Sharing Nature: Relationships

We asked you to share and rate images on the theme of relationships. Marianna Bucina Roca’s photo shows us just how fragile those relationships might be.


Over the last fortnight, we’ve asked visitors to Wellcome Collection and our Sharing Nature website to contribute and rate images on the theme of RELATIONSHIPS. The image that resonated most was this picture taken by Marianna Bucina Roca. It shows treetops reflected in water, the upper and lower reaches of our immediate environment. Marianna writes:

The critical zone. The living, breathing, continually changing area that extends from the top of the trees to the bottom of groundwater. It’s the layer where rock, soil, water, air, and living creatures interact in a complex relationship. These complex interactions regulate the natural habitat and determine the availability of life-sustaining resources, including our food production and water quality. The critical zone sustains nearly all terrestrial life including human life, however ever-increasing negative impacts of human society like land use, pollution, and climate change on the critical zone continue to put this fragile relationship in peril.

If these relationships are in peril, how do we understand what they are? Ancient philosophers had systems of classifying the natural world, and Christian models of nature specified relationships and dependencies, including moral ones: the duty of fidelity to God’s law.

The systematic detailing of the relationships and the birth of modern taxonomy (never to be confused with taxidermy) came with Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae of 1735. Setting out to classify God’s creation, Linnaeus named over 10,000 separate organisms and organised them along the principles of similarity, for the first time placing humans with other primates.

Over a century later, biologist Ernst Haeckel coined the term ‘ecology’ (‘Ökologie’ in his native German) to describe the emergent science of the complex relationships between individual species of plants and animals, developing ideas of individual habitats and food webs of mutual dependency.

Ecology has moved beyond science. Founded in 1975, the UK’s Ecology Party became today’s Green Party whose commitment to social and economic justice makes clear that the relationship between humans and nature is also political.

The natural conclusion of western ecological thought might well be James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis. Lovelock theorised that inorganic systems and living beings form a single self-regulating system that encompasses the entire planet. From this point of view the critical zone itself becomes something more like an individual being.


Earthrise. Courtesy NASA.

The Gaia theory has obvious antecedents in the religion of earth goddesses, but might also have been influenced by the rapid technological development of the 1960s: Bill Anders’ famous Earthrise photo, taken from the Apollo 8 spacecraft allowed Earth’s inhabitants to see their home for the first time as a single, fragile planet.

Critical to our survival, the critical zone is perhaps in critical danger. All our relationships depend upon it.

Sharing Nature continues until 1 October 2017, and upcoming themes include relationships, dead, green, alone, plastic, health, and consume. A museum of modern nature is at Wellcome Collection until 8 October 2017.

The child whose town rejected vaccines

Gloucester, 1896. Ethel Cromwell is taken ill at the height of Britain’s last great smallpox epidemic.

V0031460 Gloucester smallpox epidemic, 1896: Ethel Cromwell

Ethel Cromwell in hospital, 1896.

In the spring of 1896 Ethel Cromwell lay, covered in infectious blisters, in a Gloucester hospital. The photographer who took her picture recorded Cromwell’s name, her age (“about 14 years”), her date of admission and one other crucial fact: that she had never been vaccinated against smallpox, the disease now causing her so much pain.

Cromwell was one of at least 10,000 local children thought to be unvaccinated when Britain’s last great smallpox epidemic hit the West Country city of Gloucester. Each of their parents or guardians had acted outside the law, risking the health of their children and that of the wider population.

In mid-January, a few days before Cromwell arrived at the hospital, the fever, headaches and nausea would have started. She may have had a searing pain in her back and her throat was probably raw with sores. As soon as a rash of flat red spots appeared, smallpox would have been diagnosed and Cromwell would have been sent to hospital. There her rash would have developed into blisters filled with yellow pus, which would have stretched her skin so tight it ached. Back at home, Cromwell’s clothes and bedding would have been burnt, her rooms disinfected and whoever she lived with quarantined.

As the first spots broke out on Cromwell’s face, body and arms, Dr John Campbell, the Gloucester Medical Officer of Health, realised the outbreak, which had begun the previous summer, was now progressing “in an alarming manner”. In order to contain it, Campbell advised the local sanitary authority to recruit a team of people to travel from house to house providing vaccinations.

