the wall of a room in the National Portrait Gallery, London, Darwin and
Huxley watch from magnificent full-length portraits. But someone else is
watching. On the wall behind you is John Burdon Sanderson, the original
[This was circa 2000. Subsequently, while Darwin and Huxley remained, JBS was moved to make room for others. DRF 2011]
John Simon's Testimony (1865)
Third Report on The Cattle Plague (1866)
Appendix to Third Report (1866)
In introducing his "provisional hypothesis of pangenesis" as Part I of chapter 27 of his Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868) Darwin spoke of "the peculiar formative matter" (i.e. matter giving information) that was contained in male gametes and was needed for "the full development of the seed" and for "the vigour of the plant produced from such seed." He also noted that "the ovules and the male element have equal power of transmitting every single character possessed by either parent to their offspring." Furthermore, phenomena such as limb regeneration (vegetative propagation) suggested that "formative elements" were "not confined to the reproductive organs, but are present in the buds and cellular tissue of plants." Finally, he noted that "every character which occasionally reappears is present in a latent form in each generation."
In Part II he reiterated that
He proposed these "germs" were the "formative matter" which "consists of minute particles or gemmules." These units were smaller than cells, were capable of independent multiplication by "self-division," and were responsible for the generation of new organisms. Thus:
To support this, he cited the Third Report of the Royal Commission on the Cattle Plague, noting that:
Also likely to have been influenced by the Report was T. H. Huxley who, with Wilhelm Roux (Der Kampf der Teile im Organismus; 1881), anticipated modern ideas on "selfish genes," and wrote (1869):
An important contributor to the Report was Dr. Lionel S. Beale, who was himself critical of Darwin's pangenesis idea (Nature, May 11th, 1871). Another contributor was Dr. John Burdon Sanderson, (great uncle of J. B. S. Haldane), who inferred (1869) that "all contagia were probably colloidal substances" since, like his mentor Jean-Baptiste Chauveau (1868), he found that the activity in "liquids known to be infecting" (for rinderpest) did not diffuse through parchment paper. Sanderson's laboratory, associated with University College, London, later became a centre for researchers such as William Osler and George Romanes.
Chauveau, J-B. A. (1868) Nature du virus vaccin. Determination experimentale des elements qui constituent le principe actif de la serosite vaccinale virulente. C. R. Hebd. Seanc. Acad. Sci. Paris. 66, 289-293.
Romano, T. M. (2002) Making Medicine Scientific. John Burdon Sanderson and the Culture of Victorian Science. John Hopkins University Press.
Sanderson, J. B. (1869) Introductory Report on the Intimate Pathology of Contagion. Appendix to 12th Annual Report of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council.
In the 21st century we have foot and mouth disease and mad-cow disease. In the 19th century the problem was rinderpest or "steppe-murrain," a disease which is still a problem in some tropical regions. The slaughter policy which we follow today is the same as that which has been used for centuries. The Reports of the Cattle Plague Commissioners provide a fascinating insight into the workings of mid-nineteenth century science, and the beginnings of government-sponsored medical research, and suggest how Darwin derived the idea of fundamental character units ("gemmules," later named "pangens" by De Vries), which we now equate with "genes".
Note that "viruses" as the intracellular, minute, particulate, self-replicating, contagious (infective) agents we now know, were formally recognized decades after the Report was written. Yet, here the word "virus" is used to describe the agent responsible for the cattle plague! In much of the Report "virus" is used in the sense of "poison" without any implication as to the material nature of that poison. Yet, the distinction from poison is very clear in the mind of at least one of the scientists (William Crookes) whose reports appear in the Appendix to the main Report. Even hints or an intracellular location may be found in Lionel Beale's report.
Note also that John Simon senses that the agents responsible for "the contagion" are distinct species, to be thought of as originating in the same way as Darwin had proposed that the already-recognized species of animals and plants had originated.
For further historical background: Click Here
John Simon, Esq.,
Officer of the Privy Council, F.R.S., and Surgeon of St. Thomas's Hospital,)
otherwise stated, items in square brackets are comments by D. R. Forsdyke
944. (Mr. Lowe.) You are the medical officer of the Privy Council ? - Yes.
945. Are you prepared to give this Commission any information as to the subject of their inquiry? - I am afraid I must represent myself as one of the laity in respect to steppe-murrain. I cannot pretend to any special knowledge of cattle diseases. The interest I have taken in the present disease has of course been very great, both because of its pathological importance, and because of its importance to the country. But the kind of experience of the disease which skilled veterinarians ought to have I cannot pretend to possess.
