Edward Jenner

gigatos | July 4, 2023


Edward Jenner (Berkeley, May 17, 1749 – Berkeley, January 26, 1823) was a British physician and naturalist, best known for introducing the smallpox vaccine and considered the father of immunization. In addition to his medical studies, Jenner devoted himself to the study of balloons, emetic tartar and cuckoo; for the latter he was also appointed a fellow of the Royal Society in 1789.

Edward Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, on May 17, 1749, the last of six children of Stephen Jenner, vicar of the city, and the daughter of the previous vicar (the Rev. Henry Head).

From an early age, with the teachings of first his mother and then his father, Edward was educated according to a classical education, thanks to which Latin became part of his everyday language.

The early passing, in a short time, of both parents left an indelible mark on the little boy. The Christian upbringing given him by his father, the figures of his sister Mary, who became almost a second mother to him, and the almost paternal one of his older brother Stephen made his growth less difficult. In 1756, at the age of seven, Edward was sent to study at the grammar school in Cirencester. In 1761, at the age of twelve, he finished his grammar studies. The time had come to choose employment, and the young man chose the path of medicine. He applied to Oxford, but was refused because of his health condition after the smallpox epidemic that had struck him a few years earlier, but which he had managed to overcome. He was then placed in the care of Mr. Ludlow, a surgeon from Chipping Sodbury with whom he stayed for seven years, during which time Jenner learned all there was to know about the country doctor’s profession.

At the age of twenty-one, together with his older brother Stephen, Edward decided it was time to go to London to learn hospital practice; to do this he decided to place himself under the care of John Hunter, a former army surgeon and younger brother of Dr. William Hunter, proprietor of the best anatomy school in the world. For one hundred pounds a year Jenner became John Hunter’s first pupil, with the exclusive opportunity to have contact with the latter’s older brother, William.

The day on Jermyn Street began very early and followed a fixed routine. Hunter’s methods were innovative and fascinating: if an experiment failed, one persevered, and, as he advised Jenner, if a treatment failed it meant it was wrong, even if imposed by the authorities. Time was divided equally between patients and research. Every day Jenner and Hunter went back and forth between Jermyn Street and St. James Street, dividing their time between St. George’s Hospital and Westminster Hospital. From two in the afternoon and for about five hours, Jenner would attend demonstrations in the anatomy room. When the lectures were over, he would attend to assignments received from Hunter, such as dissections, preparation of medicines, etc. Finally, after dinner, the two would often linger late into the night inside the laboratory. London life offered so much, even too much, to young Jenner: annoyed by the noise, fumes and dirt, he did not find the charms of such a large city to his taste. In July 1771, on the occasion of John Hunter’s wedding, Jenner turned down Dr. Solander’s proposal to be part of an expedition as a botanist, demonstrating how nothing outside his apprenticeship with Hunter could stimulate him.

On May 15, 1772, a document signed by William Hunter attested to the end of his apprenticeship, as well as the brilliant passing of four courses in anatomy and surgery. In the following months Jenner devoted himself to the practice of physics, materia medica, chemistry and obstetrics. On December 1 of the same year, with Dr. Fordyce’s signature, Jenner received a final certificate attesting to the passing of the courses in physics, materia medica and chemistry; another certificate, from Thomas Denman and William Osborne, finally certified the passing of the course in obstetrics.

Edward Jenner decided to return to Berkeley in early spring. Berkeley appeared to him as an ideal place to begin his practice as a physician. The biggest question for him, however, was where to begin his practice and perhaps even when. Indeed, there were many friends to be found, many visits to be made and received. He had to recreate the bond with his beloved brother Stephen, one of the most important figures in his life, equal to those of Hunter and his future wife Catherine: the first for his great virtues and orthodox faith, the second for putting truth before all else, and the third for his deep religiosity and perhaps imbuing him with piety. As can be seen from a letter dated June 1773 from Hunter, after only six months business was proceeding apace, almost as if the two years of apprenticeship by the Hunter brothers had provided Jenner with all the credentials and skills that made him an above-average surgeon for the time. Testifying to this was a particular case: Edward was asked to operate at Gloucester Infirmary, where a Mr. Bailey, stricken with a “disorder of a delicate nature” (as Baron called it), had expelled his large intestine from a hernia during a severe bout of vomiting. Unfortunately, Dr. Crump, the senior surgeon, was ill, but the situation was critical, and it was decided to call Edward Jenner from Berkeley. Jenner relocated the bowel and

Life in Berkeley

The years following the return to Berkeley can be analyzed through the continuous exchange of letters between Jenner and Hunter. Between January 1776 and September 1778, for example, Jenner devoted himself to the study of porcupines, with particular attention to their condition during hibernation in the winter months. In 1777 Jenner began a study of dolphins after finding their remains in the sand of the Severn estuary. Relations with John Hunter became more and more strained, and from the latter’s letters we note the sadness that ensued, but young Jenner would explain years later why in a letter to Dr. Parry, in which he explained that he had recognized in his friend Hunter the symptoms of angina pectoris and had turned away from him because the pain caused by the awareness of the severity of the problem was too great. In addition, Jenner wrote that he had conducted studies that led him to state that the problem came from the coronary arteries, which had almost never been examined previously in such cases. Indeed, he had found in the case of a certain Paytherus, who suffered from this disorder, that a layer of cartilage had formed in the coronary arteries that obstructed the proper flow of blood.

