HC Deb 29 July 1807 vol 9 cc1007-15

The house having re- solved itself into a committee of supply,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose to call the attention of the committee to the Report of the Royal College of Physicians, respecting the mode discovered by Dr. Jenner, of preventing the small-pox, the severest infliction, as a disease, to which mankind was subject. Whatever might have been the origin of the discovery, it had never been known, before that gentleman made it public, that the Vaccine disease could be communicated by inoculation. If that discovery should prevent the smallpox, it was hardly possible to characterize its value in terms too strong. When the committee considered the advantages that had already resulted from it, and that would in future result from it, when the prejudice that existed against it should subside, he was sure the committee would not consider the proposition he meant to make extravagant, but liberal and just to the individual. Nothing was so difficult as to fix upon any standard, whereby to measure what should be the grant of that house upon such an occasion. The subject had been under the consideration of parliament some years since, but then there had not been time to satisfy the house of the value of the discovery, and therefore only 10,000l. had been voted to Dr. Jenner, instead of 20,000l. which his friends had proposed. The enquiry that had been recently made, was perfectly satisfactory to his mind, and consequently he proposed to move a grant of 10,000l. which, with the sum already granted to Dr. Jenner, would amount to the sum originally proposed by his friends to be voted to him. It was unnecessary for him to urge any more arguments in support of his proposition, to those who had read the Report. If they assumed, that the inoculation for the small-pox was a benefit to mankind, they might then be able to estimate how much greater a benefit this discovery was, which, as appeared by the report, Was a certain security against the small-pox. It appeared, that of those who had that disease naturally, one in six died, whilst of those inoculated for that disease, only one in 300 died. But of 164,381 cases of persons vaccinated, only three had died, which made the mortality only one in 54,741. It would be impossible after that statement, to represent more favourably the advantages of the discovery. And when the deaths and all the cases of inconvenience that had occurred, in that number of cases were taken together, they amounted to 179 only out of the 164,381, Which was an infinitely smaller proportion than the actual mortality by the inoculation for the small-pox. But it was not this country alone that was benefited by the discovery, the whole World participated in the advantages resulting from it. An objection might be made to the utility of the discovery, because it tended to increase population, but he should prefer the principles of practical humanity, in preserving life where it existed, to the encouragement of those checks mentioned by Mr. Malthus, whereby population might be kept down. If they were to go into a calculation of the number of lives that had been saved by the discovery, and the expence to the public spared by the diminution of the number of persons in the hospitals, they might have a mean of estimating the advantages of this important discovery. On all these grounds, he would move the committee, "That a sum, not exceeding 10,000l. be granted to his majesty, to be paid to doctor Edward Jenner, as a further reward for promulgating his discovery of the Vaccine Inoculation, by which a mild, efficacious, and not contagious mode of superseding that dreadful malady the Small-Pox is established; and that the same be issued and paid without any fee or other deduction whatsoever."

Mr. Shaw Lefevre

declared it was with extreme regret he opposed the motion. He entertained for Dr. Jenner the most sincere respect, yet he could not think that this was a period for disposing of 10,000l. where it appeared by the Report of the college of physicians, which spewed that in 50 or 60 instances, at least, the plan had not succeeded, that, at the least, it was not infallible. The late period of the session, when so many members were necessarily out of town, was also a sufficient reason with him for withholding his approbation to the proposed motion. It had been said that Dr. Jenner had discovered the invention for which a reward was now sought to be conferred. He begged, however, to state that a similar practice had been entertained in Dorsetshire since the year 1777.

Lord H. Petty

contended, that infallibility ought not to be made the test of great discoveries, which ought rather to be estimated by general averages. He was disposed to go farther than the right hon. chancellor of the exchequer, though he should not take upon him to make any spe- cific proposition to the committee. There was no standard, whereby a great public discovery could be estimated, that would not enhance the value of Dr. Jenner's discovery, if tried by it. If considered with reference to the national benefits resulting from it—to the advantages that he might have derived from his discovery, if he had not published it to the world—to the effect it had in raising the fame, the honour, and the character of the country—there was no standard for estimating the merit of any public discovery under which Dr. Jenner would not have a peculiar claim upon the gratitude and liberality of the house. It appeared by the Report, that the deaths by the small-pox had increased since the discovery; and though he should not wish to use any an compulsion, or to interfere with the liberty that all persons should have, to act as they thought most adviseable for their own health, or for that of their family, still he was of opinion, that persons who preferred the inoculation for the small-pox, should not be allowed to endanger the health of others. Such persons, in his opinion, ought to be confined to their houses whilst affected by the disease, and not suffered to spread infection through the community. If any proof were wanted of the value of the discovery, it would be found in the ready reception which it had met with from all nations, even the least enlightened of Asia, where prejudices were most deeply rooted. It was highly gratifying too to witness the zeal with which the gentlemen of the medical profession, not only in the metropolis, but in all parts of the country, had promoted the interests of humanity, by adopting and acting upon this important discovery.

