may say, forced upon our minds, that we had before us the singular spectacle of a man with three testicles.
This remark gives me a vivid mental picture of the two Victorian surgeons standing scratching their heads in bewilderment.
It only remains for me to add that the man was rejected as a soldier, in consequence of bearing upon his person marks of leeches and cupping; which, together with his general appearance, led to the suspicion that he was a deserter from the service; this, however, he denied, and, in the absence of more direct proof, he could not be detained.
Seems a bit harsh. That was not quite the end of the matter, however. A few weeks later the Journal received a letter from a Dr Prankerd. We must assume it wasn’t a practical joke, despite his name:
I have a patient in every respect like the man mentioned by Dr. Macann; but the supernumerary testicle is situated on the opposite side. On the right side of the raphe there is a testicle of normal size; on the left are two bodies, or testicles, as they may be termed, nearly equal in size, but neither quite as large as the regular testicle. The history of the case is this: whilst a very young child a nursemaid had, in play, crushed the testicle with a pair of tongs…
What sort of game involves crushing small boys’ testicles with a pair of tongs? It doesn’t sound much fun to me.
…and on recovery from the injury it was found that the testicle was divided, and has ever remained so since; gradually increasing in bulk with the growth of the person, who is an athletic man, the father of a fine family of children.
Unlike some of the cases documented on this blog, the doctors’ findings are entirely consistent with the modern state of medical knowledge. Both men probably had a condition called polyorchidism, in which an individual has three or more testicles. It is so rare that fewer than 200 cases have been documented in the literature. Nevertheless, there have been several reported in the last few years, including one teenager who was found to have no fewer than four testicles.