Vaccination Registers – a new digitised resource

Written by on June 12, 2013

As part of its digitisation programme, the College Library is publishing digitised copies of 19th century vaccination registers on the Heritage Website.

Smallpox was an ever-present danger in the rapidly expanding Glasgow of the early 19th century.  Rapid industrialisation and expansion had brought with it the attendant health problems of overcrowding, malnutrition and disease.  The work of Edward Jenner (1749-1823) was influential in persuading members of the medical profession to accept and appreciate the effectiveness of vaccination.  Jenner had noticed that milkmaids were generally immune to smallpox, and postulated that the pus in the blisters that milkmaids received from cowpox (a disease similar to smallpox, but much less virulent) protected them from smallpox.  The results of his work were published in 1798 as An Inquiry into …Cowpox.  A first edition of this work can be see in the Heritage Website.

In 1801 the Faculty (now Royal College) of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow set up a vaccination centre in their hall in St Enoch Square.  Each month two members of the Faculty were delegated for the duty of vaccination every Monday.  From 1801-1806 c. 10,000 individuals were vaccinated free of charge and the Faculty continued with this activity almost until the end of the 19th century.  The vaccination registers, recording the names (mostly children) of those vaccinated with cowpox date from 1801-1896.  A refundable deposit was introduced to encourage those vaccinated to return to have lymph drawn off.  Dr Robert Watt’s mortality statistics for Glasgow published in 1813 showed that the percentage of those children under ten dying from smallpox fell from 19 per cent in the period 1783 to 1800 to 6 per cent between 1800 and 1812.  A copy of Watt’s work is held in the College Library.

For a detailed account of the vaccination registers see:  Fiona A. MacDonald, Vaccination Policy of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, 1801 to 1863, Medical History, 1997, 41: 291-321.

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  1. Mary Arnold says:

    Hello the vaccinations books are wonderful, I heard that you were perhaps looking for people to help index these, I am a MSc Gen alumni and currently helping transcribe records for Scotland’s Places. i would be interested in helping get these vaccination books index.

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The College’s heritage collections – including thousands of medical and surgical instruments, rare books, archives, and pictures – span over 6 centuries and are an excellent resource for exploring the history of medicine and the history of the city of Glasgow. Many items from the collections have been digitised and are available to view here. Our digitisation work is ongoing, and we add new items to the site regularly, so keep checking back to discover more.

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