Edward Jenner, the son of Rev Stephen Jenner was born on the 17th May 1749 in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. Aged just five he became orphaned, and went to live with his older brother. His early schooling, showed young Edward had a deep interest in science and nature.
When Edward was 14, he became an apprentice to one Daniel Ludlow, the County Surgeon in Sodbury, for a period of seven years. In 1764 he began an apprenticeship with George Harwicke, where he learnt about surgical and medical practices.
In 1770 aged 21, Jenner became a student under John Hunter, a famous surgeon in his time at St.George’s Hospital in London. He was well known, and a well respected Biologist and Anatomist, also known as an experimental scientist.
Whilst under tutorage of John Hunter, Jenner studied geology, and carried out experiments on human blood. It was during this time, he devised an improved method for preparation of medicine known as “Tartar Emetic” (Potassium Antimony Tartrate).
Edward Jenner returned to Berkeley to practice medicine, following the death of John Hunter the Scottish surgeon and friend in October 1793.
Jenner was elected as a “Fellow of the Royal Society” in 1788, following his publication, based upon his study of the much misunderstood life of a “Cuckoo.” Where upon he undertook experiments, dissected it, and gave his personal thoughts.
In 1792, Edward Jenner earned his MD status, from the University of St.Andrews.
Smallpox was a natural disease, which appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages.
In the 18th century, smallpox was known to kill some 400,000 people per year, some of those who survived, were blinded or badly scarred.
The word variola was a commonly used term when referring to smallpox, as introduced by Bishop Marius of Avenches, Switzerland in AD 570. Derived from the latin word varius, which meant “stained” or varus which meant “mark on the skin.”
The term small pockes, used in 15th century England was to distinguish the disease from syphilis, known as the great pockes.
If we go back to 430 BC, it was common knowledge that survivors of smallpox, became immune to the disease, and they would nurse the afflicted.
In medieval times, many remedies were attempted: Dr Sydenham (1624-1689), treated his patients by forbidding a fire to be lit, windows wide open day and night, no bed clothes above the waist, and the patient would consume twelve small bottles of beer, every twenty-four hours.
However the most successful way for early doctors, in combating smallpox before the discovery of vaccination (Vaccine: A substance made from the germs that cause the disease, which is given to people to prevent them getting the disease) was inoculation (Injecting a micro-organism, bacteria, to protect one against the disease. The word is derived from the Latin inoculare, which meant to graft).
Inoculation; saw subcutaneous instillation of the smallpox disease into a non-immune person, by using a wet lancet with fresh matter from an infected smallpox sufferer.
On the 17th April 1722, two daughters of the Princess of Wales were treated this way, and the procedure received acceptance by the Royal Family.
This form of treatment carried some risks, yet it was better than doing nothing, as thousands died. It is believed only 2-3% of treated patients died, or went on to suffer from other diseases, like tuberculosis and syphilis.
In 1796 Jenner, made his first steps in the eradication of the smallpox disease, which had been the scourge of mankind for centuries.
He deduced that cowpox, a disease often caught by dairymaids, protected one from the more serious disease of smallpox.
Sarah Nelms, a young dairymaid had cowpox lesions on her hands and arms, and using matter from her lesions, inoculated James Phipps. Nine days later he was cold and lacked appetite, and on the tenth day was better. A few months later he inoculated the boy once again, but this time with smallpox lesions.
Smallpox did not develop, proving that cowpox had indeed protected him against the infection.
He sent a paper to the Royal Society in 1797, describing his findings, but they rejected it. In 1798, Jenner knew his theory and practical application had merit, and so published a book on his findings. “An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae.”
Part one, consisted of details regarding the origin of cowpox, as a disease of horses, and transmitted to cows… yet the theory was rejected. Part Two, contained critical observations, related to his tests. Part Three, was a discussion into the pros and cons of his findings.
In 1799, Dr George Pearson and Dr William Woodville supported his vaccination, which was undertaken and distributed to their patients. His vaccination spread rapidly through England, and by 1800 had reached much of Europe.
Dr John Haygarth received vaccine from Edward Jenner in 1800, which he sent to Benjamin Waterhouse a physics professor at Harvard University. He in turn introduced it into New England, and Thomas Jefferson tried it in Virginia, which led to the creation of the “National Vaccine Institute” in the United States of America.
In 1802 Edward Jenner received the sum of £10,000 from the British Parliament for his work on vaccination, and in 1806 received a further £20,000 for his work on microbiology.
On the 30th December 1802, he became a Master Mason at the “Lodge of Faith and Friendship.” From 1812-1813 he was appointed and served as “Worshipful Master of Royal Berkeley Lodge of Faith and Friendship.”
In 1803 he became involved with the Jennerian Institution, a society whose aim it was to promote vaccination to eradicate smallpox. In 1808, the society was re-named and became the “National Vaccine Establishment.”
In 1821, he was appointed Physician to King George IV, and made Mayor of Berkeley and Justice of the Peace.
In 1788 Edward Jenner married Catherine Kingscote, and they had four children. They lived in Chantry House, and in the garden he vaccinated the poor for free.
His family was shattered in 1810, when son Edward died of Tuberculosis, followed by Mary and his wife in 1815. In 1820 he suffered a stroke, from which he recovered. On the 23rd January 1823 he visited his final patient, and on the 25th January was found with his right side paralysed. On the very next day; 26th January 1823, aged 73 Edward Jenner died from an apparent stroke.
He was laid to rest with his parents, wife and children, near the altar of Berkeley Church.
The early works by Edward Jenner on the study of smallpox, and its connection with cowpox had laid the foundation, which would allow future doctors and scientists to come up with a cure for this disease which was known to have taken the lives of thousands…