What means have you taken to inform
yourself upon this subject;
it is not the first time, I believe, that it has come before you? - I have read much about it, and about a couple of years ago I had
occasion, as medical officer of the Privy Council, to look generally
into the question of cattle diseases. During the present epidemic I have
seen some of the sick beasts.
In the recent outbreak?
- Yes. I have also attended some of
the post-mortem examinations, and have done what I could, as a
looker on, to inform myself on the subject.
948. What do you consider to be the nature of the present disease among
cattle? - In medical language one would call it a
Is it identical with any type of disease with which you are
acquainted? - It is clearly, I believe, the steppe-murrain.
Do you entertain no doubt upon that?
- If, speaking
hypercritically, I might perhaps express a shade of qualification as to
minute differences, and say that there may be, from differences in the
breed of the cattle, and from differences in the climate, and so forth,
little differences in our English manifestation of the disease; but I
have no doubt, substantially, that the disease is steppe-murrain.
Have you formed any opinion as to the origin of the disease in this
country? - Proof on the point is now, I think, impossible. But
though I cannot prove that the disease was imported, I think there can
be no reasonable doubt upon the subject.
You do not believe that it is indigenous?
Will you state to the Commission why you believe that it has been
imported, and that it is not indigenous? - It had been out of the
country for 120 years, and I understand that the outbreak here followed
after this long interval the first direct communication in the way of
cattle traffic with Russia, where the disease is always present.
Have you any view as to the manner in which the disease has become
diffused over the country? - I suppose that among that
much-discussed cargo from Revel, and in that section of it which
afterwards travelled from Hull to London, there must have been a beast
or beasts in the incubatory stage, or with mere premonitory symptoms of
the disease, or with the disease in a very mild form, - that, in a
word, the Revel cargo was diseased, though not in a degree to attract
notice. I suppose that infection was thus brought into the London Cattle
Market, and it must have spread from there of course with immense
rapidity. Apparently it
first got into the London dairies, and the animals, as they fell ill,
were sent to the market, and each animal so sent to the market no doubt
infected swarms of others. Before the disease had made anything like its
present progress in the country, two well-known medical gentlemen,
members of my profession, and one of them employed by our office,
visited the Metropolitan Cattle Market to see what was going on, and
they counted on that occasion 20 animals in the different stages of the
disease, any one of which animals could have infected numberless others.
Will you give the names of those
- One was Dr.
William Budd of Bristol, and the other Dr. Thudichum.
That discovery alone would appear to be sufficient to account for
it? - It would be sufficient to account for any amount of
steppe-murrain you like. To have seen one animal there would
account for an unlimited diffusion of the disease, but they saw 20 in
one day. I mention this merely as an illustration of the enormous
facilities which must have existed for spreading the disease, when so
many as twenty well-springs of contagion could be counted in a
I gather from your evidence that you think the disease is
exceedingly contagious? - Yes.
Do you think it can be communicated in any other manner than by
contagion? - Do you mean by direct contact?
959. I mean what you understand by contagion, contact with a diseased
animal, not actual touching but coming within its influence, or within
reach of its exhalations; is it epidemic? - With similar human
diseases I do not know “epidemic” apart from “contagious.” I
believe steppe-murrain to be in the highest degree contagious,
and in the sense of being communicable from sick animals in various
direct and indirect ways.
960. Have you formed any opinion as to the possibility of curing the disease? - Those who have had the largest experiences of it, the Germans, particularly the Austrians and Prussians - and they are very accomplished veterinarians, I believe I may say the most accomplished in Europe, - they and the Russians have always failed in curing the disease; they have had no success against it whatever. It seems probable, I think, that they find themselves in the same position as we do in relation to the smallpox or scarlet fever, or typhus fever, or typhoid fever of the human subject. For these diseases we have, properly speaking, no cure. Our treatment is purely expectant, dietetic, and palliative. They may be bungled by bad treatment and be made worse, no doubt. But their nature is to run a certain course, which we have no means, at present, of arresting; and each of them, notwithstanding the most skilful and discreet management, will be attended with a certain fatality. The veterinarians are in a similar plight with regard to steppemurrain. They have no means of cutting it short. It runs its typical course in the diseased animal. Do what they will, the disease will have a very large fatality - so large a fatality, that the common opinion of the veterinarians of Germany and also of France, but especially those of Germany, seems to be that it is not worth while ever to treat it, and that it is better economy to kill the beasts.
Do you incline rather to that opinion?
As regards national
Have you considered the question of
material to healthy animals] with a view to cure?