General Tarleton

bore testimony to the value of the discovery, from the number of the military whose lives had been saved by it. It was, besides, an important circumstance, that the troops on recovery might leave their barracks, and others succeed them without any danger of infection. Military men were said to be most fond of, praising great conquerors, but, in his opinion, this gentleman who saved the lives of millions, was entitled to more praise than the most successful conqueror.

Mr. Sturges Bourne

concurred entirely with the noble lord, in the whole of what he had advanced, but most particularly so in the necessity there was for the adoption of some legislative measure, to prevent persons from bringing intentionally infectious diseases into large and populous cities and towns, which must be the case in again introducing the inoculation for the smallpox. He had been informed it was the practice of the Small-pox Hospital, to inoculate out-patients, and that those persons, so inoculated, were obliged to pass from their several lodgings and places of abode, two or three times a week, in order to be examined at the hospital, than which nothing could, in his mind, be more calculated to disseminate infection, and to spread the ravages of that dreadful and malignant disorder. He hoped, therefore, some legislative measure would soon be adopted on that subject. As to the motion now under the consideration of the committee, it had his hearty concurrence.

Mr. Hawkins Browne

said, he believed his hon. friend was not correct in what he had stated as to the Small-pox Hospital. He was not prepared at the moment to Speak decisively on the subject, but he believed, though it had formerly been the practice of the Small-pox Hospital to inoculate out-door patients, they had not done so lately. He was one of the governors of that hospital, and he knew they were very favourable to the practice of vaccination. If, however, what had been stated by his hon. friend were true, it would certainly deserve the consideration of the house to put a stop to such injurious proceedings. He thought, however, there had not been sufficient notice taken of one point, viz. that this mode of inoculation Was not subject to infection, and that therefore it was not liable to the serious objections made against inoculation for the small-pox. When this Subject was formerly before the house, he had voted for the smaller sum; but he did not mean thereby to confine himself to it, in case the discovery should be found to be attended with those advantages which had since been found to result from it; and he had no doubt in his mind, but if the then chancellor of the exchequer (Mr. Pitt) were now alive, and in that high office, he would now vote for the additional sum, though he also had then opposed it. He could wish this motion to be amended by the insertion of the words, "that this mode of inoculation was not liable to infection."

Mr. Sturges Bourne

said, in answer to the last hon. gent. that he could assure the committee he was correct in what he had stated as to the Small-pox Hospital, which he shewed by a statement of their Own, by which it appeared they had inocu lated 2245 persons in a year. In having done this, he meant no imputation on them; on the contrary, he believed, as his hon friend who spoke last had very truly mentioned, that the governors and professors were favourable to vaccination, and he hoped they would themselves put an end to the practice of inoculating out-patients, and thereby prevent the necessity of any legislative measure as to them.

Mr. Morris

said, the great merit of this discovery was, that it exterminated the disease, whereas all other modes of inoculation increased it, by being liable to infection, and it had been indisputably proved, that since inoculation there had been more deaths than before it. He thought the sum proposed was too small. Dr. Jenner had dedicated his whole time to it, and had he not succeeded, his name would have been a bye-word among the people, and among those of his own profession in particular. He thought that he deserved from the country which he had so much benefited, a sum of money that would enable him to live in a state of ease, affluence, and independence, for the remainder of his days. He should therefore propose, as an amendment, that instead of the words 10,000l. those of 20,000l. be inserted. He assured the house, that though he had spoken warmly on the subject, he was not at all acquainted with Dr. Jenner, nor any of his immediate connexions, but was actuated by a thorough conviction in his own mind that the doctor was fully entitled to this additional remuneration. The hon. and learned gent. concluded by moving his amendment.

Sir John Sebright

most cordially seconded the motion.

Mr. Herbert

spoke in favour of the amendment. He said, he thought, in such a case as this, the house should have regard to what had been done in former cases of original discoveries. In that of the discovery of the longitude, they had offered 20,000l., and he was of opinion, that for a more extensive and more advantageous discovery, they should not think of voting a lesser sum.

