Auguste Ambroise Tardieu

Born 1818-03-10
Died 1879-01-12

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French pathologist and expert on forensic medicine, born March 10, 1818, Paris; died January 12, 1879, Paris.

Biography of Auguste Ambroise Tardieu

Auguste Ambroise Tardieu Tardieu was one of the most prominent figures in 19th century forensic medicine, and a prolific writer in the field of state pharmacology.

Tardieu began his medical studies in Paris, where he received his doctorate in 1843 with a dissertation that was long considered a classic. He became agrégé in 1844, médecin des hôpitaux in 1850. In 1852 he distinguished himself in a concours for the chair of hygiene, but lost to Apollinaire Bouchardat (1806-1866). On this occasion he published the thesis Voiries et cimetières, which for a long period was considered the most complete monograph in this field.

In 1861, upon the retirement of Nicolas-Philibert Adelon (1782-1862), Tardieu was appointed professor at the University of Paris. From 1864 he was deputy to Pierre François Olive Rayer (1793-1867) as dean of the faculty of medicine. After the death of Rayer in 1867, Tardieu was elected chairman of the French association of physicians, remaining in this position until 1867. In 1867 he also became chairman of the Comité consultatif d’hygiène, and the same year was elected president of the Académie de médecine, of which he had been a member since 1859. Besides these positions he practised at the Hôtel-Dieu, and already during the life of his predecessor Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila (1787-1853), frequently appeared in Paris courts as a medical expert.

Tardieu's special fields of interest were forensic medicine and toxicology. He investigated numerous historical crimes, the most spectacular being the 156 victims of the assault on Napoleon III on January 14, 1858. Among “his” causes célèbres was the murder of the duchess of Praslin by her husband in 1847 and the latter’s suicide the following year. This murder case was the topic of the film All this and heaven, too" of 1940, directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Bette Davis. The film is based on Rachel Field's bestseller of the same title. There was also the process against Dr. Couty de la Pommerais for having poisoned the widow Pauw in 1863; the Armand case in 1864; the simulated murder attack by strangulation by the servant Maurice Roux in the gruesome Troppmann case in 1869; the murder of the Kinck family; and finally in the investigation occasioned by the murder of the journalist Victor Noir (Yvan Salmon) by Pierre Bonaparte (1815-1881) in January 1870.

He wrote a review of the recognisable characteristics - alterations of the bodies - of people following various trades, 48 in all.

Tardieu's book on medico-legal and clinical aspects of imprisonment, titled Étude médico-légale et clinique sur l'empoisonnement, is an exhaustive work on medico-legal toxicology. At the time of its writing it was one of the most authoritative works of its kind and is typical of the writings of Tardieu in its clarity and exactness. Covering a wide range of drugs and poisons, the book is amply illustrated with case reports and autopsies. Tardieus writing reflects his position as the foremost French medico-legal expert of his day. He wrote on the legal aspects of infanticide, abortion, and hangings as well as on insanity.

Tardieu was considered a benign and selfless person. As a member of the Paris magistrate he demonstrated a vivid interest in the administrative matters of the city.

Tardieu published numerous articles in the Annales d’hygiène publique et de médecine légale, established in 1829 by Mathéo-José-Bonaventure Orfila (1787-1853) and appearing in its 3rd series from 1879.

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