- The continental experience, I believe, has uniformly been that there is no use in
inoculation. And the common objection must be remembered (which has been
held to be valid against human inoculation of smallpox), that
practitioners would diffuse the disease enormously by resorting to
You are aware, no doubt, of the present measures which have been
taken for the suppression of the disease by the Privy Council? - Generally I am.
Do you think that if matters are left to go on as they are going
on, we shall see the end of this disease soon? - Certainly not.
What do you anticipate will happen?
- We have not got
materials making a positive prognosis. It is not a matter in which one
can speak dogmatically of the future, but when the disease was here
before it prevailed for 10 or 12 years. I cannot expect that it will die
out; I do not know why it should. Smallpox came to us once as this
disease has now come to our cattle, and it has not died out; and the
same may be said of various other diseases which have not died out, and
I should not expect that it would in this case.
966. Do you consider the circumstances of the country, from being more
thickly populated and more fully stocked than it was a hundred years
ago, more unfavourable to getting rid of the disease? - I consider
the circumstances of the country, in the far greater facilities which
exist for communication from one part of the country to another, to be
far more favourable than the circumstances of the country a century ago
for the continuance of the disease.
You look upon it as a very serious matter?
- I look upon it as most serious.
968. Have you turned your attention to any remedy that might be devised?
- I can only pretend to speak from a medical point of view, and
there may be overwhelming objections on the part of the patient to the
particular remedy that is to be recommended. In many cases of human
disease, where eventually amputation must be resorted to, the patient
would not at first imagine the necessity for such an operation, and
would vehemently refuse his consent to it at those early stages where
yet his surgeon can plainly see what must come. And the surgeon
hesitates to speak till the patient feels the real pressure of the
disease. So it is here. I think I can see very clearly that no moderate
and popular means will stop this disease.
969. Can you tell this Commission, supposing we could do just as we
liked, what measures ought to be taken with a view to getting rid of
this disease? - First, absolutely to stop the movement of
- For a limited time absolutely, to stop the
movement of cattle, of course including importation. After the lapse
of a fortnight there would be no new cases of the disease, except in
places where the infection already was, and there the police of the
country must see it out, and see that the places be properly
What do you mean by “see it out;” do you mean that they should
kill the cattle, or let them die? – Probably at first it would be
almost a matter of indifference to the public which of those two courses was taken. But certainly after some time, when the
disease was getting comparatively rare, there might be great advantage -
that is, great economy of time, in killing off simultaneously
all the infected stocks.
How long would you suspend all movement of cattle?
- I should
think that three or four months would be sufficient, if the principle
were universally and rigidly acted on. Otherwise the process might be
For instance, would you not allow a cow to be sent to a bull in
order to propagate the breed? - Speaking generally, no. It might be
necessary, in working the plan in a district, to give to the authorities
who superintended it the power of making limited small exceptions in
certain cases, under strict guarantees against abuse and against
mischief; but speaking broadly there must be, if such a plan is to
attain its object, an absolute stoppage of the traffic in live cattle.
Of course I do not pretend to judge how far the police arrangements of
this country would permit that to be thoroughly well done, nor do I
pretend to judge what the cost of it would be. Doubtless it would be a
very serious matter for the country, but the evil is of enormous
magnitude, and I do not
Do you think that that single measure would be sufficient?
have no doubt that it would suffice,
975. If that should not be thought a practicable measure, it would be, in your view, the nearest approach to a remedy? - Yes.
You do not approve of killing the
cattle? - Certainly I do when
you are dealing with the disease in any well-defined small area, and when the killing can therefore
be a conclusive process; but when the
disease is diffused over the whole country, especially, if you continue
also to import, what is the use of
your killing? You are having an unlimited succession of new patients,
who, as fast as they land, take the
your killing? You are having an unlimited succession of new patients,
who, as fast as they land, take the
977. (Dr. Quain.)
Your impression is that
the disease is a
specific fever, and that it is contagious?
978. And probably it is now of less importance to trace its origin than to deal with it as an established fact? - Far less; the question of origin is now a question of historical interest.
979. Even if this Commission should fail to trace out the origin of the
present disease, you are satisfied that it could not arise endemically, or generate itself here? - I
should not wish to pronounce on what is
possible and what is impossible in this matter. But, with the permission
of the Commissioners, I will read from my
possible and what is impossible in this matter. But, with the permission of the Commissioners, I will read from mySixth Report, as Medical Officer of the Privy Council, a passage (pp. 52-53) which, though written about human disease, applies, I think, to the present question :
980. With regard to the knowledge possessed on the pathology and treatment of the disease, is that sufficient as recorded, or is it desirable that this Commission should institute careful inquiries into the subject? - I think it would be much to be regretted if so excellent an opportunity as offers itself should be lost without a scientific investigation of the disease. I may say that at the moment when the Commission was determined upon, it was under consideration in the Council Office to undertake some such inquiry. Of course, however, your object is to stop the disease, and I believe it will be easier to stop it than to understand it.
