Gillray, James (British, 1756-1815)

The Cow-Pock-or-the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation!

Reference Type:
In 1798, physician Edward Jenner first published the results of his experiments proving that cowpox could prevent smallpox. He followed up with additional publications that supported his results, but many members of both the public and the medical field remained skeptical. Political cartoonists such as James Gillray capitalized on the uncertainty that surrounded the new vaccination through images such as this. The fairly chaotic composition, published by the Anti-Vaccine Society, is given context by the kneeling boy in the blue coat. On his shoulder is a badge that says St. Pancras, setting the scene at the Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital at St. Pancras in London. The container he holds is labeled “vaccine pock hot from y’ cow,” and in his pocket is a pamphlet titled “Benefits of the Vaccine Process.” “The process” begins at the entrance door, where patients are given a ladleful of a concoction called “opening mixture.” Then they proceed to a chair, where a doctor who is not even looking at what he is doing administers the vaccination. The woman’s skeptical expression is seemingly justified, since the men and women behind her have cows or cow parts growing out of various parts of their bodies. The painting on the wall behind the crowd is not merely decoration. It shows a scene from the Book of Exodus, when the Israelites reverted to worshipping a golden calf while Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. Their actions made both Moses and God angry. Gillray suggests a parallel between the sinful Israelites and those who supported the new vaccination derived from cows. Notes by Mariann Smith
History of Medicine
History of Science
Infectious Disease
The British Museum, London