[back] Smallpox vaccination lies

[Extracted from] 1884 book: SIR LYON PLAYFAIR  taken to Pieces and Disposed of:  LIKEWISE  SIR CHARLES W. DILKE, BART by William White

The Franco-German War (1870-71) Smallpox death Statistical fraud

[From The Vaccination Inquirer, November, 1883.]

THE mystification, sufficiently exposed, of the 23,469 French and 263 German soldiers who died of Smallpox in the course of the Franco-German War of 1870-71, appears to have been recited with a curious variation in the great Council of Berne, on the 6th February of the current year. In a debate on Compulsory Vaccination, Herr Steiger, Minister of the Interior, begged to draw special attention to the colossal difference between the Smallpox fatalities in the respective armies. "From June, 1870, to July, 1871," he said, "the Germans lost 3,162 men from Smallpox ; whilst the French lost 23,469 in the same time and in the same districts ;" adding, " this statistic cannot be too often repeated." Poor Steiger! he little knew that the French 23,469 was entirely mythical ; nor could he foresee that Sir Lyon Playfair would in the English House of Commons, on 19th June, reduce the German 3,162 to the paltry figure of 261 or 263, on what he described as "the best authority"! Colossal, indeed, was the difference, and, strange to say, according to Herr Steiger, it was confined to Smallpox ; for " actually the French lost fewer men from Typhus than did the Germans." Very mysterious it is, as it ever is mysterious when fancy gets among statistics. The French own they do not know how many men perished of Smallpox in the war, and, so far as we can ascertain, the Germans are no more accurately informed. In the havoc and confusion of a contest like that of 1870-71, there was much to excuse imperfect and lost reckoning. Anyhow, it is for us to disregard statistics evolved from the inner consciousness of unknown persons intent on promoting the cause of Vaccination.


To complete the curious story, we should remind our readers that Dr. Thilenius, speaking before the Petitions Committee of the Reichstag, on 29th January, said—

"The arguments of the Anti-Vaccinators are absolutely irreconcilable with the exceedingly small number of Smallpox deaths in the properly vaccinated German Army, when compared with the perfectly colossal Smallpox mortality in the French Army. According to Roth, the full number of Smallpox deaths in the German Army, in the war of 1870-71, was only 261, against nearly 24,000 in the inefficiently vaccinated French Army. Those who are not convinced by such proofs of the protective power of Vaccination, will not be convinced by anything. But all these overpowering facts have as yet produced no impression on the Anti-Vaccinators, and they will continue as heretofore to gainsay them."

The hard-headed Anti-Vaccinators ! Nothing would persuade them to believe in the death of 24,000 French soldiers ; and their disbelief is now justified. Turning it the other way, how such figures were credited by anybody is the marvel, representing, as they must have done, at least 150,000 cases—an immense army paralysed with Smallpox, a miraculous phenomenon unheard of until the war was over! But, accepting the figures, in what respect did they prove, as Dr. Thilenius held, "the protective power of Vaccination " ? The French soldiers were all revaccinated, and yet 24,000 of them died of Smallpox ! Could there possibly be a more overwhelming demonstration of the inutility of Vaccination ? It has been said "the age of myths is past," but that is a mistake. Certain forms of myth may have become impossible, but myth formation is active as ever ; and in an atmosphere of suitable faith nothing is incredible. Here we have an absolute creation of fancy, in its very terms improbable, yet vouched for within the present year before three Legislatures—in Germany by Dr. Thilenius, in Switzerland by Herr Steiger, and in England by Sir Lyon Playfair, and taken everywhere for gospel ; and save for the exposure effected by Anti-Vaccinators, the fiction might have passed on as veritable history! Even now we do not flatter ourselves that we have seen the last of it. As has been observed, "A convenient lie has a sort of immortality."

[Also from The Vaccination Inquirer, December, 1883.]

