This brief article is a tribute to a very special Frenchman; Dr Auguste Ambroise Tardieu, who was born in Paris in 1818.
Dr Tardieu headed the team of French doctors who performed a post-mortem on the disinterred body of English schoolgirl Marian Marsden in 1854. Marian had been laid to rest in Montmartre Cemetery, Paris, a victim of ill-treatment by her French Governess. The doctors faced a huge challenge in determining the exact cause of death.
For reasons explained in my book, The Water Doctor’s Daughters, the governess , Mlle Celestine Doudet, was not charged with manslaughter until more than a year after the child’s lingering death in 1853.
Nevertheless, it was determined that the twelve year old had died as a result of a fractured skull. Tragically, at the time of her fatal injury Marian’s body was already weakened by whooping cough and malnutrition. The latter had been caused by the strict homeopathic diet imposed by order of her father, Dr James Loftus Marsden, a wealthy water-cure physician from Great Malvern in Worcestershire.
Dr Tardieu was a clear thinking surgeon with a strong grasp of the legal aspects of medicine. He was also patient and determined; important traits in the often complex cases he was involved in. However, his motivation in investigating and documenting child abuse can also be explained by the fact that he was described by his peers as kindly and selfless. Nevertheless, it was a indictment of 19th century society that even in France, (a nation recognised for its love of children) he was unable to foster interest in the social conditions leading to child endangerment.
Battered Child Syndrome
In recognition of his early clinical descriptions of abused children, what is now called ‘battered child syndrome’ is also known as Tardieu’s Syndrome. In 1860 Dr Tardieu published: Forensic Study on Cruelty and the Ill-treatment of Children, a ground breaking work featuring classic descriptions of battered children. Real cases were documented, and it is very likely that the case of Marian Marsden was included.
Here is a very moving extract from the doctor’s book;
I am speaking of the facts of cruelty and brutal treatment of which children are particularly the victims and which derive from their parents, their teachers, from those, in a word, who exercise more or less direct authority over them…..that from the most tender age, those defenceless unfortunate children should have to experience, every day, and even every hour, the most severe cruelty, be subjected to the most dire privations, that their lives, hardly begun, should be nothing but a long agony, that severe corporal punishments, tortures before which even our imagination recoils in horror, should consume their bodies and extinguish the first rays of reason, shorten their lives, and finally, the most unbelievable thing of all, that the executioners of these children should more often than not be the very people who gave them life – this is one of the most terrifying problems that can trouble the hearts of man.
Doctor Tardieu later became the President of the French Academy of Medicine. He died on January 12 1879, aged 60. During an illustrious 23 year career his forensic expertise had been called on in over five thousand cases.
FOOTNOTE: Current practice among those investigating child abuse is to avoid asking: ‘Has anyone hurt you? , as the victims may have been coached to respond in the negative. The preferred question is : ‘Are you afraid of anyone? It is worth noting that Marian Marsden and her four siblings had cause be frightened of both their father and their governess.
I am not a religious person, but I have always found the following bible verse very moving;
Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God….and he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them and blessed them.
Your thoughts on Dr Tardieu and his work would be both welcome and appreciated.