IN the 20th century, nine members of the veterinary profession were elected for Fellowship of the Royal Society. Each had distinguished themselves by breaking new ground in science and significantly advancing knowledge. We have already reviewed five of these honoured men and now look at the remaining four.
Sir William Henderson, one of the two Fellows who were also knighted for their work, qualified from the Dick School in 1935. He taught for a while but having tasted laboratory work in 1938 joined the staff of the Pirbright Animal Virus Research Institute where he remained for 17 years. He then became the director of the PanAmerica Health Organisation Foot-andmouth Disease Centre in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he remained until 1965.
Henderson had devoted 27 years almost entirely to the study of the foot-and-mouth disease virus and to methods of eradicating the disease. He demonstrated his ability as a research worker in typing field strains of virus, developing methods of potency assay and making the first steps towards developing vaccines and then in South America introducing practical measures to control the disease.
Returning to Britain he became director of the Compton Animal Disease Research Institute and invigorated it; he was then appointed secretary of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and later president of the Zoological Society of London. In 1976 he was both knighted and elected FRS.
H. Williams Smith qualified from the Royal Veterinary College in 1941. After a while in practice he joined the Veterinary Investigation Officer Service, which started an interest in bovine staphylococcal mastitis. This provided the challenge for his life’s work: he studied staphylococci and developed a new technique for their typing.
Joining the Animal Health Trust (AHT) as a bacteriologist in 1949, he initially worked on salmonella in poultry, then moving to “scouring” in pigs and cattle at the time of the developing interest in the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance, and later transferable drug resistance.
This led to his work on a range of bacterial problems including transmissible plasmids and salmonella control.
When his official working life ended in 1984 he obtained a Wellcome Trust grant and the AHT provided a laboratory, where he continued his work. A most prodigious, orderly and precise worker, his favourite aphorism was “chance favours the prepared mind”.
A modest man, he had no time for “cant, hypocrisy, humbug or pomposity but a passion for human rights and justice”. He was elected FRS in 1980 for his notable contributions to knowledge on the bacteriology of the alimentary tract of domestic animals.
William Jarrett, who graduated from Glasgow Veterinary School in 1949, was one of the promising young scientists recruited by Professor Sir William Weipers when selecting people to staff the restructured Glasgow School. He remained there for the whole of his working life until retirement in 1991.
Jarrett initially joined the interdisciplinary team investigating parasitic bronchitis (“husk”) in calves and played a major role in the discovery of an effective vaccine to prevent the problem. He then moved into a broad field, working for a while on East Coast Fever in Kenya and then feline lymphoma where he elucidated the retrovirus origin.
His group developed effective diagnostics and vaccines. The work was recognised by human cancer workers resulting in Jarrett visiting the USA for a while on the virus causation project which subsequently investigated the problem of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), helping to drive the AIDS vaccine programme.
He had a particular flair for tracing links connecting cause and effect in clinical conditions and discovered a papillomavirus that caused alimentary cancer in cattle when associated with the consumption of bracken. This became a forerunner of the papillomavirus vaccine used to control cervical cancer in women.
Jarrett’s work left a great legacy in the generation of scientists that established at Glasgow the largest research unit of comparative medicine in the UK. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980, capping the many other awards he had received: he was the most eminent veterinary pathologist of his time.
Walter Plowright qualified from the RVC in 1944, at the early age of 17. After a short period in the Army he started laboratory work and soon joined the Colonial Service, working both in Nigeria and Kenya studying the pathology of virus diseases. He returned to England but was seconded back to Kenya to head the Division of Virus Diseases.
In this time he perfected, in 1960, an effective vaccine for rinderpest: 96 passages of the virus in cell culture produced a non-pathogenic but highly immunogenic variant. It was adopted in 1964 as the keystone of the United Nations FAO rinderpest eradication plan. The last major outbreak was in 2001 and shortly afterwards the first global eradication of an animal disease was declared.
His work on virus diseases was recognised by the award of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) and also being the first Briton to receive the World Food Prize ($250,000), made to individuals who have advanced human development. He was elected FRS in 1981.
In this list of notable and acclaimed veterinary scientists of the 20th century, for many people there is one name missing – that of Sir John McFadyean. A graduate of the Dick School, he also qualified in human medicine and in a lifetime of work conducted a monumental programme of pathological and bacteriological research as well as interests in parasitology, protozoology and immunology.
McFadyean was recognised as a brilliant teacher, a concerned educationalist and most important as the founder of modern veterinary research in Britain. He had all the necessary requirements to be highly regarded by his peers in science. But he was not elected FRS: no reasons are given; discussions are held behind closed doors.
He did have a recognised failing – he could not bear criticism or competition and could have a sharp tongue. Maybe he offended the wrong people. He was, however, highly regarded and respected by the veterinary profession in his lifetime.