981. You have suggested, with a view to stopping the disease, that the movement of cattle should be prevented; do you think there would be any risk in the carriage of dead meat? - Precautions would be of course necessary. If meat were killed in a steppemurrain slaughter-house, and carcases were sent out with dung adhering to them, that would no doubt propagate the disease; but with decent precautions I think there need be no fear upon this head.
982. Having arrested the disease by forbidding the movement of cattle in the country, how would you prevent its recurrence by the importation of cattle hereafter; would you recommend that there should be a period of quarantine, or a system of inspection? - Quarantine, I imagine, is pretty nearly impossible in this country; but there ought to be no traffic whatsoever with the countries in which the steppemurrain prevails. I apprehend that a fortnight's quarantine would be, practically speaking, impossible; and even if it were not impossible, it might not be a sufficient precaution to answer the purpose. We know that human quarantines do not answer very well.
It might be very difficult to ascertain the existence of
steppe-murrain abroad so satisfactorily as absolutely to exclude
cattle from the regions where it existed; would it not therefore be
safer to have the cattle landed in this country, incurring the
expense of keeping them for a fortnight under quarantine before they
were scattered through the country? - I can hardly conceive a case
in which it would be prudent to export cattle from Russia, with or
It is now prevailing in Holland and Belgium and Hungary?
- Yes. If it is indispensable to import from a country in which the
disease is present, quarantine may be necessary. But in any such case,
the importation of dead meat rather than of live meat would be
preferable, I should think.
985. (Viscount Cranborne.)
You would forbid altogether the
importation of foreign cattle during the period when the movement of
cattle has been forbidden?
- I would either forbid it
altogether, or I would have them slaughtered at the point where they
were landed, and surround that place with a variety of lazaret-precautions.
It has been stated in evidence that a large proportion of the
cattle are now foreign, and considering the effect which the
withdrawal of such a number would have upon the food of the population,
would it not be better that there should be precautions taken at the
Metropolitan Market, and that the animals should be slaughtered there,
rather than forbid importation altogether? - The Commissioners, of
course, will have infinitely better suggestions made to them than I am
able to offer as to whether dead meat should not be imported rather than
cattle; - whether, namely, the cattle might not be killed
on the other side of the water; if practicable, I think that would be
the better course; but, failing that, I should say that slaughtering
cattle in the Metropolitan Market ought, if possible, to be avoided,
and that it would be better to have special slaughtering places
established at a distance from the centre of population.
At some isolated place?
- Yes, some place down the river.
988. You have discouraged the application to this country of a plan which has been called the stamping out of the disease; should you extend your disapproval to the case of Ireland? - In Ireland I think there is every opportunity - at least I should hope there is - of “stamping out” the disease, if it should arrive there. I am not aware whether it has or not; but assuming that it has not, and supposing that great vigilance were used, and of course under existing circumstances it is used in Ireland, the first beginnings of the disease would be seen, and then I think it might probably be “stamped out.”
989. You think that a cordon might be established, and the animals within that cordon might be killed? - I should think so. There might, however, be difficulties that I cannot foresee, for I do not know the circumstances of the trade in Ireland. If there is a Dublin cattle market, and if the first importations had been to the cattle market, perhaps a number of animals would have been infected, and it might be a month afterwards before the Irish Government would know the extent of the mischief in the country, and by that time it might be difficult for the Government to “stamp it out.”
990. Have you formed any opinion as to the period of incubation of the disease? - It varies, I believe, according to the mode of the introduction of the poison; where the disease is inoculated I believe it is four or five days, but where it is caught in the usual manner I believe it is from about eight to ten days.
Would you say 10 days as the outside limit?
- No; for, practical purposes; I should be reluctant to say anything under 14
You spoke as a matter of policy of the
advisability for the
future of not importing cattle from any countries where the Rinderpest
existed? - Yes.
993. It has been stated in evidence that it is frequently to be found in Hungary, and that Hungarian cattle are constantly coming across through the German ports. Would you extend your prohibition to those German ports? - No, usually not, for I believe the German authorities are very wide awake as to the danger of Rinderpest; it has been the tradition of this country for a long while that our safety, as indirect importers from Russia, has depended upon the vigilance of the authorities in Prussia and Austria, and the steps they have taken against the disease; and although Austria may tolerate a certain amount of steppe-murrain in Hungary, the authorities become very active indeed when there is any extension of it beyond the remoter parts of the province.
