Biography of Edward Jenner – British doctor and scientist


Table of Contents

Born17 May 1749
Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England
Died26 January 1823 (aged 73)
Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England
Known forSmallpox vaccine
FieldsMedicine/surgery, natural history

Edward Jenner, (17 May 1749 from 17 May to 26 January 1823) was an British doctor and scientist. He pioneered the idea of vaccines , including the smallpox vaccination, the first vaccine ever created in the world. The words vaccine and vaccination are both derived from Variolae vaccinee (‘smallpox that affects cows’), the term was invented by Jenner to refer to cowpox. Jenner used the term in 1798 for the long title of his inquiry into Variolae vaccines, also known as Cow Pox, in which Jenner described the protective effects of cowpox in the fight against smallpox.

Within the West, Jenner is often described as “the father of immunology” His work is believed to have “saved more lives than the work of any other human”. At the time of Jenner smallpox claimed the lives of about 10 percent of the population, with figures at times as high as 20 percent in cities and towns in which the disease was more prevalent.Jenner was a major player in the field of immunology. In 1821, he was made as the physician of George IV. George IV, and was also appointed the mayor of Berkeley and justice of the peace. An active Member of the Royal Society, in the area of zoology, he was one of the first to identify the brood parasitism of cuckoo (Aristotle also described the behavior in his History of Animals). The year 2002 was the time that Jenner received a mention in BBC’s lists of 100 Greatest Britons.


Early life

Edward Jenner was born on 6 May 1749 (17 May, New Style) at Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England as the eighth child in a family of nine. His father reverend Stephen Jenner, was the vicar of Berkeley which is why Jenner was given a solid foundation education.


As a young man when he was a child, he attended school in Wotton-under-Edge , at Katherine Lady Berkeley’s School as well as in Cirencester. In the course of his education the student was inoculated (by variolation) for smallpox. This has a long-lasting effect on the general health of his. At 14 years of age He was a trainee for seven years with Daniel Ludlow, a surgeon from Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire and where he accumulated the bulk of the skills necessary to become a surgeon.


At the age of 21, in 1770, Jenner became apprenticed in surgery and anatomy under surgeon John Hunter and others at St George’s Hospital, London. William Osler records that Hunter provided Jenner the advice of William Harvey popular in medical circles (and typical in the Age of Enlightenment), “Don’t think; try.” Hunter continued to correspond with Jenner on natural history issues and suggested he join membership in the Royal Society. In 1773, he returned to his rural home in 1773 Jenner established himself as a successful family physician and surgeon working in a dedicated clinic at Berkeley. He graduated in 1792 “with twenty years’ experience of general practice and surgery, Jenner obtained the degree of MD from the University of St Andrews”.

Marriage and human medicine

Jenner was married to Catherine Kingscote (died 1815 from tuberculosis) in 1788, during the month of March. Jenner might have come across her while he and a few other friends were trying balloons. Jenner’s test balloon landed in Kingscote Park, Gloucestershire, which was owned by Catherine’s dad Anthony Kingscote. The couple had three children: Edward Robert (1789-1810), Robert Fitzharding (1792-1854) and Catherine (1794-1833).


He obtained the MD at The University of St Andrews in 1792. He is believed to have contributed to our understanding of what is known as angina pectoris. Through his letters to Heberden the doctor stated: “How much the heart must suffer from the coronary arteries not being able to perform their functions”.

Role in Zoology

Edward Jenner was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1788, following the publication of an in-depth investigation of the previously unresearched life of the nested cockoo which combines observations, experiments and dissection.


Edward Jenner described how the newly born cuckoo was able to push its host’s eggs as well as fledgling chicks out from the nest (contrary the notion that the adult cuckoo does it). In his observations of this behavior, Jenner demonstrated an anatomical adaptation for it : the baby cuckoo is born with a depression within its rear, but not found after the first 12 days of its life which allows it to hold eggs as well as other chicks. The adult is not for long enough to be able to do this. Jenner’s research was published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1788.

“The singularity of its shape is well adapted to these purposes; for, different from other newly hatched birds, its back from the scapula downwards is very broad, with a considerable depression in the middle. This depression seems formed by nature for the design of giving a more secure lodgement to the egg of the Hedge-sparrow, or its young one, when the young Cuckoo is employed in removing either of them from the nest. When it is about twelve days old, this cavity is quite filled up, and then the back assumes the shape of nestling birds in general.” Jenner’s nephew participated in the research. The date of his birth was June 30, 1737.


