Benjamin Jesty is the most famous of the Jesty family, but for many is unknown. Benjamin is said to be "...the first person (known) that introduced the Cow Pox by inoculation..." (Extract from his headstone inscription), though the majority of history books and medical journals would not tell you that. Benjamin vaccinated his family against smallpox in 1774, some 22 years prior to when Dr Edward Jenner first performed the procedure in 1796 though from a pox on a human, not a cow) and made his claim of priority. It will probably be many decades before the facts are clear in history books and medical journals, but it is now well accepted among experts that he was the first person known to deliberately infect someone with cowpox in order to protect against smallpox.
Benjamin Jesty's Experiment
Benjamin a humble farmer had noticed that milkmaids who had been infected with cowpox did not seem to catch smallpox, even when nursing their relatives through attacks of smallpox. In 1774 he was living at Upbury Farm in Yetminster, Dorset, England. During the spring and summer of that year smallpox was rife and many from the village had died from the disease. Benjamin had the idea to infect his family with cowpox by artificial means to protect them from smallpox. Cowpox was considered not be a serious compliant. Applying soot and butter was recommended as a remedy.
The vaccination took place at a neighbour's farm in Chetnole, where there was an outbreak of cowpox among the cows. He vaccinated his wife Elizabeth and his two young sons, Robert and Benjamin, and did it in a manner extraordinarily similar to the modern method: infecting the arm through a scratch, in Benjamin's case with a darning needle. He took matter from a mature pox on a cow and inserted into the scratch. For the two boys the cowpox ran its normal course, but Elizabeth was very ill with fever and a very inflamed arm. The fever did however subside and the Jesty family continued on with their lives without contracting smallpox.
'Home News' with article regarding Benjamin JESTY
Newspaper clipping from Edith Kitty BELL possessions regarding Benjamin JESTY