In 1844, Hayrullah Efendi, one of the first wave of students trained in the new Westernized curriculum at the Imperial School of Medicine, published his thesis on the first autopsy conducted in the Ottoman Empire. It was performed by Karl Ambros Bernard, lead instructor at the Imperial Medical School. The autopsy was held at the Austrian Hospital in Istanbul employing the corpse of an apparently healthy Croatian, who suddenly died in a work accident. The procedure occurred with with the special permission by the sultan, who acted at the urging of his personal physician and the official head of the medical school, Abdülhak Molla.
The work includes a description of the first highly successful autopsy, followed by reports on some of Bernard’s subsequent post-mortems, and includes various fascinating medical observations, augmented by six charts detailing the procedures.
The first autopsy performed in the Ottoman world, overseen by Bernard, is described:
“While a Croatian worker was gathering pieces of wood a big stick fell on his head. He died immediately. His body was brought to the Austrian Hospital, and the director of Mekteb-i Tıbbiye-i Sahane, monsieur Bernard, performed the autopsy. During the procedure, I wrote about the findings and other medical school students, followed up the
the procedure, I wrote about the findings and other medical school students, followed up the observations of Monsieur Bernard. Monsieur Bernard found that the size of the Croatian worker’s heart was 2 times bigger than normal. In addition to that, the aortic valves were approximately covering the entrance of the aorta. However, this man’s body was in better condition than that of most healthy men, and his illness was not known. This man was a hauler of heavy luggage in his daily life and while he was working, he did not complain about anything.” (Akıncı S. Dissection and Autopsy in Ottoman Empire Medicine, vol. 2, 1962; quoted after OGUZ – UYSAL, 2009, p. 107).
Bernard’s autopsies revealed to his Ottoman students not only the whole new world of the inner parts of the human body, but also the fact that a seemingly healthy person can unknowingly carry diseases. Further autopsies, performed by Bernard and described in the book, prove that various health issues can often be due to causes which were not directly connected to the location of the visible injury or problem.
Bernard’s autopsies became a foundation of modern Ottoman medicine and played an important role in the criminal justice system in the country (ex. the coroner’s office / forensic sciences). After Bernard’s sudden death in 1844, his lectures on forensic medicine were continued by Serviçen Efendi.
The author of the present work was Bernard’s student, Hayrullah Efendi (1818 – 1866), who was during his time at the Medical School awarded several medals for his work and submitted his report on the autopsies performed at the Imperial Medical School as his doctoral thesis. Hayrullah was a son of Abdülhak Molla (1786 – 1854), a medical doctor who founded the Imperial Medical School in 1827, and who arranged for Bernard to be given permission to perform the first autopsies in the Ottoman Empire.
In the years after his thesis, Hayrullah Efendi held several important public offices, including as head of the Medical School and Minister of Education, as well as authoring several books on medicine, history and geography. He died suddenly in Tehran while on a diplomatic mission.
Worldcat lists 4 institutional examples of the present work (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Hungarian Academy of Sciences Library, Library of Congress and Boğaziçi University Library).
The standard bibliography of Ottoman books, Özege, incorrectly claims that the work is a translation after an author called Du Bois (Özege 11991).
References: OCLC 949488288, 952855689, 470415463. Cf.: Salih Murat AKKIN, ‘A Glimpse into the Process of Gaining Permission for the Educational Dissection of Human Cadavers in the Ottoman Empire’, Clinical Anatomy 27(7), 2014, pp. 964–971. Nermin ÇELIK, ‘The Start of Conducting Dissection in Ottoman Empire’, International Journal of Basic and Clinical Medicine (online source: nkmj-3-53-En.pdf (galenos.com.tr)); Mahmut AŞIRDIZER, Adli Bilimler Ve Adli Tibbin Tarihçesi (2021); Yusuf ATAN, İlhan BAHŞİ, Zekeriya TATAROĞLU, Mustafa ORHAN and Murat ÇETKİN, ‘Dr. Charles Ambroise Bernard: Türkiyede Adli Otopsinin Başlangıcı / Dr. Charles Ambroise Bernard: Beginning of Forensic Autopsy in Turkey’, Adnan Menderes Üniversitesi Sağlık Bilimleri Fakültesi Dergisi 2 (3), 2018, pp. 28-31; Polat OGUZ – Cem UYSAL, ‘History of Forensic Medicine in Turkey’, Legal Medicine 11(3), 2009, pp. 107-110 et al.