Benjamin Jesty: Grandfather of Vaccination


By Patrick J Pead, published 11th September 2011

Commonly hailed as a discovery or a ‘medical breakthrough', vaccination against smallpox with cowpox exudate was a development of variolation i.e. inoculation with live smallpox matter - a technique popularised amongst the gentry in the early eighteenth century by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who had observed the procedure in Turkey in 1717. Modified use of ‘The Inoculation' in Britain 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 the Dorset farmer Benjamin Jesty who vaccinated his wife Elizabeth and two sons, Robert and Benjamin, in the spring of 1774. Jesty was born in the village of Yetminster, near Sherborne in the north of the county. He became a dairy farmer and was a member of the Yetminster Vestry. His duties included the care of the poor. He would have known the local doctors and apothecaries personally and understood the potential hazards of variolation. Jesty had...

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