James Phipps

James Phipps (1788 – 1853) was the first person given the experimental cowpox vaccine by Edward Jenner.[1] Jenner knew of a local belief that dairy workers who had contracted a relatively mild infection called cowpox were immune to smallpox, and successfully tested his theory on the 8-years-old James Phipps.[2]

Dr Jenner performing his first vaccination on James Phipps, a boy of age 8, on 14 May 1796. Painting by Ernest Board (early 20th century).

Early life and vaccination against smallpoxEdit

Phipps was born in Berkeley parish in Gloucestershire to a poor landless labourer working as Jenner's gardener. He was baptised in St Mary's parish church, Berkeley, when he was 4.[3]

The inoculation of James Phipps by Edward Jenner. Lithograph by Gaston Mélingue (circa 1894).

On 14 May 1796 he was selected by Jenner, who took "a healthy boy, about eight years old for the purpose of inoculation for the Cow Pox".[4] Jenner took some fluid from the cowpox vesicles on the hand of a milkmaid named Sarah Nelmes (in an unpublished manuscript Jenner refers to her as Lucy Nelmes[5]), and inoculated Phipps by two small cuts in the skin of the boy's arm.

Jenner wrote: On the seventh day he complained of uneasiness in the axilla and on the ninth he became a little chilly, lost his appetite, and had a slight headache. During the whole of this day he was perceptibly indisposed, and spent the night with some degree of restlessness, but on the day following he was perfectly well.[6] About six weeks later Jenner inoculated the boy with smallpox which had no effect, and concluded that he now had complete protection against smallpox.[7][8] Phipps was subsequently inoculated with smallpox more than twenty times without succumbing to the disease.[9]

Phipps is often cited incorrectly as the first person to be vaccinated against smallpox by inoculation with cowpox: other people had undergone the procedure before him. In 1791, Peter Plett from Kiel in the Duchy of Holstein (now Germany) inoculated three children,[10] and Benjamin Jesty of Yetminster in Dorset performed the procedure on three family members in 1774.[11] However, Jenner included his description of the vaccination of Phipps and an illustration of the hand of Sarah Nelmes from which the material was taken in his Inquiry published in 1798. Together with a series of vaccinations which showed that the vaccine could be maintained by arm-to-arm transfer, and information about selection of suitable material, Jenner's Inquiry was the first published account of vaccination.[12]

Later lifeEdit

Plaque at James Phipps' cottage in Berkeley, Gloucestershire

Later in Phipps's life, Jenner gave him, his wife, and his two children a free lease on a cottage in Berkeley, which went on to house the Edward Jenner Museum between 1968 and 1982.[7] Phipps attended Jenner's funeral on 3 February 1823.[13]

In 1853 Phipps was buried in St Mary's church in Berkeley, where he had been baptised. Jenner was also buried in this church.


  1. ^ Reid, Robert (1974). Microbes and men. London: British Broadcasting Corporation. p. 7. ISBN 0-563-12469-5.
  2. ^ Bartolache, José Ignacio (1779). Instrucción que puede servir para que se cure a los enfermos de las viruelas epidemicas que ahora se padecen en México (in Spanish) (1st ed.). Impresa à instancia y expensas de dicha N. Ciudad.
  3. ^ "Children in History: James Phipps (1796)". 13 April 2005. Retrieved 22 July 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ Reid, Robert (1974). Microbes and men. London: British Broadcasting Corporation. p. 18. ISBN 0-563-12469-5.
  5. ^ Baxby, D. (1985). "The genesis of Edward Jenner's Inquiry of 1798: a comparison of the two unpublished manuscripts and the published version". Med Hist. 29 (2): 193–199. doi:10.1017/s0025727300044008. PMC 1139508. PMID 3884936.
  6. ^ Tan, SY (2004). "Tan: Edward Jenner (1749–1823) conqueror of smallpox.". Singapore Med J. 45 (11): 507–508. PMID 15510320.
  7. ^ a b Morgan, A. J.; Parker, S. (2007). "Translational Mini-Review Series on Vaccines: The Edward Jenner Museum and the history of vaccination". Clin Exp Immunol. 147 (3): 389–394. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.2006.03304.x. PMC 1810486. PMID 17302886.
  8. ^ Willis, N. J. (1997). "Edward Jenner and the eradication of smallpox". Scott Med J. 42 (4): 118–121. doi:10.1177/003693309704200407. PMID 9507590. S2CID 43179073.
  9. ^ Reid, Robert (1974). Microbes and men. London: British Broadcasting Corporation. p. 19. ISBN 0-563-12469-5.
  10. ^ P. C. Plett: Peter Plett und die übrigen Entdecker der Kuhpockenimpfung vor Edward Jenner. Sudhoffs Archiv, Zeitschrift für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, vol 90, issue 2, Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 2006, pp. 219–232. ISSN 0039-4564
  11. ^ Hammarsten, J. F.; et al. (1979). "Who discovered smallpox vaccination? Edward Jenner or Benjamin Jesty?". Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 90: 44–55. PMC 2279376. PMID 390826.
  12. ^ Baxby, Derrick (1999). "Edward Jenner's Inquiry; a bicentenary analysis". Vaccine. 17 (4): 301–307. doi:10.1016/s0264-410x(98)00207-2. PMID 9987167.
  13. ^ "James Phipps (1788-1853)". Science Museum. 22 July 2004. Archived from the original on 29 January 2017. Retrieved 22 July 2021.

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