The World's First Vaccination
(Please note all illustrations are copyrighted)
THE ORIGINS OF VACCINATION
Commonly hailed as a ‘discovery’ or a ‘medical breakthrough’, vaccination against smallpox was neither. It was a development from variolation i.e. inoculation with live smallpox matter – a technique popularised amongst the gentry in the early 18th century by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who had observed the procedure in Turkey during 1717. Variolation (known as The Inoculation) sometimes resulted in deaths, or the transmission of smallpox into areas where it was previously absent. Vaccination with cowpox avoided these hazards.
That Dr Edward Jenner was the first to vaccinate is one of the best-known medical myths, yet this misinformation is still presented in the media and most popular history books. Jenner was preceded nearly a quarter of a century before by Benjamin Jesty, who vaccinated his wife Elizabeth and two sons, Robert and Benjamin, in the spring of 1774.
BENJAMIN JESTY’S ‘EXPERIMENT’
Jesty was born 1736 in the village of Yetminster, in North Dorset, England. He became a dairy farmer and was a member of the Yetminster Vestry. His vestry duties included care of the poor. He would have known the local doctors and apothecaries personally and understood the potential hazards of variolation. Jesty had experienced cowpox first-hand as an occupational disease in his youth. He was aware of the folklore of cowpox and discussed its apparent protective effects with his dairymaids. Both women had acquired cowpox during their work, and later nursed relatives suffering from smallpox without contracting the disease. Faced with a local outbreak of smallpox in 1774, Jesty devised the idea of inoculating his family with cowpox as a safer alternative to the conventional variolation method.
Upbury Farmhouse, Church Lane, Yetminster, Dorset (PJP) Stocking needles (PJP)
To achieve this he took his family from Upbury Farmhouse in Yetminster to the neighbouring hamlet of Chetnole, where he knew there were cows with symptoms of cowpox grazing in fields associated with a farmer named William Elford. Jesty transferred material from lesions on their teats to the skin of the arms of his three subjects by insertion with a stocking needle. These were the world’s first authentic vaccinations, and they took place 22 years before Jenner’s experiment on James Phipps.
Cowpox lesions on a cow's teat Fields associated with William Elford in Chetnole, near Yetminster, Dorset (PJP)
Jesty’s endeavour came to light when Elizabeth’s arm became inflamed at the site of vaccination. Local doctors were called and Jesty was obliged to tell them what he had done. Elizabeth recovered quickly, but the news soon spread throughout the area. Jesty was reviled by the locals, who subjected him to verbal and sometimes physical abuse when he attended markets. Jesty permitted his sons to be challenged with smallpox by variolation in 1789 (Robert and Benjamin) and again in 1805 (Robert) – a pertinent factor but largely unknown. All three recipients of his vaccinations lived into old age and were repeatedly exposed to outbreaks of smallpox without harm.
THERE IS MUCH MUCH MORE
For the full story read Benjamin Jesty : The Grandfather of Vaccination
to be published soon by Cambridge Scholars Publishing Ltd
St Nicholas of Myra, Worth Matravers, near Swanage, Dorset (PJP) Benjamin Jesty's gravestone (PJP
THE HOMES OF BENJAMIN JESTY
Please note that both of Jesty's Dorset homes - Upbury in Yetminster, and Downshay Manor (Dunshay) near Langton Matravers, are private residences and not open to the public.
THE BENJAMIN JESTY WEBSITE OBJECTIVE
The objective this website is not to denigrate Dr Edward Jenner's achievements, but to seek increased recognition for Jesty. When Sir Francis Darwin said during his Galton Lecture in 1914 that ‘in science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to whom the idea first occurs’ he was voicing an observation, not creating a precedent. Edward Jenner is rightly celebrated as bringing vaccination to the world, but the original concept for this process - and its priority - rests firmly in the ownership of Benjamin Jesty and history should afford him that recognition.
For details of the Jesty family history, log on to the website at
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