Do you know what precautions are adopted, and whether they are
extended to the cattle trucks passing through - that is, to the
through traffic of Prussia and Austria, as well as to the local traffic?
- I do not know.
It has been stated in evidence that the most extreme precautions
are used with regard to cattle that are to be brought into the country;
but you cannot state whether the cattle that are carried through are
inspected with equal care? - No, I cannot.
996. (Dr. Parkes.)
Do you think that any effect has been produced
on the public health by the use of meat which has been obtained from
beasts that have suffered from Rinderpest?
- I have seen no
evidence of it.
997. Or from the use of the milk? - I have had no evidence of it. Such book-information as I have would lead me to suppose that it is not likely to be a matter of much importance. From Professor Brucke, of Vienna, two years ago, I learnt that during a recent epidemic of steppe-murrain in Bohemia, the authorities, according to their practice, had the diseased animals slaughtered and buried; but that, as fast as the beasts were slaughtered and buried, the populace dug them up and ate them, and that they were none the worse for it. That is not a tradition, but is on the authority of Professor Brucke, of Vienna, who is a very great light in medicine, a great physiologist. Then in the French accounts of this subject (for instance, in Levy's Traite d'Hygiene) there will be found plenty of cases referred to, in which the meat has been extensively eaten without doing any evident injury to the public health.
But no case of that kind has been brought to your notice?
Would you suggest that the diseased animals after being killed
should be buried, or after what you have stated why should not the meat
be used for food and the hides preserved? – It would certainly lessen
the inducement to rid the country of the disease if the meat were to be
Looking at the enormous loss to the country of every beast that is
affected with Rinderpest, if it can be shown that the meat when consumed
has no injurious effects, it would seem to be rather a needless waste to
bury it all? - It would be difficult, I think, to prove to public
satisfaction that the meat has no injurious effects. On present negative
evidence, I would not go so far as to say that. I would only say that I
am not aware of any case in which ill effects have arisen, and that
sudden and obvious ill effects certainly do not arise. So far as that I
would go; but I cannot answer for what may be, after a time, the effect
of a continued course of steppe-murrain beef.
Do you know the signs in the muscles by which the disease can be
recognized after death? Dr. Buchanan mentioned to me some time ago
that he had found in the muscles the same change as that which Professor
Zenker made us acquainted with in the morbid anatomy of typhoid fever.
Have any reports been made to you as to the use of disinfectants
in preventing the spread of the disease in any way, or upon what data
did Dr. Thudichum found his memoranda upon this subject? - He
founded them upon his own chemical knowledge, and upon the German
regulations and experience during the many years in which the disease
has been watched by the Governments of that country.
In speaking of the shade of doubt which you have in your mind as
to the identity of this disease with Rinderpest, I presume you entertain
no real doubt? - Not at all.
It has assumed in different epidemics rather different characters,
has it not? - Yes, and it is partly with reference to this
question that I was anxious at our office to have a long course of postmortem
examinations of the cattle; they have not been made, but the
post-mortem appearances in the cases which I have seen have varied
a little. For instance, in most of the cases that I saw, there was
considerably more affection of the third stomach than appears to be
general, according to the German reports. Those claret-coloured
patches, and eventually sloughs, that form there, sometimes to a most
striking extent, seem to have been more frequent here, as far as I could
judge from what I saw.
Have you not, in any cases which have been brought before you,
found any additional evidence as to the comparative contagious
properties of the discharges from the respiratory and digestive organs?
- I have had no opportunity of doing so.
1006. (Mr. Read.)
You stated that this disease was brought into
the London market; have you had any evidence to prove that?
I said that I believed so.
Can you give us the date of Dr. Budd's inspection?
cannot give it you at this moment, but I could perhaps get it for you,
for I immediately wrote a note to the Council Office to inform them of
the fact. [It was Sept. 7th [square parentheses in original
I suppose it was not before the Markets Committee were aware of
the disease existing in the market? - No; it was long after; it
was when the disease was a matter of the most common notoriety, and in
the midst of the public excitement about it.
We have it in evidence that on the 10th of July 200 diseased cows
were in the market, and that the Market Committee knew nothing of it
until the 26th or 28th of July; your information was received
subsequently to that? - At all events it was when the country was
well aware that the disease existed.
If imported fat cattle were killed at the outports I presume
there would be no danger of spreading the disease from the meat? - I think not.
