Edward Jenner (1749-1823)

213,811pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Add New Page Talk0
Edward Jenner
Residence Berkeley, Gloucestershire
Nationality United Kingdom
Fields Science
Alma mater St George's, University of London
Doctoral advisor John Hunter
Known for smallpox vaccine

Edward Jenner, FRS, (17th May 1749 – 26th January 1823) was an English scientist who studied his natural surroundings in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England. He is often credited as the first doctor to introduce and study the smallpox vaccine.

Early life

Edward Jenner was born on the 17th May 1749 (6th May Old Style). Jenner then trained in Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire as an apprentice to John Ludlow, a surgeon, for eight years from the age of 14. In 1770 Jenner went up to surgery and anatomy under the surgeon John Hunter and others at St George's, University of London. Hunter was a noted experimentalist, and later a fellow of the Royal Society.

William Osler records that Jenner was a student to whom Hunter repeated William Harvey's advice, very famous in medical circles (and characteristically Enlightenment), "Don't think, try". Jenner therefore was early noticed by men famous for advancing the practice and institutions of surgery. Hunter remained in correspondence with him over natural history and proposed him for the Royal Society. Returning to his native countryside by 1773 he became a successful general practitioner and surgeon, practising in purpose-built premises at Berkeley.

Jenner and others formed a medical society in Rodborough, Gloucestershire, meeting to read papers on medical subjects and dine together. Jenner contributed papers on angina pectoris, ophthalmia and valvular disease of the heart and commented on cowpox. He also belonged to a similar society which met in Alveston, near Bristol.[1]

He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1788, following a careful study combining observation, experiment and dissection into a description of the previously misunderstood life of the cuckoo in the nest.

Cuculus canorus

Common Cuckoo

Jenner's description of the newly-hatched cuckoo pushing its host's eggs and fledglings from the nest was confirmed in the 20th century[2] when photography became feasible. Having observed the behavior, he demonstrated an anatomical adaptation for it—the baby cuckoo has a depression in its back which is not present after 12 days of life, in which it cups eggs and other chicks to push them out of the nest. It had been assumed that the adult bird did this but the adult does not remain in the area for sufficiently long. His findings were published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1787.

In 1792, he obtained his M.D. from the University of St Andrews.


Around this time smallpox was greatly feared, as one in three of those who contracted the disease died, and those who survived were often badly disfigured. Voltaire, a few years later, recorded that 60% of people caught smallpox, with 20% of the population dying of it. In the years following 1770 there were at least six people in England and Germany (Sevel, Jensen, Jesty 1774, Rendell, Plett 1791) who had successfully tested the possibility of using the cowpox vaccine as an immunisation for smallpox in humans. [3] For example, Dorset farmer, Benjamin Jesty, had successfully induced immunity in his wife and two children with cowpox during a smallpox epidemic in 1774, but it was not until Jenner's work some twenty years later that the procedure became widely understood. Indeed it is generally believed that Jenner was unaware of Jesty's success and arrived at his conclusions independently.

Jenner's Initial Theory
In fact he thought the initial source of infection was a disease of horses, called "the grease", and that this was transferred to cows by farmworkers, transformed, and then manifested as cowpox. From that point on he was correct, the complication probably arose from coincidence.

Noting the common observation that milkmaids did not generally get smallpox, Jenner theorized that the pus in the blisters which milkmaids received from cowpox (a disease similar to smallpox, but much less virulent) protected the milkmaids from smallpox. He may have had the advantage of hearing stories of Benjamin Jesty and others who deliberately arranged cowpox infection of their families, and then noticed a reduced smallpox risk in those families.

On 14 May 1796, Jenner tested his theory by inoculating James Phipps (1788-1853), a boy aged 8, with material from the cowpox blisters of the hand of Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who had caught cowpox from a cow called Blossom[4]. Blossom's hide now hangs on the wall of the library at St George's medical school (now in Tooting), commemorating one of the school's most renowned alumni. Phipps was the 17th case described in Jenner's first paper on vaccination.

Jenner inoculated Phipps with cowpox pus in both arms on the same day. The inoculation was accomplished by scraping the pus from Nelmes' blisters onto a piece of wood then transferring this to Phipps' arms. This produced a fever and some uneasiness but no great illness. Later, he injected Phipps with variolous material, which would have been the routine attempt to produce immunity at that time. No disease followed. Jenner reported that later the boy was again challenged with variolacious material and again showed no sign of infection.

Known: that smallpox was more dangerous than variolation and cowpox less dangerous than variolation.
The hypothesis tested: That infection with cowpox would give immunity to smallpox.
The test: If variolation failed to produce an infection, Phipps was shown to be immune to smallpox.
The consequence: Immunity to smallpox could be induced much more safely.

He continued his research and reported it to the Royal Society, who did not publish the initial report. After improvement and further work, he published a report of twenty-three cases. Some of his conclusions were correct, and some erroneous—modern microbiological and microscopic methods would make this easier to repeat. The medical establishment, as cautious then as now, considered his findings for some time before accepting them. Eventually vaccination was accepted, and in 1840 the British government banned variolation- the use of the smallpox itself- and provided vaccination- using cowpox- free of charge. (See Vaccination acts)

The cow pock

1802 caricature of Jenner vaccinating patients who feared it would make them sprout cowlike appendages.

Jenner's continuing work on vaccination prevented his continuing his ordinary medical practice. He was supported by his colleagues and the King in petitioning Parliament and was granted £10,000 for his work on vaccination. In 1806 he was granted another £20,000 for his continuing work.