Again we revert to the statistic of Smallpox in the Franco-German War. The 23,469 Frenchmen who perished are disowned by the French War-Office, and surrendered by Dr. W. B. Carpenter; but what of the 263 Germans who were played against the 23,469 Frenchmen ? Last month we expressed a doubt as to whether the German authorities were much more accurately informed than the French as to their losses from Small­pox in the great struggle; and our doubt is verified. Mr. G. S. Gibbs had addressed an inquiry on the subject to Berlin, and was thus answered—

                                                          "Army Medical Department,
" No. 691/7.    M. M. A.                           "War Office.
                                                          "Berlin, 30th July, 1883.
" In reply to your letter of July 6, to his Excellency the Minister of War, the Chief Clerk forwards a certified extract from the Register of those who died of Smallpox in the Prussian army in the several months of the years 1869, 1870, and 1871."    (This shows  1 death  in 1869, in the month of August; none in 1870; in 1871, 3 deaths in July, 6 in August, 6 in September, 10 in November, and  12 in December.]    " For the time from  Tidy, 1870, to June, 1871 (the twelve months of the war), the numbers wished for are not recorded, and regret is expressed that on this account  the desired information cannot be given.                            TOLER LISOUKE

    "To George S. Gibbs, Esq.,
            " Derry Lodge, Darlington."

Thus do the 263 Germans follow the 23,469 Frenchmen into the realm of fiction ! The marvellous statistic with which Sir Lyon Playfair astonished the House of Commons, and drew an ecstatic compliment from Sir Charles Dilke, is at last recognised for fabulous beyond dispute. What shall be said of a cause thus defended ? What shall we think of an advocate who picks up figures he knows not where, and vouches for them as authentic because they happen to lie for Vaccination ?

[Extract, from chapter 103] LEICESTER: SANITATION versus VACCINATION BY J.T. BIGGS J.P.


Another fraudulent statement which has been accorded world-wide publicity is that concerning small-pox in the French and German Armies during the Franco-German War.

The history of this famous statistic is very instructive as to the slipshod manner in which arguments in favour of vaccination are fabricated.

During the sittings of the Statistical  Congress at St. Petersburg, in 1872, one of the speakers, afterwards said to be Dr. Roth, is reported to have stated that the small-pox deaths in the indifferently vaccinated French Army were 23,469, while those in the efficiently vaccinated German Army were only 263. In all subsequent repetitions of this fable, the former figure has remained constant, while the latter has varied, sometimes being 261, at others 316, 459, or 3,162. These variations do not affect the argument, which was put forward, not as a proof of the benefits of vaccination—as all the small­pox deaths in both armies were of vaccinated or revaccinated soldiers—but as a proof of the benefits of compulsory revaccination in the German Army, as against the French Army, where revaccination was alleged not to be compulsory.

Mr. John Pickering printed the figures in the " Anti-Vaccinator," of 1st November, 1872, with some caustic comments casting doubt on their accuracy. They also appeared in the "Vienna Medical Journal" ("Wiener Medizinische Wochen-schrift"), the "British Medical Journal," the "Daily News," and from these and other papers were spread broadcast by the newspapers through­out the world. Mr. Pickering published at the same time a letter, dated 28th October, 1872, from Dr. A. Bayard, of Paris, who stated that the idea of revaccination originated in France, and that "in France there are few subjects above the age of twenty years who have not been revaccinated, but all the soldiers have certainly   undergone   the   operation."     Respecting the  alleged 23,469  small-pox deaths,  Dr.  Bayard asks—"Whence   was   the   information   obtained ? The   necessary   documents   are   not   to   be   had from the Minister of War."

In 1883, as a debate in Parliament was expected on Mr. P. A. Taylor's motion, this statistic was vigorously revived. Dr. W. B. Carpenter addressed a letter, 23rd April, 1883, to the Right Hon. Sir Lyon Playfair, quoting these figures. A copy of this letter was sent to all members of the House of Commons. Dr. Carpenter repeated the "fable" in a letter to the " Daily News," 8th May, 1883.    In this letter he says :—

" I  make  these  statements,   not  upon  heresay evidence or reports of private correspondents, but upon the official account published in 1873 by Dr. Colin, then Medicin Principal de l'Armee. His treatise, 'La Variole,' is easily obtainable to anyone who wishes to know the real truth of this matter; and from its full and explicit details of the facts of this remarkable case, I cannot see what higher appeal can be made."