Even although the animals were infected with Rinderpest at the
time, or that they had the germ of the disease in them? - Such a
slaughtering establishment ought, I think, to be treated with quarantine
precautions, and ought to be regarded as a sort of lazaretto.
1012. (Mr. Ceely.)
I think you look upon the dead flesh of
diseased animals as objectionable to be eaten, and very objectionable to
be carried about. Might it not be a source of infection?
cannot say that it might not be, but I have no facts within my own
knowledge upon the subject.
Would there not be great probability of its being a source of
infection? - Undoubtedly it would be best to be on the safe side.
1014. (Dr. Quain.)
If these cattle were killed, would not the
persons who killed them themselves become the means of communicating the
- Of course they might.
1015. (Mr. Ceely.)
Supposing the cattle to be diseased and
slaughtered, to eat the meat might be harmless, but it might not be
harmless to carry out such a system?
- That is quite possible. The
anxiety of the cattle owners to get rid of the disease, their motive to
do so, would be greatly lessened if they could always sell their meat.
Have you seen several post-mortems?
Do you or not look upon the affection of the mucous membranes as
inflammatory? - I think it is inflammatory.
Have you seen many ulcerations?
- Yes; but where there have
not been ulcerations, I think the diffused catarrhal state of the mucous
membrane has been sufficient sign of inflammation.
1019. (Dr. Quain.)
Does it more resemble
influenza in the human
subject than typhus fever - its depressing influence and the
- It can hardly be said to resemble typhus
fever. It perhaps has more affinity with typhoid fever, more affinity in
so far as it is eminently, though not exclusively, a
It resembles that more than influenza?
- I think so.
1021. (Mr. Ceely.)
Judging from your reading and your knowledge
of the Rinderpest as it occurs in Galicia and in Russia, you think that
the present outbreak in this country resembles it?
- I think so; I
think it is substantially the same disease, with possibly some minute
shades of difference, but the same disease; I have no doubt of it. The
communicability of the disease to sheep is a striking fact in the same
direction. In Germany, that fact has been well established by all sorts
of observations, including inoculation and experiments. And now that
experience has been repeated in this country by observations as to
the communicability of the disease to sheep.
1022. (Dr. Quain.)
Has any information been
obtained as to its
communicability to other animals?
- Yes, as to goats.
And to horses or buffaloes?
- To buffaloes I should suppose
it to be communicable; but I have no definite knowledge of the fact.
1024. (Mr. Read.)
And to all ruminating animals?
1025. (Mr. Ceely.)
Have you seen any sheep that were affected?
- No, I have not been able to go to see any.
1026. (Mr. Wormald.) Do you believe that if the flesh of an
animal having this disease were salted and kept for some considerable
tune, say, a fortnight or three weeks, it would be as likely to
communicate the disease as fresh flesh? - I suppose that if you
could disembody the contagiurn of the disease, and put it in salt and
water, at the end of three weeks it would be inert; but I have no
knowledge on that subject.
1027. (Dr. Playfair.)
Have there not been instances of human
plagues and human diseases which have frequently visited this country,
but which now no longer visit it?
To what, generally, do you attribute the fact that although these
plagues exist in other parts of the world, they do not take root in this
country? - The question is a difficult but enormously interesting one.
I suppose that the fact in its full import cannot be otherwise explained
than by supposing that there are great cyclical differences of chemistry
on the surface of the earth.
Do you not think it a fact that the
improvement of our hygienic
and social habits has had very much to do with preventing plagues coming
into this country? - I do not think that the difference must be
attributed entirely to that.
But very largely so?
- Largely, perhaps, but not
exclusively. Epidemics, after periods of absence, return without any
ostensible deterioration in common sanitary circumstances. For instance,
let this be observed with regard to diphtheria: three centuries ago
there was diphtheria throughout Europe; and then it was lost sight of
for a long while; then in the middle of the last century there was
diphtheria again: it prevailed considerably in England, and after a
while sank again to nothing; but now, after an interval of a century, we
have had it severely again.
1031. You, as a sanitary officer, in combating diseases coming to this country, attach, I presume, great importance to the improvement of the hygienic conditions of the population? - Yes, certainly, but not indiscriminately. I have no present hope that by any sanitary measure - speaking in the common sense of the word, that is to say, by any nuisance removal measures, one could get rid of smallpox. I do not know what may have been the first rise of smallpox, but I dare not suggest that by any amount of soap and water and drainage you can prevent smallpox in this country. I would beg leave, in this connexion, to quote a passage from my first Annual Report.
