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Put Edward Jenner’s statue back in Trafalgar Square

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 25 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1582

This article has corrections. Please see:

  1. Gareth Williams, professor of medicine
  1. 1Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Bristol, Learning and Research Building, Southmead Hospital, Bristol BS10 5NB
  1. gareth.williams{at}

    Hero who defeated an enemy of all humankind

    London’s Trafalgar Square is famous for pigeons and statues of British military heroes. At its centre, Nelson presides from his column, celebrating the victory at Trafalgar that cost him his life but also set back Napoleon’s ambitions to rule the world. At the corners of the square are four plinths, three of which carry statues.

    A strikingly empty plinth awaits a final decision about what to put on it. Although recent occupants have included randomly selected people (with or without agendas, inhibitions, or clothes) the plinth began its career with pomp and circumstance, supporting an imposing statue unveiled in 1858 by Prince Albert and funded largely by public subscription.1 The subject was an unconventional warrior who inspired loathing as well as adulation. His enemies were powerful—and four years later, his statue was quietly carted away and parked in obscurity in Kensington Gardens, where it remains today.

    The statue is of Edward Jenner, widely known for developing a vaccine against smallpox. His “Inquiry,” self published in 1798, contains the first documented cases of protection from smallpox after a previous infection with cowpox. Cowpox, caused by a poxvirus related to variolavirus, the smallpox virus, was a known occupational hazard in milkmaids. Jenner not only observed this remarkable lesson of nature but also translated it into …

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