Jenner’s perception of the cuckoo’s behavior was not fully accepted up until artist Jemima Blackburn, who was a keen observer of birds, saw an unblinking nestling pushing out an egg of a host. Her description and drawing of this was enough to inspire Charles Darwin to revise a earlier edition of On the Origin of Species.

Jenner’s fascination with the field of zoology was a major factor in his first research using inoculation. He not only had an in-depth knowledge of human anatomy as a result of his medical background as well, but he also had a thorough understanding of the biology of animals and their role in the human-animal trans-species boundary in the transmission of disease. In the early days the public was not aware to know how crucial this connection would have been to the evolution and the discovery of vaccines. It is evident today and many modern vaccinations contain animal parts taken from rabbits, cows, and chicken eggs. These could be traced back directly to Jenner along with his Cowpox/smallpox vaccine.


Discovery of Smallpox Vaccine

Jenner lived in an agricultural society, where the majority the patients were farm workers or on farms that had cattle. The 18th century was a time of great change. Smallpox was thought to be the most fatal and chronic human pathogen. In order to prevent the spread of smallpox through vaccination was the principal treatment, using an approach that was successful for an Dutch biologist named Jan Ingenhaus and was brought to England in 1721 by Lady Mary Wortly Montague, the wife of the British Ambassador to Turkey. This technique was popular in countries of the east that involved scrubbing the veins of a healthy person and then pressing a tiny amount of matter taken from a pustule of a smallpox of a patient suffering from mild symptoms to the wound. The downside of this treatment was that the patient frequently was diagnosed with the entire disease which could be fatal.

In 1788, a rash of smallpox was sweeping through Gloucestershire and, during the outbreak, Jenner noticed that his patients who had worked with cattle and came in contact with the milder diseaseknown as cowpox never contracted smallpox. Jenner wanted to find a way to prove that his theory worked.

In 1796, Jenner performed an experiment with one of his youngest patient, James Phipps, an eight-year-old boy. After cutting two times in James’s armpit, Jenner worked into them the small amount of cowpox puss. The boy was afflicted with the usual reaction, which was an occasional fever, but after a few days, he was healthy and well. A few weeks later, Jenner continued the vaccination with the help of smallpox matter boy was still well. Jenner’s vaccination treatment was created, and named in honor of the medical term for cowpox called the word “vaccinia.

In 1798, after carrying out further successful tests and announcing his findings, he wrote A Study into the causes and effects on the Variiolae Vaccinae known as Cow Pox.

The process above shows the steps taken by Edward Jenner to create vaccination. Edward Jenner, the father of vaccination, created the first vaccine for smallpox. He did this by inoculating James Phipps with cowpox, a similar virus of smallpox, to create immunity, unlike variolation, which used smallpox to create an immunity to itself.
The process above shows the steps taken by Edward Jenner to create vaccination. Edward Jenner, the father of vaccination, created the first vaccine for smallpox. He did this by inoculating James Phipps with cowpox, a similar virus of smallpox, to create immunity, unlike variolation, which used smallpox to create an immunity to itself. | Source:

Later life

Jenner was later appointed an honorary foreign membership of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1802, was a part of the American Philosophical Society in 1804 and an international member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1806. The year 1803 saw him in London Jenner was elected the president of the Jennerian Society, concerned with encouraging vaccination to prevent smallpox. 

The Jennerian stopped operation in the year 1809. Jenner was a member of the Medical and Chirurgical Society on the day of its formation on 1805 (now known as the Royal Society of Medicine) and also presented a number of papers there. In 1808 with the help of assistance from the government the National Vaccine Establishment was founded however, Jenner was dissatisfied with the people who were chosen to manage the establishment and quit his post as director.

After returning in London around 1811 Jenner noticed a substantial amount of smallpox cases after the vaccination. He discovered the cases of smallpox in which, the severity of the disease was significantly reduced by prior vaccination. The year 1821 was the time he received the title of doctor extraordinaire for King George IV. 

He was appointed the mayor of Berkeley and justice of the peace. He continued to research the natural world then in the year 1823, the final calendar year in his career, he published the results of his “Observations on the Migration of Birds” to the Royal Society.


Jenner was discovered in an apoplexy state in January 1823, and his right side being paralyzed. Jenner never fully recovered and then died from an unintentional stroke the 26th of January 1823 at the age of 73 at Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England.

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