But plague was a disease of the kind that we are dealing with just
now; it could be inoculated, and now it does not exist in this country;
but what I want to arrive at is this: is it not important, in the
present state of alarm, to effect every possible improvement in the
sanitary arrangements made for the stalling of animals? - Certainly; that would be an unqualified gain.
With regard to many other diseases, quite independent of
Rinderpest? - Yes; I have no doubt that it would be an unqualified
gain. But it would not do to promise that measures of that kind would
make any difference in the existence of steppemurrain. I suppose that
the Russian steppes are very well ventilated, and yet the disease has
its home, if not its birth-place, there.
But the animals may be badly used and fed in their long marches?
And may be over driven?
There must be certain conditions under which the bodies of animals
receive the contagion as well as the contagion of the virus?
1037. Ought we not therefore to endeavour to bring the bodies of the animals into such a condition as to render them not susceptible of the contagion? - That would be most desirable indeed. But you cannot hope, I think, to do more in the matter of cows than we have done in the matter of men. And thick how powerless we are to make people insusceptible of scarlet fever, or of smallpox, or of cholera, if they are to be exposed to the specific cause. We cannot do it.
1038. But you make people much less susceptible of typhus fever if you put them in well-ventilated and well-drained houses, although the typhus is there; it attacks ill-ventilated and badly-drained dwellings where there is a badly-fed population? - You, perhaps, do not render the people less susceptible of the cause, but you certainly reader the cause less powerful.
1039. And when you have placed them in better hygienic conditions,
typhus fever does not attack them? - If you had a cow living under
model hygienic conditions, but pricked its skin with a lancet charged
with the steppe-murrain virus, all the
excellence of its
hygienic conditions would not preserve it.
Was not that exactly the experience obtained from the plague when
it existed in this country, that it attacked the well-conditioned
as well as the ill-conditioned, but after improvements were made in
the condition of the population it vanished altogether? Typhus, you
know, attacks the physician of the Fever Hospital as much as it attacks
the poor people who are brought to the hospital.
1041. Certainly, when the virus is once established; and what I wish to know from you is whether we might not get into such a condition that the viral will not establish itself? - No doubt that would be most desirable. But, for much prospect of success, if success be in any way attainable, you must, I apprehend, begin at the fountain head of the disease on the other side of Europe.
1042. Are you aware that in 1745 and 1865 the disease on both occasions spread from the dairies and Metropolitan Market of London? - Yes. And I suppose there cannot be difference of opinion upon the point that London is a most undesirable place for dairies, if, as I suppose, the milk could be brought in from the country.
In proposing to stop the movement of cattle, you spoke in a
medical sense, and not with reference to whether it was practicable or
not? - Yes.
You think it would be desirable? –
Yes. There is no hope, I
should think, medically speaking, of stopping the disease unless that is
done. That the disease may spontaneously die out is possible, and I
cannot say that it will not do so. But it went on for 12 years before.
1045. Are you aware of Professor Roll’s opinion in Vienna, that there are always epidemic conditions in the atmosphere when such a plague becomes general; he states that it is for many years on the Polish frontier without entering Austria until certain diseases appear both amongst the cattle and men, and then it becomes general. He is strongly of opinion that mere contagion will not spread it rapidly, unless the country is at the time susceptible to disease generally? - There is no doubt that the rapidity with which a contagious disease spreads in a country does vary according to external or (as I may say for want of a better word) atmospheric circumstances: there is no doubt of that. We see, in our human epidemics, that smallpox kills a great many more people in one year than it does in another, and scarlet fever in the same way. Starting from a minimum year of scarlet fever, there will be a gradual increase of the disease for several years, and at last a maximum year of perhaps enormous fatality, three or four or five times as much as in the minimum year, and then the disease will gradually fall down again to its original minimum; - the contagion meanwhile being always present in the country.
1046. When you stated that you thought that this disease might be domiciled here, like typhus fever or smallpox, you are aware that there have been repeated outbursts of it in almost all other countries in Europe, and that it has been put down? - It has been put down by a minutely organized system of police, and a system of merciless slaughtering with compensation.
1047. It appears that in the last great epidemic in Austria in 1861-62, 296,000 were attacked, 143,000 recovered, 152,000 died, and only 1,537 were killed. A Prussian professor, who was examined before the Commission yesterday, stated that the slaughtering only takes place when the number is small, and that when the number is larger, they do not attempt to slaughter? - But they have cordons, of course.
