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Benjamin Jesty

Photo credit: Wellcome Collection

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Smallpox was once a common epidemic disease that killed, blinded or disfigured its victims. In the eighteenth century its impact was reduced in Europe by the adoption of a Chinese practice called variolation, which involved the injection of smallpox fluid from an infected human into the blood of a healthy human. In the late eighteenth century, a safer modification of variolation, called vaccination, was introduced, in which the fluid was injected from an infected cow into a human being. Benjamin Jesty is the first person recorded as having carried out vaccination. He performed this procedure on his wife and sons in Dorset in 1774, some 20 years before Edward Jenner carried out the same operation independently in Gloucestershire. Jesty was not a doctor; he was a farmer, but professional boundaries were not as strict in the eighteenth century as they later became, and medical procedures were carried out by clergymen, housewives, and all sorts of people.

Wellcome Collection





oil on canvas


H 143 x W 113 cm

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Work type



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Wellcome Collection

183 Euston Road, London, Greater London NW1 2BE England

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