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A Moment in History

Self-portrait, Henry Vandyke Carter, MD (Public Domain)
Self-portrait, Henry Vandyke Carter, MD (Public Domain)

Henry Vandyke Carter, MD
(1831 – 1897)

English physician, surgeon, medical artist, and a pioneer in leprosy and mycetoma studies.  HV Carter was born in Yorkshire in 1831. He was the son of Henry Barlow Carter, a well-known artist and it is possible that he honed his natural talents with his father. His mother picked his middle name after a famous painter, Anthony Van Dyck. This is probably why his name is sometimes shown as Henry Van Dyke Carter, although the most common presentation of his middle name is Vandyke.

Having problems to finance his medical studies, HV Carter trained as an apothecary and later as an anatomical demonstrator at St. George’s Hospital in London, where he met Henry Gray (1872-1861), who was at the time the anatomical lecturer. Having seen the quality of HV Carter’s drawings, Henry Gray teamed with him to produce one of the most popular and longer-lived anatomy books in history: “Gray’s Anatomy”, which was first published in late 1857.  The book itself, about which many papers have been written, was immediately accepted and praised because of the clarity of the text as well as the incredible drawings of Henry Vandyke Carter.

While working on the book’s drawings, HV Carter continued his studies and received his MD in 1856.

In spite of initially being offered a co-authorship of the book, Dr. Carter was relegated to the position of illustrator by Henry Gray and never saw the royalties that the book could have generated for him. For all his work and dedication, Dr. Carter only received a one-time payment of 150 pounds. Dr.  Carter never worked again with Gray, who died of smallpox only a few years later.

Frustrated, Dr. Carter took the exams for the India Medical Service.  In 1858 he joined as an Assistant Surgeon and later became a professor of anatomy and physiology. Even later he served as a Civil Surgeon. During his tenure with the India Medical Service he attained the ranks of Surgeon, Surgeon-Major, Surgeon-Lieutenant-Colonel, and Brigade-Surgeon.

Dr. Carter dedicated the rest of his life to the study of leprosy, and other ailments typical of India at that time. He held several important offices, including that of Dean of the Medical School of the University of Bombay. In 1890, after his retirement, he was appointed Honorary Physician to the Queen.

Dr. Henry Vandyke Carter died of tuberculosis in 1897.

Personal note: Had history been different, this famous book would have been called “Gray and Carter’s Anatomy” and Dr. Carter never gone to India. His legacy is still seen in the images of the thousands of copies of “Gray’s Anatomy” throughout the world and the many reproductions of his work available on the Internet. We are proud to use some of his images in this blog. The image accompanying this article is a self-portrait of Dr. Carter. Click on the image for a larger depiction. Dr. Miranda

1. “Obituary: Henry Vandyke Carter” Br Med J (1897);1:1256-7
2. “The Anatomist: A True Story of ‘Gray’s Anatomy” Hayes W. (2007) USA: Ballantine
3. “A Glimpse of Our Past: Henry Gray’s Anatomy” Pearce, JMS. J Clin Anat (2009) 22:291–295
4. “Henry Gray and Henry Vandyke Carter: Creators of a famous textbook” Roberts S. J Med Biogr (2000) 8:206–212.
5. “Henry Vandyke Carter and his meritorious works in India” Tappa, DM et al. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol (2011) 77:101-3

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The Balmis expedition

This article is part of the series "A Moment in History" where we honor those who have contributed to the growth of medical knowledge in the areas of anatomy, medicine, surgery, and medical research.To search all the articles in this series, click here.

The Balmis Expedition (1803 -1806)  The “Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition”, otherwise known as the "Balmis expedition" is a little known chapter in the history of the eradication of smallpox from this world.

One of the unintended consequences of the Spanish invasion of the New World and the work of the “Conquistadores” was the introduction of smallpox to a virgin population. Other viruses were also introduced, so that between smallpox, measles, rubella, etc. it is said that in 1520 almost 50% of the population of Mexico died because of a biological infection.

Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823) discovered in 1796 that someone infected with cowpox would be protected against smallpox. The vaccine and the expansion of its use brought some relief to Europe, but the damage caused by smallpox in the Spanish colonies was catastrophic. Smallpox in its more virulent variety carried at the time a mortality rate close to 30%, leaving those who survived the virus with skin pockmarks or blinded for life. It is estimated that towards the end of the 18th century, 400,000 people died in Europe because of smallpox, and one third of the survivors were left blind.

 Don Francisco Javier de Balmis y Berenguer

A solution was needed, so in 1803 the Spanish king Carlos IV commissioned Don Francisco Javier de Balmis i Berenguer (1753 – 1819), a Spanish phyisician, to find a solution to the smallpox problem. While planning what was later to be known as the “Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition” Balmis received critical contributions from Don Antonio de Gimbernat y Arbós (of Gimbernat’s ligament).

The main problem to this expedition was that there was no refrigeration, and the vaccine production and storage as we know it today had not been invented. The procedure was simple: Inoculate the live virus of cowpox from someone who was infected with cowpox. The solution was brilliant. A group of 10 physicians and 25 orphaned children were recruited along with nurses, and having at least one infected child on board each ship, the expedition sailed on November 30, 1803. During the long voyage, child after child were sequentially infected with the smallpox virus so that four months later, on March 19, 1804, the expedition landed in Venezuela with a child with the virus.

From here, the same method was used to distribute the vaccine North and South, to cover all of the Spanish territories until 1810. The original expedition is known as the “Balmis expedition”, and Balmis returned to Spain in 1806. Other expeditions were named after other leaders (Salvany, Justiniano, Grajales y Bolaños, etc.) but all carried the original strain brought to the Americas by Balmis. Although the original 25 children were granted the title of “special children of the Spanish nation”, no one knows how many children were used in the end, or what was their eventual fate transplanted away from their homes.

The image in this article, courtesy of Wikipedia, is a bust found at the Medical College of the Miguel Hernandez University in San Juan de Alicante, Spain

1. “La viruela, aliado oculto en la conquista española” Sanchez-Silva, DJ. INFORMED 2007; 9 (12) 581-587
2. “La expedición de Balmis” Laval ER Rev Chil Infect 2003; 107-108
3. “Antonio de Gimbernat, 1734-1816” Matheson NM. Proc R Soc Med 1949; 42: 407-10.
4. “La vuelta al mundo de la expedición de la vacuna (1803-1810)” Diaz de Yraola, G. (2003)
5. “La segunda expedicion de Balmis” Tuells, J.; Duro-Torrijos, JL G Med Mex 2013 (149) 377-84

Original image courtesy of Wikipedia

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