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The gravestone of Henry Thompson MRCVS

Astrid Goddard researches

Henry Thompson, MRCVS was a prominent veterinary surgeon in Aspatria, Cumbria towards the end of the 19th century. He was born in the nearby town of Allonby into poor conditions, but it is thought that possibly an uncle helped to send him to college, where he won the Dick Medal for chemistry. He was a founder member of the town's agricultural college and lecturer at the college.

Well thought of by many people, Henry was an astounding man; blunt, with a sharp temper and highly intelligent. He could converse with the highest and the lowest in society and treated them all equally. He received many honours and accolades during his life.

In 1895 Henry Thompson enjoyed some success in the treatment of foot and mouth, having seen many cases of the disease, and noted the heavy loss of cattle particularly when calving.

The passage below is taken from his book Elementary Lectures on the Veterinary Science for Agricultural Students, Farmers and Stock Keepers (Publisher: T. Brakenridge & Co. Ltd. of Whitehaven; 1895) when he was lecturer on Veterinary Science at Aspatria Agricultural College.

I have seen a great number of outbreaks and although the disease did not prove fatal, it caused a great loss to stockowners; especially was this so in dairy and breeding herds, the greatest loss being from calving cows casting their calves and retaining the afterbirth, with sore udders etc. When allowed to treat the cases, my great object was to try and assist nature in preventing the animals from aborting, and for this purpose, I found that half ounce doses of chlorate of potash, given once a day, had a marvellous effect, as the following instance will show:

On one occasion, when foot and mouth disease broke out, Sir Wilfred Lawson's stock were considerably affected. In order that the disease might run its course speedily, I had all the cattle - affected and unaffected - brought together and put into the large park. These were dosed daily with chlorate of potash, given in bran mashes. The result of this treatment was, that out of about two hundred head of cattle, only ninety-eight took the disease, all of which recovered; thirty-five of the affected cows were in calf, and they all went up to their full time... not one aborted; there were no sore udders, the calves were a fine crop, and both mothers and offspring did well. I have subsequently, on several occasions, tried the chlorate treatment with a like success.

Milk from the ailing cows quickly affects young calves and pigs, and this often fatally. It should never be given to animals until it has been well boiled, yet I have seen farm servants drink the milk from such animals without any ill effects.

Henry Thompson died on the 20th of July 1920, aged 84. He is buried in Aspatria churchyard where there is a fine sandstone memorial to him (pictured above).

I imagine he has been turning in his grave throughout the past year. The literal overkill of the government's approach to the foot and mouth outbreak would have been deeply distressing to such an intelligent and rational man, who understood - in 1895 - far more than the so-called "experts" at MAFF/DEFRA understand today.

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