2nd February 1758. Rinderpest.

The great cattle disease down the ages has been Rinderpest and attempts to inoculate against it were attempted in the 18th century. 

It was Today in 1758 that medical practitioner Daniel Peter Layard FRS a medical practitioner  read a letter to the Royal Society referring to an experiment by the Dean of York on ‘five beasts inoculated by means of a skein of cotton dipped in the matter and passed thro’ a hole like a seaton in the dewlap’ [of the animal].

It appears that four out of five survived after being re-integrated with the other cows. Layard advised inoculation except for young calves and pregnant animals. What the Dean of York was doing in animal disease control is a mystery!

The first written report on Rinderpest inoculation in a letter signed ‘TS’ to the Gentleman’s Magazine which was read by educated men here and on the Continent.(1)

However there was some misreporting as the author named a Mr Dobson, a gentleman of Yorkshire who was said to have inoculated cattle with nine out of ten surviving. Dobson then replied  that he was surprised to see his name mentioned,  ‘as far from having any cattle he didn’t even own a cow’.

The real story according to Dobson related to a Sir William St Quintin of Scampton, Yorkshire who it appears had inoculated 8 calves of which 7 survived after being run with a herd of infected cattle.

The importance of correct reporting is vital as the later correction went unnoticed and Dobson was credited with the first inoculation and most authors also misspelt his name as Dodson and got the year wrong as 1744 instead as 1754.

Right through the middle ages Anthrax and Rinderpest were epidemic and calamitous for the animals and also affected food, fertilizer and motive power. The diseases were lumped together as common murrain and much disease was imported as nowadays showing the international nature of farming in those early days.

Engraving showing inspection for Rinderpest in 19thc at Metropolitan Cattle Market, London.

In 1714 Rinderpest was brought from the Netherlands and in 1865-6 was imported from Russia which killed 250,000 cattle in the London area, an outbreak which resulted in the British National Veterinary Service in 1865.

Walter Plowright who died in 2010 as a Veterinary scientist was to produce the first tissue culture vaccine (TCRV) a key element to the elimination of Rinderpest world wide, the first animal disease to be eradicated. He went on to win the World Food Prize in 1999.(2)

(1) The letter was signed TS in the November issue 1754. 24:493, and as it supported inoculation against smallpox it was natural to support the same treatment to cattle.

(2) Plowright was born in Holbeach, Lincolnshire on 20th July 1923.

Ref: D.P.Layard ‘A Discourse on the usefulness of inoculation of horned cattle to prevent the contagion among them.’ Philosophical Transactions 1759 50: 11..

Ref: Info. from The Immunization of Cattle against Rinderpest in 18thc Europe,

Ref: F. Home Medical Factors and Experiments. London. A. Miller. 1759.

Ref: Ian Sample. The Guardian Oct. 14th 2010. Article on Elimination of Rinderpest.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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