The “bovine” side effects of a cowpox vaccine

Edward Jenner vaccinating patients against smallpox.  Coloured etching by James Gillray (1802). (Wikimedia Commons)

Edward Jenner vaccinating patients against smallpox (1802). Etching by James Gillray. (Wikimedia Commons)

“The Cow Pock – or – the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation! by the Anti-Vaccine Society”. The above cartoon shows Edward Jenner inoculating members of the public with cowpox. The fear then was that once inoculated, people would develop “bovine” characteristics or anatomical features. In the foreground a boy carries a pot with the label: “VACCINE POCK hot from yer COW” and in his pocket are papers with the headlines “Benefits of the Vaccine”. On the desk there is a pot called “OPENING MIXTURE” with a bottle carrying the label “VOMIT”. The painting against the wall depicts the biblical scene of people worshiping the Golden Calf.

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Smallpox epidemics at the Cape

A portrait of Edward Jenner by James Northcote [Wikimedia Commons]

A portrait of Edward Jenner by James Northcote [Wikimedia Commons]

The Cape experienced its first smallpox epidemic in 1713. Fatalities soared between May and July and contemporaries wrote that people died in such numbers that many bodies had to be buried without coffins and in shallow graves that attracted scavenging hyenas, jackals and feral dogs. In the open country bodies decomposed along wagon tracks and foot paths. There was another outbreak in 1748 and in 1755 a homeward bound ship from Ceylon caused an outbreak that killed more than 2,000 settlers and slaves.

Drakenstein during the 1713 epidemic

Curious as to how smallpox may have affected the people living in the Drakenstein area, I looked through a few MOOC documents relating to deaths in 1713. Continue reading