In 1803 in London he became involved with the Jennerian Institution, a society concerned with promoting vaccination to eradicate smallpox. In 1808, with government aid, this society became the National Vaccine Establishment. Jenner became a member of the Medical and Chirurgical Society on its foundation in 1805, and subsequently presented to them a number of papers. This is now the Royal Society of Medicine.

Returning to London in 1811 he observed a significant number of cases of smallpox after vaccination occurring. He found that in these cases the severity of the illness was notably diminished by the previous vaccination. In 1821 he was appointed Physician Extraordinary to King George IV, a considerable national honour, and was made Mayor of Berkeley and Justice of the Peace. He continued his interests in natural history. In 1823, the last year of his life, he presented his Observations on the Migration of Birds to the Royal Society.

Apoplexy and death

Jenner was found in a state of apoplexy on 25 January 1823, with his right side paralysed. He never fully recovered, and eventually died of an apparent stroke (he had suffered a previous stroke) on 26 January 1823, aged 73. He was survived by one son and one daughter, his elder son having died of tuberculosis at the age of 21.


Offspring of Edward Jenner and Catherine Fitzharding Kingscote (c1759-1815)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Edward Robert Jenner (1789-1810)
Robert FitzHarding Jenner (1792-1854)
Catherine Jenner (1794-1833) 6 February 1794 Berkeley, Gloucestershire (Berkeley, Gloucestershire+ Gloucestershire+ England) 5 August 1833 Birmingham, England (Birmingham+ England) John Yeend Bedford (1794-?)


In 1980, the World Health Organization declared smallpox an eradicated disease. This was the result of coordinated public health efforts by many people, but vaccination was an essential component. And although it was declared eradicated, some samples still remain in laboratories in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States, and State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR in Koltsovo, Novosibirsk Oblast, Russia.


  • Jenner's house is now a small museum housing among other things the horns of the cow, Blossom. It lies in the Gloucestershire village of Berkeley.
  • Jenner was buried in the chancel of the parish church of Berkeley.
  • A statue, by Robert William Sievier, was erected in the nave of Gloucester Cathedral.
  • A statue was erected in Trafalgar Square, later moved to Kensington Gardens.[1]
  • Near the small Gloucestershire village of Uley, Downham Hill is locally known as 'Smallpox Hill', with a possible connection to Jenner's local work with the disease.
  • St George's, University of London has a wing named after him as well as a bust of him.[5]
  • A small grouping of villages in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, United States, were named in honour of Jenner by early 19th century English settlers, including what are now the towns of Jenners, Jenner Township, Jenner Crossroads and Jennerstown, Pennsylvania.
  • There is a section at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital known as the Edward Jenner Ward where blood is taken specifically


  • 1798 An Inquiry Into the Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ
  • 1799 Further Observations on the Variolœ Vaccinœ
  • 1800 A Continuation of Facts and Observations relative to the Variolœ Vaccinœ 40pgs
  • 1801 The Origin of the Vaccine Inoculation 12pgs

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:



External links

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Edward Jenner. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

Sources and notes

‡ General

Facts about "Edward Jenner (1749-1823)"RDF feed
Age at death74 +
Birth blurb17 May 1749
Birth countyGloucestershire +
Birth date17 May 1749 +
Birth date string17 May 1749
Birth day17 +
Birth localityBerkeley, Gloucestershire +
Birth month
Birth nationUnited Kingdom +
Birth nation-subdiv1England +
Birth place Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England, United Kingdom
Birth year1,749 +
Children-g1Edward Robert Jenner (1789-1810) +, Robert FitzHarding Jenner (1792-1854) + and Catherine Jenner (1794-1833) +
Children-list1Edward Robert Jenner (1789-1810)+Robert FitzHarding Jenner (1792-1854)+Catherine Jenner (1794-1833)
Death blurb26 January 1823
Death countyGloucestershire +
Death date26 January 1823 +
Death date string26 January 1823
Death day26 +
Death localityCheltenham, Gloucestershire +
Death month
Death nationUnited Kingdom +
Death nation-subdiv1England +
Death place Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, United Kingdom
Death year1,823 +
Desc1Edward Robert Jenner (1789-1810) +, Robert FitzHarding Jenner (1792-1854) + and Catherine Jenner (1794-1833) +
Familysearch afnHQBN-5N +
FatherStephen Jenner (1702-1754) +
Given nameEdward +
Ifmarried-g1true +
ImageEdward Jenner2 +
Joined withCatherine Fitzharding Kingscote (c1759-1815) +
Joined with-g1Catherine Fitzharding Kingscote (c1759-1815) +
Long nameEdward Jenner +
MotherSarah Head (c1708-1754) +
Page language
SexM +
Short nameEdward Jenner +
SourcesAWT: AWT: [ db: :3257731, id: I154359

<new note>AWT: db: :a31912, id: I2286 <new note>AWT: db: arc150, id: I073603 <new note>AWT: db: gbuckell, id: I2834 <new note>AWT: db: sshawcross, id: I27127

<new note>AWT: db: williams146, id: I3299476&id=I329947 db: williams146, id: I329947]
SurnameJenner +
VIAF32791168 +
Wedding1 countyGloucestershire +
Wedding1 date1 March 1788 +
Wedding1 day1 +
Wedding1 localityKingscote, Gloucestershire +
Wedding1 month3 +
Wedding1 nationUnited Kingdom +
Wedding1 nation-subdiv1England +
Wedding1 place Kingscote, Gloucestershire, England, United Kingdom
Wedding1 year1,788 +

Also on Fandom

Random Wiki