Always; you would perhaps think it
desirable for the
Commissioners to obtain the experience of foreign authorities with
regard to inoculation? - Certainly; it is on record, and the
Commission could easily have it; but I cannot conceive that under any
circumstances inoculation will be desirable for adoption here.
1049. (Mr. Lowe.)
It has been stated that cows were almost
exclusively the animals that were attacked in London; can you suggest
any way of accounting for that?
- Simply perhaps that they were
the only bovine animals resident in London.
No; they were not exclusively cows at the market?
- But the
other animals are not kept in London. They migrate through London, or
are at once slaughtered in it. Cows (in use for milk) are the only
You have spoken of the
abroad as to the cattle plague. Do you believe that foreign physicians
and medical men have treated many cases with a view to curing them?
I believe that to a very large extent, and from time immemorial, the
physicians of Prussia and Austria have been waging war against this
disease, by all sorts of means, on the eastern frontier.
Have any returns been made to the Privy Council Office which will
show the extent of the disease now in England? - My colleagues may
have had such returns, but I have not been dealing officially with the
disease. I have been acting merely as all amateur.
You have spoken of its being desirable to prohibit almost entirely
the importation of cattle from Russia; would you extend that to Northern
Russia as well as to Southern Russia? - I think so. I do not see
why not, for unless there were a very vigilant system of internal
quarantine in Russia, the extension would be indispensable to our
Do you not think that that internal
quarantine is enforced
there? - I am not thoroughly informed upon the subject.
Your recommendation as to preventing the removal of cattle would
apply, I presume, also to sheep? - To some extent, certainly.
Do you consider that sheep might
communicate the disease? - Sheep undoubtedly communicate the disease to one another,
although in a less degree, in a considerably less degree, I believe,
than oxen. And moreover they also (which is a very important matter)
communicate the disease to oxen.
Have you any account at the Privy Council Office as to the means
taken on former occasions in order to prevent the spread of the disease?
- No doubt the Privy Council possesses information on the subject,
but I am hardly able to speak to that; my work is under a special Act of
Parliament, and the work that is done in relation to cattle diseases has
been done under another Act of Parliament.
1058. (Dr. Quain.) Is there any other matter to which you wish to
direct the attention of the Commission? - Perhaps I may mention
one matter that occurs to me. I think it would be very useful if, when
the Commission makes its final recommendations, it could suggest some
plan for promoting the cultivation of veterinary medicine in its
highest degree in this country. I believe that the number of highly
educated veterinary practitioners in this country is not large; and the
state of the science altogether in this country, I imagine, is not as
satisfactory as it might be. But means could be devised to develop it.
And if I were to mention an expedient which occurs to me, it would be
something of this sort, - that some few hundred pounds should be
allowed annually to the University of London, to be spent on the
of examinations for honours in veterinary medicine; when the candidates
should be required to show themselves thoroughly proficient in common
physiology and pathology; - proficient, I mean, up to a degree
that would earn them honours in physiology and pathology, if they were
candidates in human (instead of veterinary) medicine; so that the
honours should represent considerable scientific acquirement; and the
candidates should also have to show proficiency in the scholarship of
veterinary medicine, beyond the degree which is required for an ordinary
pass examination at the Veterinary College. A thousand pounds spent
in that way every year would, I think, do a great deal towards improving
the study of veterinary medicine in this country.
1059. (Professor Spooner.)
Are you not aware that the students
are examined in physiology and pathology by a member of the University
- I am.
1060. (Dr. Parkes.)
It has been supposed, I believe, that the
rinderpest was introduced into Upper Hungary a few years ago by oxen
that were apparently healthy?
1061. In reading, have you met with any instances of that kind, that beasts apparently healthy, and which remained healthy, were the means of introducing the disease? - Passing from beasts to men, we constantly see in our practice that the physician carries home scarlet fever to his children without taking it himself, - carrying the infection in his dress, or about his person.
1062. How can we prevent merely by inspection the spread of the disease?
- By any system of single inspection (as apart from prolonged
quarantine observation) you cannot do so. I suppose that the cattle
which brought the disease into this country (if they did bring it, as I
believe they did) were incubating the disease. I do not suppose that
they were evidently [obviously]
suffering from steppe-murrain, but that they
were apparently healthy.
The witness withdrew.
Adjourned till tomorrow, 12 o'clock.
Third Report on the Cattle Plague 1866 (click here)
Appendix to Third Report 1866 (click here)
AMS listing: Events in 19th Century Microbiology (click here)
Return to AIDS Page (click here)
Return to Evolution Page (click here)
Return to HomePage (click here)
Posted here circa 2001 and last edited 15 Sep 2011 by D. R. Forsdyke