His recommendation wasn’t implemented at that stage. Instead, the formerly indifferent Gloucester Board of Guardians – who oversaw relief given to the poor – issued an announcement recommending parents obtain immediate vaccinations for their children. Around the same time, lecturers indulging in what Campbell termed “intentional untruthfulness” travelled the country claiming the epidemic was caused by insanitary conditions. These speakers formed part of a mass political movement that opposed vaccination, in particular the state’s decision, 40 years before, to make it compulsory.

“The anti-vaccinators have not been idle, and have caused it to be rumoured far and near that the true cause of the epidemic was the unhealthy condition of the city, and not the want of vaccination. These, I find, are the tactics they adopt everywhere, a red herring, I suppose, to divert the scent from the true cause.”
John Campbell, Medical Officer of Health for Gloucester City and Port, 1897

Prior to the 1800s the only way to control the spread of smallpox was through a practice known as variolation. First used in China, this early form of inoculation took fluid or scabs from someone infected with smallpox and introduced them into a healthy person, either by inhaling the material or by rubbing it into a cut on the arm or leg. If all went well, the recipient caught a mild version of the disease and therefore became immune to later infection. However, some people died from the procedure or from other infections picked up during it. Anyone deliberately infected with the disease also had the obvious potential to spread smallpox to others.

L0017918 Figures showing vaccination pustules.

Illustration of pustules used for inoculation in China, 1913.

In 1796, just 30 kilometres from Gloucester, Dr Edward Jenner experimented with a safer version of variolation based on the observation that dairymaids who had suffered from the much milder cowpox appeared to be protected from smallpox. Jenner transferred material from a woman infected with cowpox into an eight-year-old boy, a process he called ‘vaccination’ after the Latin word for cow: vacca. Jenner wasn’t the first person to successfully vaccinate using cowpox, but his work conferred scientific status on the procedure and led to its widespread adoption.

By 1853 smallpox vaccination was a legal requirement for newborns in England and Wales, yet there were few consequences for anyone who avoided it. It was 20 years before the first prosecutions were brought, when anyone found guilty could be penalised by a fine or prison term. This move transformed an issue of personal medical preference into a question of civil liberties. It also challenged the long-held rights of individual councils and communities to make decisions based on the specific circumstances of their own areas. In response, the world’s first organised anti-vaccination societies, publications and rallies sprung up.

“The State has no right to encroach upon parental responsibility, or to impose either religious or medical dogmas upon the people of this country on any pretence whatever.”
William Tebb, President of the London Society for the Abolition of Compulsory Vaccination, 1887

There is no record of whether anti-vaccinators directly influenced Cromwell’s parents or guardians. Their decision couldn’t have been due to cost: vaccination had been freely available at public vaccination stations since the early 1800s. Perhaps they didn’t see the need for it or didn’t want to put their child through what was, by today’s standards, still an unpleasant and potentially dangerous procedure. Or perhaps they resisted on moral or religious grounds. For whatever reasons, the prevailing mood in Gloucester had turned against vaccination at least a decade before.

Local MPs and officials on the Board of Guardians were elected on anti-vaccination tickets and, in 1887, the board voted to “take no further steps in vaccination prosecutions”, effectively removing any compulsion to agree to it. As a result, the year before the 1896 epidemic the Vaccination Inquirer described Gloucester as the least vaccinated city in the country, with 83 per cent of the population failing to comply with the law.

Individual reasons for objecting to vaccination were, as they still are today, diverse. Some felt any technological intervention against a common disease was unnatural. Smallpox, after all, had been a fact of life for centuries. It struck all sectors of society, even killing Queen Mary II, her brother, uncles and nieces. For many, attempting to control something so embedded in the experience of life (and death) was an act against God’s divine plan.

Other non-vaccinators felt the process went against the laws of logic – how could introducing infectious material into the body ever be good for you? Even people who embraced the latest scientific thinking – Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection – felt vaccination was flying in the face of nature, since it used material taken from a lower form of life (the cow).

This issue of intermingling the bodily material of a beast and a human prompted some of the most emotional reactions against vaccination, as people feared the process might cause them or their children to develop brutish, cow-like appendages or habits.

Gallery: anti-vaccination illustrations

Whatever the reasons for so many people in Gloucester defying the law, their decisions enabled the disease to spread quickly through unvaccinated children at school. Fifty other cases were notified during the month Cromwell arrived in hospital; four weeks later there were no free hospital beds. By the end of April the number of monthly diagnoses had risen to almost 900.

As the severity of the outbreak became apparent, many parents took their children to free vaccination stations. The Board of Guardians, who now viewed vaccination as a way of controlling the epidemic, finally formed a committee to oversee house-to-house vaccination visits and instructed employers to get their staff – many of whom may have received vaccinations as babies – re-vaccinated.

Posters and handbills distributed to households the day before, and on the morning of, the vaccinators’ visits appealed to individuals’ moral duty, asking anyone who had previously opposed vaccination to consider “the grave responsibility” they were incurring and imploring them to “follow the good example already set by so many… who have submitted both themselves and their families to the operation for the public good”. Unlike pro-vaccination campaigns in later years, the wording emphasised the benefit to the wider public rather than the impact on individual health.

Gallery: pro-vaccination campaigns

Six months after Ethel Cromwell contracted the disease, no new cases were being reported in Gloucester. The mass vaccination project had brought the outbreak under control, but not before 1,981 people had been infected. Two-thirds of these were children under ten. The handful of these who had been vaccinated all survived. Of the unvaccinated, 40 per cent died. It was a similar story in other segments of the population.


Percentage of smallpox cases in the Gloucester epidemic that resulted in death.

Gloucester residents faced with a severe outbreak embraced vaccination at the time, in something akin to a religious conversion, but the level of support for compulsory vaccination at birth hardly changed. Just two years later a new law allowed parents to opt out of vaccination based on their conscience. Conscientious objectors had, initially, to convince a magistrate that they believed the vaccine to be unsafe or ineffective. Of course, one’s conscience, as the National Anti-Vaccination League pointed out years before, is not something that can be assessed by anyone but the individual. It cannot be evaluated in any judicial – or scientific – way.

V0031461 Gloucester smallpox epidemic, 1896: Ethel Cromwell

Ethel Cromwell convalescing, 1896.

By April Ethel Cromwell’s blisters had dried up, her infectious scabs dropped away and she was discharged from hospital. Though lucky not to have died or lost her sight, she would bear smallpox’s characteristic pockmarks for the rest of her life. When Gloucester experienced another epidemic 30 years later, she and other survivors of the 1896 outbreak would, at least, have been immune – a position they could have been in much earlier if their parents had consented to vaccination.

10 reasons to wear sunglasses

Wellcome Collection is 10 years old this summer. We’re celebrating by sharing some of our favourite things from the collections.

We didn’t set out to collect photos of people wearing sunglasses but turns out we have some great examples in the collections, from fashionable scientists to cultural icons sunglasses can reveal (or conceal) more than a sense of style.

1. Something to hide

L0053278 risk of contracting AIDS while on holiday

German AIDS public health poster, 1990s. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

This German AIDS poster implies that there may be more than a pair of pretty eyes lurking behind those sunglasses. In the 19th century smoked or coloured lenses were often worn by people with photosensitivity – a symptom of syphilis. Today celebrities and private detectives use dark glasses as a form of disguise, but the early movie stars wore dark glasses to hide tired eyes strained by the constant glare of arc lights.

2. Military models

V0015345 War in Egypt, Egypt: soldiers using the new eye protection a

War in Egypt: soldiers wearing the new eye protection and head gear, 1884-85. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

Colonising armies realised the need for eye protection in hot climates early on, but how do you keep your sunglasses on when your trying to quell a native uprising? The military pioneered active wear sunglasses and continued to set trends with the aviator sunglasses first worn by pilots.