Aerostats and the tartar emetic

In the spring of 1783 Jenner had an attack of melancholy, which he described to his confidant Gardner in letters. The inventions of the Montgolfier brothers’ hot air balloon and aerostats, however, succeeded in reviving Jenner, who before the end of the summer spent much time with Gardner flying them. The launch of a balloon from the Champ-de-Mars stimulated Jenner, who built one of his own powered by hydrogen. This was launched from Berkeley Castle and flew accompanied by winds for about ten miles, coming to rest a short distance from the grounds of the residence of Anthony Kingscote, father of Catherine Kingscote (Jenner’s future wife). When Jenner and Gardner went to retrieve the aerostat, they organized a new launch of the latter from the very spot where it had fallen, since nothing could convince Kingscote to return it to them. This launch became a social event, so that all the prominent figures from the surrounding areas gathered at Kingscote Park. Between 1783 and 1784 Jenner wrote an eleven-page pamphlet on Emetic Tartar, titled Cursory Observations On Emetic Tartar Wherein Is Pointed Out An Improved Method Of Preparing Essence Of Antimony By A Solution Of Emetic Tartar in Wine, with which he advocated greater use of medicines in the medical field. Emetic tartar was in fact infrequently used, and furthermore, its prescription alienated the patient from his physician. In a letter, Hunter advised Jenner to

On March 6, 1788, Edward Jenner married Catherine Kingscote.

The cuckoo

Jenner’s studies of the cuckoo began as soon as he returned to Berkeley, but they were interrupted several times, mainly because the cuckoo arrived in Gloucestershire only at certain times of the year and also because it happened that during those times Jenner was engaged in other research that took over. In a letter to Hunter describing first the bird’s song and then the mating techniques, Jenner wrote that he found only one egg about a month after their return, which was in May. In this letter, it is explained that the cuckoo deposits the egg in the nest of the flounder, which does not distinguish it from its own. Moreover, as the eggs hatch, the baby cuckoo takes all the attention of its adoptive mother to the detriment of the other young. Jenner described having made several experiments and noticing that the newly hatched cuckoo would throw the other young or other eggs out of the nest if they had not yet hatched; he went on to write that most birds do not recognize if there are eggs other than their own in the nest, but rather care much more for the stranger or even brood only the one, setting aside their own eggs or throwing them down from the nest themselves.

Family Life

Edward’s first home after marrying Catherine was what was known as The Chantry, a large house on the Berkeley hill near the castle and the village church. Married life proceeded idyllically, and in January 1789 the eldest son Edward was born. Jenner with a letter asked Hunter if he would like to be godfather to the little one, and the reply came shortly afterwards with two pieces of good news: the first was consent to the request to be godfather to the child; the second, unexpected, was the appointment as a member of the “Royal Society,” an award due to the treatise written on the cuckoo. In 1793 Hunter died suddenly of angina pectoris, confirming Jenner’s fears dating from a few years earlier. The year after Hunter’s death, Jenner’s second daughter Catherine was born, and the following autumn she fell ill with typhoid fever. In March 1797 a third son, Robert Fitzhardinge, was born, at a time when Jenner needed consolation for the death of his brother Stephen the previous month at age 61.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, smallpox in Europe grew with alarming rapidity. Among the sick, one in six people died. In London alone about 3,000 people a year were dying, and in all of England 40,000. Variolization against smallpox was used, but in 1722 the ineffectiveness and often the danger of the method began to be recognized, while it was noticed that cattle and horse breeders were not getting sick. In 1746 a hospital dedicated to smallpox patients was opened in London, where variolization was practiced.

In 1801 Jenner published The Origin of the Vaccine Inoculation, in which he explained that among all the people to whom he administered the vaccine there were a few in particular who had come down with what they called cowpox, contracted by milking dairy cows, which had a different smallpox from the one that affected humans, and that is how Jenner began to study it. First, Jenner noticed that among these milkers, those infected with cowpox did not show symptoms of the disease, as if there had been no contagion. As a result of his studies, Jenner in 1782 could already distinguish and recognize three forms of smallpox: human smallpox, the most common, which affected humans; cowpox, which affected dairy cows and infected milkers; and a third form affecting horses, from which it seemed the other two forms could be derived by contagion. From these studies came Jenner’s idea that perhaps cowpox injection could replace human smallpox injection. Jenner needed to experiment with the new vaccine, and since his wife Catherine was pregnant, they decided together to try it on the unborn child, but for the eighteen months after birth there were no cases of cowpox; so Jenner decided to try the same on the baby, but with the vaccine, which, however, did not give results comparable to what Jenner expected from the cowpox injection. A new idea in Jenner’s mind was to find out whether the contagion of cowpox

An Inquiry Into Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ

In response to this rejection, in 1798 Jenner wrote An Inquiry Into Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ, an investigation containing as many as 23 cases in which cowpox inoculation had meant immunization against human smallpox, which at best presented itself in a mild form and lasted only a few days without serious consequences. In this paper, for the first time, the term virus was used. After the publication of the survey, the practice of cowpox vaccination was started, and in just ten years smallpox cases were reduced from 18,596 to 182.

