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The Vaccination Registers

Home > Exhibitions > Vaccination: finding the 'perfect disease' > The Vaccination Registers

The Vaccination Registers

The College’s Vaccination Registers, dating from 1801, provide a unique insight into its public vaccination programme. Although their purpose is to provide a simple list of those vaccinated by the College – including dates of vaccination, the names of those vaccinated, their place of residence, and their age – they also include remarks which demonstrate the success of the vaccine programme and the development of vaccine practices throughout the 19th century. The Registers show that in the first five years of the College’s vaccination programme, 10,000 people (mainly children) had been vaccinated.

This was one of the only occassions that the public would enter the College building on St Enoch’s Square. Advertisements were taken out in the local newspapers encouraging the public to attend the vaccine station. When the Faculty moved in 1862, so too did the vaccine station to our current building at 242 St Vincent Street. Vaccinations were carried out in the old Faculty Hall, now the Princess Alexandra Room.

The vaccination registers provide a unique insight into vaccinations carried out by the College and its members. One of the first vaccinations was administered to John Falconer, a 4 month old boy. As the vaccinators Mr Monteith – the architect of the vaccination programme - and Mr McArthur note, ‘Inoculation performed in both arms by a simple puncture: matter taken on the 10th day and a few hours before it was used. Right arm only succeeded.’ From this we see that he was vaccinated in both arms, and he returned 10 days later so that matter could be taken from his arm to inoculate future children. 

The registers note where the vaccination matter given to each patient was obtained. So, Child number 50 – Edward MacDonald’s son, vaccinated in July 17th 1801 – was vaccinated by matter taken from Child number 45 – John McLea’s daughter, vaccinated on July 6th and so this process of arm-to-arm vaccination continues. Failure is also reported throughout the early registers, and the vaccinators are very honest about the success of vaccination, with many cases being listed as "not succeeded." One such case was Jean McLea who, after failing to be vaccinated four times, was inoculated with small pox – highlighting that as vaccination became more popular, it did not eradicate the practice of inoculation and it was still considered to be a valuable form of preventative medicine at this time.

Vaccination Day 

"Vaccination Day" is a short animation telling the story of a young girl, Margaret MacDowall, receiving her first smallpox vaccination at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1839. Although the narrative itself is fictional, the animation was inspired by the vaccination registers held within the College's archives. The information contained in the registers has been interpreted to tell the vaccination story from a patient’s perspective.
The animation was created, produced and edited by Kirsty Earley, the College’s Digital Heritage and Engagement Officer. The story was written by Dr Kristin Hay, historian of sex, gender, medicine and oral history, and Tutor of Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow.