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date: 27 February 2024

Aikin, Charles Rochemontfree


Aikin, Charles Rochemontfree

  • Deborah Brunton

Aikin, Charles Rochemont (1775–1847), surgeon, was born at Warrington, Lancashire, the second son of John Aikin (1747–1822), physician, author, and religious dissenter, and Martha Jennings (c.1746–1830); he was the grandson of John Aikin (1713–1780), and brother of Lucy Aikin (1781–1864) and Edmund Aikin. At the age of two he was adopted by his childless aunt, the author Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743–1825), and he was educated at the school run by his uncle, the Revd Rochemont Barbauld, at Palgrave, Suffolk. Although adopted, Aikin remained close to his eldest brother, Arthur Aikin (1773–1854): in the 1790s they shared a house in Broad Street Buildings, London, and Charles later married Anne (d. 1821), the daughter of Gilbert Wakefield (1756–1801), one of Arthur's teachers and a friend of his father. Aikin matriculated at Edinburgh University in 1795 and gained the diploma of the Company of Surgeons in July 1799. He worked in London throughout his life, taking over his father's practice in 1798. He also served as secretary to the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London from 1809 to 1812, and was a member until 1818. Among his and Anne's children was the writer Anna Letitia Le Breton.

Aikin's career was distinguished chiefly by his long involvement with smallpox vaccination. In 1800, less than two years after the appearance of Edward Jenner's first pamphlet on vaccination, Aikin published A concise view of all the most important facts that have hitherto appeared respecting the cow pox. As the title suggests, the work contained little new information but was a digest of contemporary knowledge of vaccination procedure, drawn from the writings of Jenner, George Pearson, and William Woodville. On the strength of this, in 1803 Aikin was appointed as one of the eight vaccinators of the Royal Jennerian Society, a London-based charity providing free vaccination to the poor, and he worked for a few hours each week at its Bishopsgate station. In 1809, through Jenner's patronage, he was appointed as a vaccinator at the new National Vaccine Establishment, a part-time post he held until his death. Though now largely forgotten, the establishment was one of the government's first and longest-surviving public health institutions. Until the development of calf-lymph in the late nineteenth century, smallpox vaccine was obtained from the lesions of vaccinated persons. The National Vaccine Establishment ensured a constant supply of vaccine by offering free vaccination at various stations in London and taking lymph from these poor patients. This work made Aikin's reputation as an expert, and in 1840 he was called in by the poor-law commissioners to advise them on implementation of the first vaccination act, which instituted free vaccination in England and Wales.

Aikin also had a long-standing interest in chemistry, which reflected his family's links to a group of distinguished dissenting scientists, including Joseph Priestley. Aikin collaborated with his brother Arthur on a Dictionary of Chemistry and Mineralogy (1807) and published papers on pharmaceutical chemistry.

Aikin died of 'dropsy after asthma of several years duration' (d. cert.) on 20 March 1847 at his house, 7 Bloomsbury Square, London. His work was continued by his son, Charles Arthur Aikin, who was also a vaccinator at the National Vaccine Establishment from 1848 and was a member of the Epidemiological Society committee which prompted parliament to introduce compulsory vaccination in England and Wales in 1853.


  • London Medical Gazette, [3rd] ser., 4 (1847), 572
  • R. B. Fisher, Edward Jenner (1991)
  • Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, 1–10 (1809–19)
  • ‘Return of sums voted for National Vaccine Institution’, Parl. papers (1856), 52.521, no. 145
  • ‘Establishment of the vaccine board’, Parl. papers (1831–2), 45.41, no. 712
  • ‘Copy of a letter from Dr. Edward Seaton to Viscount Palmerston’, Parl. papers (1852–3), 101.75, no. 434 [incl. report on vaccination from Epidemiological Society]
  • A. L. Le Breton, Memoir of Mrs Barbauld (1874)
  • Memoir of John Aikin, ed. L. Aikin, 2 vols. (1823)
  • correspondence of the poor-law commissioners, 29 June 1840, 7 July 1840, 16 Oct 1840, TNA: PRO, MH 25.1
  • d. cert.
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National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
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, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
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