28 November 2009 – 28 March 2010
Benjamin Jesty was a dairy farmer who carried out the world’s first vaccinations in Dorset 22 years before Dr Edward Jenner - the man regarded as the pioneer of this groundbreaking medical technique.
Aware from his dairymaids that cowpox seemed to protect against smallpox, one of history’s deadliest diseases, Jesty vaccinated his family in 1774. He used a stocking needle to collect cowpox material from an infected cow and inserted this into the flesh of his wife and two sons.
When Jenner was given a cash reward by parliament in 1802, the noted physician Dr George Pearson petitioned with evidence of Jesty’s priority, but it was too late. Jenner was adjudged the founder of vaccination.
Then officers of The Original Vaccine Pock Institution decided to invite Jesty to London and commissioned his portrait to mark his discovery. First displayed at the Royal Academy during 1805, this was the last time the painting was seen in public until this present exhibition at Dorset County Museum.
In a remarkable story, the portrait has survived a journey halfway around the world and over 70 years in a South African farmhouse, before now being brought back to Dorset to mark the 30th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox – a global success story that started in Dorset.