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edward jenner school building gloucestershire

About Edward Jenner

Edward Jenner spent most of his life in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, where his father was the vicar. He served an apprenticeship to a surgeon in Bristol where he overheard a milkmaid say that because she had had cowpox she could not catch smallpox ('dabbling in the dew makes the milkmaids fair!'). He completed his training at St George's Hospital, London, where he was a pupil and lodger of the great surgeon John Hunter.

He was offered the post of naturalist on Captain James Cook's second expedition to the South Seas but, being a countryman at heart, refused it and returned to Gloucestershire and the life of a country GP. He indulged his biological interests by researching the bizarre domestic habits of the cuckoo and in 1788 was awarded the Fellowship of the Royal Society for his efforts.

He still remembered the Bristol milkmaid's remark and acquired the reputation of a bore because of his constant harping on about cowpox and its preventive use. Eventually, and totally unethically, he took lymph from a pustule on the hand of a milkmaid, He inoculated a healthy child, who developed cowpox in the normal fashion but proved immune to subsequent inoculation with smallpox. Both the medical profession and the Royal Society were hostile to these unorthodox practices, so Jenner published his observations in 1798 and travelled to London to publicise them. His reception was so unenthusiastic that he returned to Gloucestershire leaving some lymph with Mr Cline, a surgeon at St Thomas's Hospital. Cline used it to inoculate a child who also proved immune to a later attempt at smallpox inoculation and this popularised the practice.

Edward Jenner

In 1809, Jenner was elected an honorary member of the Geological Society of London, and from about 1812 to 1814, he belonged to the Barrow Hill Club, a group of friends that met regularly to collect fossils. Some of Jenner’s finds include a fern imprinted on coal, a clam shell, and a shoulder bone from a whale. But his most significant paleontological find came in 1819, when he discovered the remains of a “sea monster”-a Plesiosaur-at the base of Stinchcombe Hill near Berkeley.


The find was one of the earliest in Britain and occurred several years before the plesiosaur was officially recognized as a species distinct from the better-known ichthyosaur. In 1816 Jenner wrote, “Fossils are monuments…to departed worlds.” His statement was contrary to the perception at the time that fossils were either ordinary rocks that somehow mimicked living things, or were the remains of contemporary animals.

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