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(46) Vaccination in Bengal, mode of inoculating in use among the Brahmins, and among the Pahariyas [[212-218]]

[[212]] It was expected that vaccination would have made such a powerful impression on the Hindoos, that they would eagerly have embraced a preventive arising from that animal held so sacred by their whole sect. Yet it was found extremely difficult to induce the Bramins to adopt a practice obviously so beneficial to mankind, even though it augmented the reputation of their idol. Those who were sanguine in their expectations that vaccination would instantly be adopted among the Hindoos at large, had entirely forgot that the people did not possess the smallest liberty, either of conscience or of conduct.

They forgot that the priesthood possessed the most arbitrary power over the minds of their peaceful and timid disciples; that [[213]] the practice of inoculation was prescriptively confined to that priesthood; and that notwithstanding the veneration in which the cow was held among them, a serious objection existed, unless the matter [=pus] were taken from a Hindoo of the highest cast.

The vaccine inoculation was effected with great difficulty in India. A great number of experiments failed, chiefly owing to the virus having been destroyed on the way from Constantinople, whence matter was repeatedly forwarded by Lord Elgin to Dr. Short, at Bagdad. A whole year passed under the most mortifying disappointments; but in June 1802, a successful inoculation was made at Bombay, on a healthy child about three years of age; which furnished a supply for every part of India. By shipping several children who had never experienced the variolous inoculation, a succession of subjects was happily secured, which enabled Dr. Anderson to transmit the blessings afforded by this mitigated disease, even to Port Jackson.

It was most difficult to be always provided with a succession of infective matter; as the virus, being highly volatile, often escaped in conveying the pus from one house to another. This, added to the necessity of forming some depot, and establishing certain principles necessary to the desired success, caused the Governor-General to nominate Mr. Willian Russell, of the Bengal Medical List, whose abilities and zeal peculiarly qualified him, for the important situation of Superintendant of the Vaccine Institution. A series of [episodes of] ill health, which ultimately compelled that gentleman to return to Europe, caused the records of the first months to be somewhat inaccurate, notwithstanding every exertion on his part. His assiduity, however, enabled him to register almost every child born of European parents at that time in the settlement, [[214]] among those who received this benign and inoffensive substitute for the most loathsome and fatal disease that ever afflicted the human race.

Besides these exertions at the Presidency, several of the surgeons attached to the civil stations, and to divisions of the army serving at great distances and in various directions, interested themselves to promulgate the happy issue of the attempts made by Mr. Russell, and his successor Mr. Shoolbred, Surgeon to the Native Hospital. Yet notwithstanding such excellent precautions, the matter was at times very nearly extinct. More than once, the establishments at the several country stations were quite destitute, and obliged to obtain a fresh supply from the Presidency. Yet during the first eighteen months, no less than 11,166 were vaccinated; a fact of great importance, since in India at least one in sixty have died under inoculation with the small pox.

About the year 1787, an order had been issued that all the European soldiers in the Company's service who bore no marks of having had the disease, should be inoculated, and be lodged in the Artillery Hospital at Dum Dum. A few years after (the former operation having proved highly successful), the order was repeated; the result was, however, very unfavourable; as full one-sixth of the patients were carried off. It is to be hoped that in due time, when the natives at large may be thoroughly convinced of the security afforded by vaccination, the small-pox will be but little known. Its communication by insertion is now very strictly prohibited in Calcutta and its neighbourhood. This, no doubt, tended to weaken the influence of the Bramins, who are interested in variolous inoculations, and to advance the progress of vaccination, which is now very flourishing.

It is singular that at the very moment when the Bramins [[215]] were endeavouring to depreciate, or rather to explode, vaccination, there started up among them a claim to the knowledge and practice of it at Bareilly, where inoculation was almost unknown. An attempt was made to prove, from a copy of a very ancient Sanscrit book, entitled Sud'has Angraha, written by a physician whose name was Mahadeva, that vaccination was practised in India many centuries ago. Yet in other copies of the work, the passage quoted from that produced at Bareilly was wanting. This, added to other circumstances, rendered the tale doubtful, and led to such an investigation as proved the imposition.

It is, however, to be regretted that the deception was discovered; since nothing could have aided the views of government better than such an ancient authority, to the practice as formerly common in Hindostan.

Williamson 1810 vol. 1: ((473)) We were certainly wrong in publishing that refutation, which deprived us of the best weapon we could have employed for the extension ((474)) of our pursuit. In lieu of decrying the work in question as an impudent forgery, interpolated into a Sanscrit-boo, by one of those frauds so commonly, and so dexterously, committed by the Hindu literati, for the purpose of supporting the claims of the Bramins to the prior possession of all kinds of science, we ought to have assented fully to that imposition; allowing the priests to enjoy the supposed antiquity of their knowledge, and contenting ourselves with the contemplation of those immense benefits produced by the concurrence in, or adoption of, our practice, by those infatuated foster-fathers. But the struggle for reputation caused us to quit our hold, in the most impolitic and thoughtless manner!

