13 March 2005

Inoculating Islanders with Kinepox in 1807

In 1807, Captain Amasa Delano of the China-trader Perseverance, was keenly aware of the deadly effects of smallpox on Pacific Islanders--and he knew how to prevent it.
Before leaving home forehanded Amasa had stuffed his medicine chest with whatever specifics the Boston doctors recommended. He had added several specifics on his own account, one being for inoculation against smallpox. He had seen the ship's doctors of the McCluer expedition inoculate island natives against smallpox, and why couldn't he do the same now? Why not?

Canton was notoriously a smallpox-ridden port, and, arriving off there, Amasa got out his kinepox from the medicine chest, stood his five Kanakas (Sandwich Islanders) in a row, and inoculated them. He had faith in his technique, but there remained a doubt of the efficacy of the kinepox after lying up in the medicine chest since he had left home.

Fresh kinepox would make him feel better; and certainly it would do no harm to his Kanakas to inoculate them again. Sailing up the Canton River he made inquiries of ships he met along the way, and from an American captain whose ship he hailed he procured "a kine pox which would answer all the purpose of a preventive, and at the same time would be attended with no dangerous consequences to the patient."

Amasa inoculated his five Sandwich Islanders with the new kinepox and awaited results. They all lived, as did others of his crew whom he then treated with full confidence. After that he was all set to deliver lectures to other ship captains wherever met on the virtues of the new kinepox.

"All captains, who are employed on voyages, where they may take the natives of these islands on board their ships, should provide themselves with the kine pox matter, which may be easily procured, and preserved in such a manner as to be carried to any part of the world, and have them inoculated with it before carrying them to places where they would be exposed to take the small pox, which most generally proves fatal to them, and the distress and sufferings of the poor creatures have been beyond description; many scenes of which I have been an eye witness to, that would excite the compassion of any man possessed of the least particle of humanity."
Edward Jenner had published his work on cowpox and coined the term "vaccination" in 1798.

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