3. Making a statement


Harry Hawksbee and colleague in rehearsal, 1914. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

Seen here in drag is Harry Hawksbee, a music-hall entertainer, rehearsing for a show in a park in Yalding, Kent. Maybe his companion hoped wearing sunglasses would help him stand out next to Hawksbee’s more flamboyant dress?

4. A touch of glamour


Professor R A Fisher and colleagues on the Queen Mary on the way back from the USA, 1945. Image credit: Glasgow University Archive Services, University of Glasgow / Wellcome Library.

There’s no doubt that Professor Fisher’s companion brings a touch of 1940s film star glamour to this photo of scientists playing shuffleboard on deck.

5. Perennial style


Harriet Ephrussi-Taylor with her husband and colleagues at Cold Spring Harbor USA, July 1946. Image credit: Glasgow University Archive Services, University of Glasgow / Wellcome Library.

Fashions may change but sunglasses are eternally stylish, as geneticist, mother, lab manager and all round superwoman Harriet Ephrussi-Taylor demonstrates. The fact that she’s French may also have something to do with her sense of style!

6. Staying cool


Dr M Singer (centre) at a symposium on nucleic acids in Hyderabad, India, 1964. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

Dr Singer proves that Sixties sunglasses were smart enough to wear to work but still looked cool in the Indian sun.

7. The perfect accessory


James Watson, Watson, his secretary Maria Hedges, and Ann Maaloe at a Cold Spring Harbour symposium., 1971. Image credit: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives / Wellcome Library.

What a difference a decade makes! Even in the laid back Seventies, sunglasses were groovy!

8. Holiday essential

L0054240 AIDS prevention advertisement by the AIDS Delegationen

AIDS prevention poster by the AIDS Delegationen, Sweden, ca. 1995. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

Nothing says holidays like a pair of sunglasses! This Swedish AIDS prevention poster reminds expat Swedes not to get too relaxed while abroad.

9. Rock star chic


AIDS public health poster, published by AIDS Prevention, Denver, 1991. Image credit: Wellcome Library.

Another AIDS poster using an iconic rock star image to represent the risks of the ‘sex-and-drugs-and-rock’n’roll’ lifestyle.

10. Eye protection


Patient receiving arc light treatment to the face, photograph in Light Therapeutics; a Practical Manual of Phototherapy for the Student and the Practitioner by John Harvey Kellogg, 1910.
Image credit: Wellcome Library.

OK so not technically sunglasses, but the photo of this man wearing protective goggles for phototherapy was irresistible!

[Thanks to Wellcome Collection User Experience team manager Jennifer Phillips Bacher for sharing some of her favourites.]

Would you like a playful path, a relaxed ramble or a deep dive into Wellcome Collection? Visit us this July and August, and choose your own summer

The colonist who faced the blue terror

India, 1857. In a British enclave, Katherine Bartrum watches her friend, and then her family, succumb to the deadly cholera.

L0074303 Young girl suffering from cholera.

A girl suffering from cholera.

At 3pm on 29 June 1857, 23-year-old Katherine Bartrum, an Englishwoman living within the fortified walls of a British complex in the north Indian city of Lucknow, watched as her friend was taken ill with cholera. It was the disease most feared by British residents in India, but also by their compatriots back home, both for its rapid and horrific onset and for what it came to symbolise.

“There are few diseases which have excited more interest among medical men, or more terror in the mind of the Indian community at large, than the epidemic cholera.”
James Annesley (of the Madras Medical Establishment), Sketches of the Most Prevalent Diseases of India, 1825

During Bartrum’s bedside vigil her friend would have experienced severe diarrhoea, losing litres of fluid. Vomiting and writhing in pain, her thirst would have been unquenchable and her eyes and cheeks may have sunk into her face. Most startlingly, her lips, fingernails and skin would probably have turned an eerie shade of blue.

Within three hours the cold and clammy “dews of death” gathered on the patient’s brow and she lost consciousness. By 8pm, as her now motherless child slept unawares, Bartrum’s friend was already in her coffin. Surprisingly for the wife of a medical officer, this swift demise was Bartrum’s first experience of “death in any shape”. Yet, just a month before, cholera had claimed the life of the Commander-in-Chief of British India. Bartrum was also destined to encounter the disease again in the coming weeks.

