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John Fewster

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Subject: Benjamin Jesty, Smallpox, Smallpox vaccine, Variolation
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John Fewster

Dr John Fewster (1738-1824) was a surgeon and apothecary in Thornbury, Gloucestershire. Fewster, a friend and professional colleague of Edward Jenner, played an important role in the discovery of the smallpox vaccine. In 1765 Fewster read a paper to the Medical Society of London entitled “Cow pox and its ability to prevent smallpox”, 31 years before Jenner’s experiment on James Phipps.[1]

In 1763, Fewster noted that two brothers (named Creed) had both been variolated (purposefully infected with smallpox) but that one did not react at all to variolation. On questioning, this subject had never had smallpox, but had previously contracted cowpox. This prompted Fewster to wonder whether cowpox might protect against smallpox, a notion of which he was previously unaware. He is reported to have discussed this possibility over a Convivio-Medical Society dinner at the Ship Inn in Alveston. He also encouraged others to take up the inquiry. Amongst those at the meeting was Edward Jenner, a young medical apprentice at the time.[2][3]

Fewster followed up this observation, but only to a limited extent and not in writing. In 1765, he presented a paper called ‘Cowpox and its ability to prevent smallpox’ to the Medical Society of London, but never published it.

In 1796, Fewster was called to visit a local boy who was ill with early smallpox and was asked by John Player, the boy’s uncle, whether he would consider inoculating the boy with cowpox to save him from smallpox. According to Player Fewster replied that he had already thought of this but had decided against it as, in his view, variolation was very successful and an alternative seemed unnecessary. Nonetheless, Player reports, Fewster went on to inoculate three children in Thornbury with cowpox, during spring 1796. These vaccinations took place at around the same time as Jenner's first vaccination attempts.[2]

Fewster never made any claim to have discovered vaccination.[4]


  1. ^ Hopkins, Donald R. (2002). The Greatest Killer: Smallpox in History. University of Chicago Press. p. 80.  
  2. ^ a b Jesty, Robert; Williams, Gareth (2011). "Who invented vaccination?". Malta Medical Journal 23 (02). Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  3. ^ Charles Creighton, M.D. (1889). "Chapter 3. Jenner's "Inquiry."". Jenner and Vaccination - A Strange Chapter of Medical History. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co, Paternoster Square. p. 55. Dr. Jenner has frequently told me that, at the meetings of this Society [the Convivio-Medical, which met at the Ship at Alveston in the southern division of the county, and was attended, among others, by Fewster, the chief authority on cow-pox], he was accustomed to bring forward the reported prophylactic virtues of cowpox, and earnestly to recommend his medical friends to prosecute the inquiry. 
  4. ^ Baron, J. (1827 (vol 1), 1838 (vol 2)). Life of Edward Jenner, MD, with illustrations of his doctrines and selections from his correspondence. London: H Colbourn. 

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