It may gratify the reader to know the manner in which the Bramins, or Hindoo priests, who are the only persons of that sect allowed to inoculate, perform the operation. The following extract from Mr. Shoolbred's treatise shews that no alteration has taken place since Mr. Holwell, from whom Mr. S. quotes, gave the public an account of their practice, viz.

"Inoculation is performed in Hindoostan by a particular tribe of Bramins, who are delegated annually for this service, from the different colleges of Bindoobund, Allahabas, Benares, &c., over all the distant provinces. Dividing themselves into small parties of three or four each, they plan their travelling circuits in such wise as to arrive at the places of their respective destinations some weeks before the usual return of the disease. They arrive commonly in the Bengal provinces early in February; although in some years, they do not begin to inoculate before March, deferring it until they consider the [[216]] state of the season, and acquire information of the state of the distemper. 

The inhabitants of Bengal, knowing the usual time when the inoculating Bramins annually return, observe strictly the regimen enjoined, whether they determine to be inoculated or not: this precaution consists only in abstaining for a month from fish, milk, and ghee (a kind of butter, made generally from buffalo's milk). The prohibition of fish relates only to the native Portuguese and Mahomedans, who abound in every province of the empire. When the Bramins begin to inoculate, they pass from house to house and operate at the door, refusing to inoculate any who have not, on a strict scrutiny, duly observed the preparatory course enjoined them.

It is no uncommon thing for them to ask the parent how many pocks they choose the children should have. They inoculate indifferently on any part, but if left to their choice, they prefer the outside of the arm, midway between the wrist and the elbow, and the shouldders of females. Previous to the operation, the Bramin takes a piece of cloth in his hand (which, if the family is opulent, becomes his perquisite) and with it gives a dry friction on the part intended for inoculation, for the space of eight or ten minutes; then, with a small instrument, he wounds by many slight touches, about the compass of a silver groat, just causing the smallest appearance of blood.

Then opening a double linen rag, which he always keeps in a cloth round his waist, he thence takes a small pledget of cotton, charged with the variolous matter, which he moistens with two or three drops of the Ganges water, and applies to the wound; fixing it on with a slight bandage, and ordering it to remain on for six hours without being moved: the bandage is after that time taken off, but the pledget remains until it falls off of itself. The cotton, which he preserves in a double calico [[217]] rag, is saturated with matter from the inoculated pustules of the preceding year; for they never inoculate with fresh matter, nor with matter from the disease caught in the natural way, however distinct and mild the species.

Early in the morning succeeding the operation, four pots, containing about two gallons each, of cold water, are ordered to be thrown over the patient from the head downwards, and to be repeated every morning and evening, until the fever comes on, which usually is about the close of the sixth day from the inoculation, then to desist until the appearance of the eruption (about three days), and afterwards to pursue the cold bathing, as before, through the course of the disease, and until the scabs of the pustules drop off. They are ordered to open all the pustules with a sharp-pointed thorn, so soon as they begin to change their colour, and whilst the matter continues in a fluid state. Confinement to the house is absolutely forbidden; and the inoculated are to be exposed to every air that blows; the utmost indulgence they are allowed, when the fever comes on, is, to be laid on a mat at the door.

Their regimen is to consist of all the refrigerating things the climate and the season produce: as plantains, sugar-canes, water-melons, rice, gruel made of white poppy seeds, and cold water, or thin rice gruel, for their ordinary drink. These instructions being given, and an injunction laid on the patients to make a thanksgiving (poojah) or offering to the goddess on their recovery, the operator takes his fee, which from a poor person, is a punn of cowries (in number eighty, and in value about a half-penny), and goes on to another door, down one side of the street, and up the other; and is thus employed from morning till night, inoculating sometimes eight or ten in a house."

Mr. Shoolbred observes, on the authority of Mr. Glass, the surgeon at Boglepore, that in that district, inoculation [[218]] is performed by the lowest casts. This is certainly true among the Pahariahs, or Hill people, inhabiting that mountainous country lying between Boglepore and Nagpore. There, inoculation is performed in a very rough manner, merely by means of a blunt instrument, which with some labour to the operator, and abundance of pain to the patient, is made to draw blood; the matter is then rubbed in with the finger. These same Pahariahs perform other surgical operations in the rudest way, but with most extraordinary success.

It is curious that among the D'hangahs (who appear to be the aborigines of Tamar, Chittrah, Puchate) very few instances are to be found, in proportion to the bulk of their population, of persons marked with the small-pox. This may probably be attributed entirely to the simplicity of their manner of living; plain rice, with a few vegetables, stewed, much the same as for a curry, but without its various spices, comprising their ordinary bill of fare. It cannot be owing to the climate, which is peculiarly unhealthy.


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