V0010485 A young Viennese woman, aged 23, depicted before and after

A 23-year old woman before and after contracting cholera.

Cholera had been known in India for hundreds if not thousands of years, but for centuries it was limited to the Bengal region in the east. The “blue terror” travelled across India – and beyond – as the British expanded their grip on a country that had been under the control of the British East India Company for a century.

As the leading cause of death among British troops in India, cholera earned itself a reputation as an insidious, violent enemy always ready to attack. The British viewed Indians – and their “very loose habits” – as the natural cause of the disease, but the British themselves acted as carriers. Their large-scale troop movements aided cholera’s emergence from Bengal, British soldiers fighting on India’s northern borders introduced the disease to their Afghan and Nepalese opponents, and British troops carried it to the Persian Gulf when they were deployed to Oman.

L0074539 Actual & supposed routes of Cholera from Hindoostan to Europe

Nineteenth-century map showing routes of cholera from India to Europe and North America.

Even civil interventions by the colonial power contributed to cholera’s spread. By the time Bartrum arrived in Lucknow, the country’s first railway and the world’s largest canal – a network of routes spanning over 1,000 km – had opened. Both aided cholera’s expansion across the country.

Many Indians blamed the British for cholera’s spread, albeit for different reasons. Some believed cholera was meted out as divine retribution when the British defiled holy places or slaughtered cows, which are considered sacred in the Hindu religion. Others felt the disease was caused by deities who resented British rule. Since Indians were just as likely to catch cholera as the colonists, this meant the wrath of these gods was also targeted at Indians, who had failed to stand up to the British.

Cholera reached the heart of the British Empire too. When the first of four major cholera epidemics hit Britain in 1831, killing around 30,000 people, this ‘new’ disease sparked increased debate and a frenzy of analysis. For many years opinion was divided between those who believed cholera was spread through contact and those who blamed bad air and/or the effects of soil temperature. In the ten years before Bartrum arrived in Lucknow, efforts to understand the disease led to the publication of over 700 cholera-related books in London alone.

Gallery: studies of cholera outbreaks and causal factors

These studies served a purpose as epidemiological tools, but they also gave credence to politicised social policies. As the science of epidemiology developed, medicine shifted away from analysing the behaviour of individuals to investigating issues related to entire populations. These ranged from the nature of the water supply in specific parts of a city to the characteristics thought to be shared by a particular race. In the eyes of 19th-century Brits, the people of India – who were once viewed as fastidiously clean – were thought to be disorderly and dirty.

“The habits of the natives are such that, unless they are closely watched, they cover the entire neighbouring surface with filth.”
Royal Commission on the Health of the Anglo-Indian Army, 1863

Bartrum’s uninviting house in Lucknow was certainly dirty, but filth was also a fact of life in England. However, the 1848 Public Health Act – prompted by Edwin Chadwick’s report on the sanitary conditions of the labouring classes – now set England apart from India. While the home country was taking steps to bring filth and disease under control, India was viewed as stagnant and lacking self-discipline, like the immature child of the great British parent. In this climate, cholera came to symbolise the aspects of Indian society most feared by Europeans.

“One is no less saddened to see the populace as cruelly decimated by this horrible scourge in Berlin, London, and Paris, which stand at the head of modern civilization, as in the backward nations of the Orient and Northern Europe.”
Gazette médicale de Paris, 1832

Fear was the reason Bartrum herself had come to Lucknow. She had arrived seven weeks before, leaving her husband at another military station after Indian soldiers mutinied and killed civilian Europeans living in the city of Delhi. This event marked the start of India’s First War of Independence, and soon led to a six-month siege of the city where Bartrum had taken refuge. From this point on, to British eyes, India was increasingly a place of barbarism.

V0011353 John Bull defending Britain against the invasion of

John Bull defending Britain against the invasion of cholera, 1832.


L0000611 Broadsheet warning about Indian cholera 1831

Poster warning of the “alarming approach” of what was described as “Indian” cholera, produced in London in 1831.

