Only rarely can an internal lesion be found in a man or animal struck by lightning that could be the cause of death, Peter Christian Abildgaard (1740–1801) observed in 1775. As a true-born scientist, he was intrigued by this experience, so he began to experiment. He succeeded in rendering a hen and a rooster completely insensible by electric shocks to their head and then reviving them by electric shocks to the chest.
P. C. ABILDGAARD is not only the discoverer of “ancestor of defibrillation”, he has also used his talents and his wide-ranging education in many fields. After a few years of schooling, he became acquainted with chemistry and pharmacy as an assistant pharmacist, preparing himself for university studies. In 1762, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a thesis on the economic benefits of chemistry.
Due to the resurgence of Rinderpest, he was offered a state scholarship to Lyon to study medicine, where he completed a two-and-a-half-year veterinary course with Claude Bourgelat. On his return home, he studied the possibilities of combating cattle plague. As the organisation of the veterinary system was delayed, Abildgaard decided that it would be more appropriate to continue his medical studies and practiced until 1782. He also studied mineralogy, botany, zoology, physics and chemistry. He also published two books on the treatment of horses and cattle and on the breeding and care of farm animals.
These works led the Royal Court to consider him as the best person to supervise the Royal Stud and to organise veterinary training in Denmark. The most important result of his varied career was that in 1773, with the support of the state, he started veterinary training for military and royal horsemen and farriers, initially as a sole teacher with the help of a single master farrier. As the number of his students increased, he gave up his medical work, but he was the first in Denmark to introduce and use the smallpox vaccine. He was interested in everything: he described parasites, designed horseshoes, cured cattle in an insurance scheme, worked on improving the quality of wool through breeding, described the flora and fauna of Heligoland and built a hot-air balloon, in which he took off.
Our picture shows a bust of the school founder, who died 220 years ago, modelled by AUGUST HASSEL in 1910, surrounded by students relaxing during a break from anatomy practice on the Frederiksberg campus.
Original publication: Orbán Éva: Peter Christian Abildgaard szobra. Magyar Állatorvosok Lapja, 2021. 143. 6. 322.