Vaccination expands across the globe

Jenner’s hope was not to abolish inoculation against smallpox, but to change it to the use of cowpox at the expense of human smallpox, a method that became known as Jennerian inoculation. For the first time a Plymouth surgeon, Dunning, coined the term inoculation. Napoleon himself in those years made the vaccine mandatory for his army. In 1800 the Royal Vaccine Institution was founded in Berlin, and by 1820 the vaccine had made its way around the world.


Following the great success of the vaccine he discovered, Jenner’s life changed dramatically. His stay in London, which began on January 31, 1800, was a succession of invitations and tributes from the most distinguished personalities, and King George III himself wanted to meet him; on March 7 Jenner appeared before him with a copy of the book containing a preface with a dedication to the monarch, written especially for the occasion. On March 27 it was Queen Charlotte’s turn and a few days later that of the Prince of Wales. In February of that year Jenner received the Navy Medal for medical services, the first of a long series.

Jenner’s sojourn in London ended when his wife Catherine fell ill with tuberculosis, with the decision to return to Berkeley where family life would be quieter and where he himself could devote himself to his work as a country doctor. Catherine’s condition improved as early as the spring of 1803. In May of that year the Royal Jennerian Society (a foundation created in 1801 with the king’s consent in honor of the discovery of the vaccine) tried to persuade Jenner to return to London to celebrate his birthday, an invitation that was declined so as not to leave his wife alone.

Years of decadence

What followed were very sad and grief-filled years for Jenner. In January 1809 his eldest son Stephen died suddenly, following a very cold winter that had severely debilitated him, and in August of the same year his eldest sister Mary died at the age of eighty. In 1812 it was also the turn of his last sister, Anne Davies. In August 1815 his wife Catherine suffered a severe bout of bronchitis and died the following September 13, ending a cycle of heavy losses for the now 66-year-old Jenner.

The last days

In the summer of 1816 Jenner received a visit from his friend Baron, who suddenly had an attack of tonsillitis and pharyngitis, forcing Jenner, who had not yet lost his skill as a surgeon, to perform a tracheotomy that would save his life. On January 25, 1823, while he was in his room waiting for breakfast, Jenner fell out of bed, seized by a sudden attack of apoplexy; in vain were the help of those present and the arrival of his friend Baron, who could do nothing but stand by sadly watching his friend prepare to die. At 3 a.m. on January 26, 1823, Jenner died of the consequences of the stroke.

The date of Jenner’s initiation into Freemasonry is unknown. What is known, however, is that he was Worshipful Master of his home lodge, Royal Faith and Friendship No. 270 in East Berkeley, from 1811 to 1813. Other documents attest to his attendance at various Masonic ceremonies until 1822, a few months before his death.


  1. Edward Jenner
  2. Edward Jenner
  3. ^ D. Fisk, cap. 1, pp. 4-5.
  4. ^ D. Fisk, cap. 2, pp. 10-11.
  5. ^ D. Fisk, cap. 2, pp. 13-20.
  6. ^ D. Fisk, cap. 2, pp. 21-23.
  7. J.M. Sadurní (17 de mayo de 2019). «Edward Jenner, probablemente el científico que más vidas ha salvado en la historia». National Geographic. Consultado el 29 de diciembre de 2021.
  8. Francisco Doménech (20 de enero de 2021). «Jenner y el descubrimiento de la vacuna». BBVA OpenMind. Consultado el 29 de diciembre de 2020.
  9. ^ Baxby, Derrick (1999). “Edward Jenner’s Inquiry; a bicentenary analysis”. Vaccine. 17 (4): 301–307. doi:10.1016/s0264-410x(98)00207-2. PMID 9987167.
  10. ^ “History – Edward Jenner (1749–1823)”. BBC. 1 November 2006. Retrieved 28 July 2009.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Baron, John (1838). The Life of Edward Jenner M.D. LL.D. F.R.S. Vol. 2. London: Henry Colburn. p. 310. hdl:2027/nc01.ark:/13960/t2t523s95 – via HathiTrust.
  12. ^ a b “How did Edward Jenner test his smallpox vaccine?”. The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. 13 May 2016. Archived from the original on 26 January 2022. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  13. ^ a b c d e “About Edward Jenner”. The Jenner Institute. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  14. Gareth Williams: Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke 2010, ISBN 978-0-230-27471-6, S. 176 (englisch).
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