Mr. Wilberforce

said, he was one of those who, on a former occasion, had voted for the lesser sum, because he wished, as far as they were compatible, to act at the same time on the principles of liberality and economy. An hon. gent. had said, that this differed from all other discoveries, because it came out at once matured and ripe for practice; this he believed to be truly correct, for a medical friend of his had assured him, that he had received a particular account of this discovery from Dr. Jenner 10 years before he made it known to the public; which shewed that he had not suffered himself to be hurried on by any private advantage, but had wisely deferred bringing it forward till it was in a state which was susceptible of immediate and general practice. If he had brought it out for his own private advantage., he might unquestionably have made a fortune by it; but he was above such self-interested considerations, and, from the first publication of it, he was always desirous to instruct every practitioner how to proceed with the best prospect of success. Dr. Jenner himself had never experienced any failure in his practice, though others had; but that was not to be wondered at, when it was considered what vast numbers of apothecaries and other practitioners there were throughout the country, and how very different and unequal their abilities in the profession. Dr. Jenner had thrown the discovery at once before the public, which had rapidly been conveyed to all countries, and, from the simplicity and perspicuity of the process recommended by him, in the short space of ten years, it had been spread to all parts of the habitable globe. It had made its way, and was universally adopted in Turkey, in the East Indies, and the immensely extensive territories of China; in all which it had met with the most unexampled success, and had saved the lives of millions of people in those various populous countries. If Dr. Jenner had acted thus generously and thrown himself on the liberality of the public, he ought to be rewarded; and that such reward might be commensurate to his merit, he should be for the larger sum, and support the amendment; but, if it should meet the approbation of the committee, he owned he would rather prefer a farther amendment of his own, and propose, that an annuity of 1000l. should be voted, in addition to the sum of 10,000l. in the original motion of that evening. His reason for this was, that in consequence of this discovery having become so universally known and adopted, Dr. Jenner had become a person of great fame and character abroad. No man was so much or so speedily enquired for by foreigners, on their, arrival in this country; no man more sought alter, He was, of course, under the necessity of being accessible to them; and it was impos- sible to be so, without incurring considerable expence. This annuity, in addition to the sum originally moved for this evening, would enable him to enjoy, through life, his country's grateful sense of the benefits derived from his labours and his talents. He had, by dedicating so much of his time to divulging his discovery in the most extensive way, lost his practice at Gloucester and at Cheltenham; and he begged gentlemen to recollect, that when this subject was formerly before the house, it had been said that Dr. Jenner would be able to compensate himself by his practice; but the contrary had actually been the fact, and he had made the practice so universally and so clearly known, that he was frequently less consulted in town than many others. Dr. Jenner generally attended his (Mr. Wilberforce's) children; but on one or two occasions, when there was thought a necessity of applying for medical assistance, and Dr. Jenner was not immediately in the way, he had instantly sent to another person, without any apprehension of his not being completely acquainted with the whole system. Under these circumstances, he would vote for the larger sum, but should prefer his own plan of an annuity.

Mr. Windham

approved highly of the system of vaccination. Although no country could give too much as a reward for such a benefit, yet there ought to be limits. In the present case, it was the misfortune of the inventor, that the extent and value of his discovery was so great, because the magnitude of that extent and value rendered it difficult to determine how much he merited. He should vote for the larger sum of 20,000l. and principally from taking a view of the subject totally neglected by those who had spoken before him. These right hon. members had forgotten that the tendency of the vaccine inoculation was to exterminate the small-pox completely, and thus to free mankind from the most dreadful scourge inflicted by the hand of Heaven.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought it material to state, that an annuity could not be voted without the previous form of a committee of the whole house, or without a message from his majesty. Under every consideration of the subject, he thought the sum originally proposed was just what ought to be voted. He commended the care taken by the Speaker to disseminate the conviction of the established authenticity of this discovery, by causing an extraordinary number of copies of the report of the college of physicians to be printed, and to be judiciously distributed through the country. He again defended the originally proposed vote, as most reasonable and proper.

Mr. W. Smith

thought, that in order to constitute the grant or reward, the expences Dr. Jenner had been at ought to be previously paid. Dr. Jenner could prove, that he had expended more than the original sum voted to him, in propagating the discovery, before the vote had passed. He cited from a Madrid gazette of October last, an account of the honours done to a medical person, sent to communicate the vaccine inoculation in all the foreign possessions of Spain, upon his return from his mission. He cited reports from various parts of the world, stating the success of vaccination, particularly in our Indian possessions. He trusted that under these circumstances, the larger reward would be voted.

Mr. Whitbread

maintained the propriety of voting the larger sum. He was the more particularly interested in recommending this discovery to remuneration, as it had contributed infinitely to the relief of the poor, in whose cause he was now particularly engaged. If this opportunity of conferring an adequate reward should be passed by, it would never return.

Mr. Fuller

also supported the enlarged motion. He thought something ought to be done to prevent inoculation for the small-pox, otherwise the discovery would not have its full effect.

After a few words in support of the larger grant, from Mr. Baring, Mr. Rose jun. and sir C. Pole,

the house divided: For the larger grant 60; For the smaller 47; Majority 13.