In London, Dr John Snow had argued in 1849 that cholera was caused by swallowing poisonous matter that was transmitted through faeces and contaminated water. However, his views did not gain acceptance until at least a decade later. In the meantime, the British medical establishment maintained the stance that Indians were somehow fundamentally different to Europeans. Though scientific investigations found little evidence that race played any role, Indians were inextricably linked with the cholera they were thought to produce.

“Their ways of living are not ours, and for hygienic reasons… close proximity is not desirable.”
Kate Platt, The Home and Health in India and the Tropical Colonies, 1923

L0006579 Engraving: 'Monster Soup..." by William Heath

Nineteenth-century caricature revealing the microscopic impurities found in London’s drinking water.

Of course, if India and Indians were viewed as irredeemably unsanitary, the British administration could excuse itself from spending time and money trying to improve conditions. Susceptible areas in England were seen as unhealthy and vulnerable until improved; India, on the other hand, was beyond hope. Medical theories – despite the evidence – supported the differing political moods at home and abroad.

In England cholera was an alien invader, a colonist in its own right, occupying both the body and the land. As epidemic followed epidemic, people feared the disease might eventually ‘settle’, taking over the country. At the same time, the British administration in India prioritised the health and comfort of its own troops above all else. The Indians now fighting to eject the British from their homeland had to live in far worse conditions.

Just as these Indian rebels laid siege to Lucknow, Katherine Bartrum’s 17-month-old son Bobbie contracted cholera. Though the doctor told Bartrum her son was dying, she administered “the strongest remedies that could be given to a child” and knelt by his bed all night. By morning the outlook was better: Bobbie “began to revive, sat up, and looked so bright”.

Despite being struck down herself the following day, and discovering two months later that her husband had been killed in action, Bartrum and her son managed to survive until the British withdrew from Lucknow four months later. The pair then travelled to Calcutta and boarded a ship bound for England. The night before it set sail, Bobbie, who had been growing weaker by the day, died.

L0025760 Broadsheet: Cholera and Water, 1866

Poster advising residents of east London not to drink unboiled water during the 1866 cholera epidemic.

When Bartrum arrived back in England, London was in the midst of the ‘Great Stink’, a summer in which the stench of excrement from the Thames became so intolerable that politicians launched a project to develop a citywide sewer system. England experienced its last cholera outbreak eight years later. In London it was localised to an area not yet connected to the new sewage network. But in India millions of people died in later outbreaks. Today cholera remains, as it was before the 1800s, endemic in some areas of the country.

Sharing nature: making connections

As part of our Sharing Nature project, over the past fortnight we asked you to share your photos on the theme EMOTION, and respond to other people’s submissions. You decided Magda Harmon’s contribution was most meaningful.


“Connectedness. We are nothing without nature. We are nature. Nature is us. Our veins, branches of an ancient oak, the Amazon river – All is One.” The photograph and words Magda Harmon submitted on the theme EMOTION.

For Magda, nature is all about feeling connected. Her photograph looking up into a tree canopy that’s just coming back into leaf illustrates that emotion. Rather than viewing vegetable life as something separate and other to herself, Magda sees interconnections, believing “all is one”.

Magda also notes the patterns the branches create against the creamy grey sky, and draws out the similarities the shapes have with a river, and with veins. She has a point. Looking through Wellcome Collection’s image library, there are parts of human and animal bodies that are rather root-, branch- and river-like, including these:

In an article for The Conversation, Richard Taylor, Director of the Materials Science Institute and Professor of Physics at the University of Oregon, asks us to consider the tree as an example of something that’s ‘fractal’: “First you see the big branches growing out of the trunk. Then you see smaller versions growing out of each big branch. As you keep zooming in, finer and finer branches appear, all the way down to the smallest twigs.” Taylor says these fractals, or repetitive patterns, are one of the key things that makes a work of art or a natural scene visually appealing and stress relieving. So, just looking at Magda’s beautiful, fractal tree photograph, and perhaps feeling some kind of emotional connection with it, could be doing you the world of good.

Sharing Nature continues until 1 October 2017, and upcoming themes include relationships, dead, green, alone, plastic, health, and consume. A museum of modern nature is at Wellcome Collection until 8 October 2017.