Sir Lyon Playfair., on eloquently detailing the figures during his speech on 19th June, 1883, exultingly flourished M. Leon Colin's pamphlet before the delighted and astonished House, silencing all objectors by triumphantly exclaiming, "I got it from the Physician-General of the French Army!" It is said that this hypnotic display influenced more votes than any other speech ever made in Parliament.

However that may be, Mr. H. D. Dudgeon, acting    on    Dr.    Carpenter's    advice,    obtained M. Leon Colin's pamphlet, but instead of finding "full and explicit details of this remarkable case," as Dr. Carpenter said he would, Mr. Dudgeon only found an official notice of 261 small-pox deaths in the German Army, but not a word about the 23,469 small-pox deaths in the French Army. Dr. Colin "estimates" the small-pox deaths in the French Army of 170,000 men at 1,600, with 11,500 cases. Applying this ratio, Mr, Dudgeon says that the 23,469 deaths would mean not less than 166,000 cases and an army of 2,400,000 men, and even then the numbers of the "original French Army" would still have to be added. This is the " reductio ad absurdum " with a vengeance.

Dr. Carpenter promised Mr. Alexander Wheeler either to substantiate the figures or withdraw them. On finding they could not be verified, Dr. Carpenter soon after entirely withdrew the statement in a long letter to the "Daily News," of 7th August, 1883, in which he said :—

" I requested Earl Granville to obtain what information he could on this point; and after considerable delay I have received, through Colonel Cameron (Military Attache to the Embassy in Paris), an explicit statement that the army medical returns of the Franco-German War are so incomplete as not to supply the total for which I asked. If in adopting Dr. Roth's estimate of it without any suspicion of its insecure basis I have been blameworthy, I now make the fullest amende in my power."

Notwithstanding this withdrawal, the "authorised edition"  of  Sir Lyon  Playfair's  speech  was afterwards published with the lying statistic repeated most deliberately, Dr. Thilenius being named as the authority, in place of Dr. Leon Colin. Later on, in 1889, Mr. Arthur Hopkirk, M.D., as a witness in favour of vaccination, declared he believed the statistic on the authority of a German medical, the "Klinische Wockenschrift," for August, 1889, but admitted having taken no means to test its accuracy in France. (Q. 1,653-60, Royal Commission, Second Report.) Although he was aware of a French official paper which stated that the medical statistics of 1870-71 are wanting, he nevertheless stuck to his belief, although not a shred of authority for it could be found (Q. 6,774-88, Royal Commission, Second Report), and it had been withdrawn by Dr. W. B. Carpenter, who was unable to obtain confirmation, although he tried to do so through the Foreign Secretary, Earl Granville.

As the 23,469 deaths of Frenchmen proved to be fabulous, Mr. G. S. Gibbs, of Darlington, wrote to the German Army Medical Department at Berlin, to inquire about the 263 Germans who were said to have died of small-pox during the Franco-German War. On 30th July, 1883, Mr. Gibbs received a reply from the German Minister of War, in which he said :—" For the time from July, 1870, to June, 1871 (the twelve months of the war), the numbers wished for are not recorded, and regret is expressed that on this account the desired information cannot be given."

Thus the 263 Germans, like the 23,469 Frenchmen, proved to be fabulous, and disappeared into obscurity.

I would not have referred to this foreign fabrication at such length, but that the discredited and officially-controverted fable continues to do duty in the armoury of many pro-vaccinists even now, nearly thirty years after its complete withdrawal.

Such are two of the untrue and flimsy pretences upon which the compulsory law of vaccination has been maintained.