Mathieu Orfila

Mathieu Orfila

Born: 24 April 1787 Mahón, Menorca, Kingdom of Spain

Died: 12 March 1853 (aged 65) Paris, Île-de-France, French Empire

Role in Forensic Toxicology

A forensic toxicologist is often called in to examine pieces of evidence such as bodies and food items for poison content if there is reason to believe that a murder or attempted murder was committed using poison. Arsenic was the most common poison at Orfila’s time, but there were no accurate methods for detecting its presence. In his first book, Traité des poisons, Orfila developed new techniques and modified old ones, substantially improving their accuracy.

Marie Lafarge was charged with the murder of her husband in 1840. Even though she had access to arsenic and that arsenic was found in the victim’s diet, no arsenic was found in the body. The court asked Orfila to look into it. He determined that the Marsh test had been performed wrongly and that there was arsenic in the body, and LaFarge was found guilty as a result.

The “Father of Toxicology,” Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila (April 24, 1787–March 12, 1853) is widely regarded as the “Father of Toxicology.” Orfila was a Spanish toxicologist and chemist who is widely credited with founding toxicology.

Mathieu Orfila was a prominent figure in the nineteenth century, and his “Treatise on Poison” is still regarded as a classic text. In the field of forensic science, his treatise is considered a gold standard. Arsenic was the most common and useful type of poison at the time, but there was no predictable or reliable way to check for poison. He was a pioneer in refining previous processes and developing new procedures. In his first treatise, he also explained this strategy.

He is the most well-known and important person from France’s golden period of medicine and toxicology. Orfila is regarded as one of the most recognized and influential figures in criminal justice history for his use of scientific evidence in criminal trials.

Early Life and Education

Mathieu Orfila was born on the Spanish island of Minorca on April 24, 1787. He was uninterested in his father’s business and avoided his father’s typical merchant maritime occupation. When he returned from a cruise to Sicily, Egypt, and Sardinia, he was dissatisfied with his profession and ended his career as a merchant seaman. As a result, when he was just fifteen years old, he was obliged to study medicine.

Scientific Work

Before attending university in Paris, he earned a bachelor’s degree in toxicology and chemistry from Valencia and Barcelona, respectively.

● In the year 1813, he gave disciples lectures on poison and demonstrated how to test for the presence of arsenic.

● Traité des poisons tirés des règnes minéral, végétal, et animal; ou, Toxicologie générale” was his first notable work, first published in 1814.

● He applied for a chemistry professorship in a medical institution in Spain after graduation but was rejected, so he eventually traveled to France.

● In 1816, he was appointed as the royal physician to Louis XVIII of France, and the following year, he was hired as a professor of chemistry at the Athénée de Paris, France.

● In this journal, he published the research paper “Eléments de Chimie Médicale” (on the use of chemistry in medicine).

● In 1818, he produced another scientific treatise titled Poison Recognition and the Distinction Between Actual Death and Murder.

● In 1819, he was appointed as a Professor of Medical Jurisprudence and became a permanent French citizen. He is employed as a chemical professor four years later.

● In the year 1830, he was appointed dean of the college of medicine as a result of his hard work and scholarly publications.

Mathieu was a dedicated worker who contributed to the establishment of museums and hospitals, as well as dissection facilities at Clamart, clinics, and botanical gardens, as well as a new medical school. He was a medical expert in criminal cases throughout his life and became a well-known figure of the century. He further stated that poisons such as arsenic found near graves may influence the body and be mistaken for a poisoning, which is not the case.

Orfila, like other European scientists, was a member of a Parisian social and intellectual elite, and he was criticized by political intrigue. He is abruptly removed from his deanship role on February 28, 1848. A commission was formed to look into and investigate any irregularities that occurred during his tenure, but none were discovered.

By 1851, he had been rehabilitated and was president of the Academy of Medicine. At the age of 65, he died on March 12, 1853, in Paris, France.

Mathieu Orfila and Lafarge Trial

Mathieu Orfila was summoned to Paris to investigate the Lafarge murder case. Marie Lafarge, Lafarge’s wife, was accused of attempting to murder her husband with arsenic poison in 1840. Due to the lack of a trustworthy process, no evidence of arsenic in the victim’s body could be found at the time. The court called Orfila to look into the criminal matter.

After further investigation, he discovered that the Marsh Test is unreliable due to its inaccuracy. His meticulous study revealed the presence of arsenic in the corpse of the victim, and the court declared Marie Lafarge guilty of the murder of her husband.


  • Trait des poisons or Toxicologie create (1813)
  • Elements de chimie medicate (1817)
  • Leons de médecine legate (1823)
  • Trait des exhumations juridiques are Orfila’s most famous works (1830)
  • Lacide arsenieux lempoisonnement investigations (1841)

He also wrote several important publications, most of them dealing with medical law.

His fame is based primarily on the first-mentioned work, which he published when he was just twenty-seven years old. It’s a gold mine of experimental data on poisoning symptoms of all types, the appearances poisons leave in the dead body, their physiological function, and the methods for identifying them. Few disciplines of science can be said to have been founded and raised to a state of high advancement by the labors of a single man, notwithstanding their importance in everyday life and difficulty of inquiry.


1787: Mathieu Orfila Birth

1804-1807: Attended the Course of Medicine

1814: Published a Scientific Paper

1815: Married to Anne Gabrielle Lesueur

1816: Become a royal physician

1817: Succeeded as a professor of Chemistry

1818: Become a French citizen

1818: Published another scientific paper

1819: Professor of legal medicine

1830: Dean of the Faculty of Medicine

1834: Knight of the Legion of Honor

1840: Mathieu Orfila and Lafarge Trial

1848: Refused from the post of dean

1853: Died at the age of sixty-five

Orfila, like many other early nineteenth-century European scientists, was a victim of political intrigue. After the Bourbon Restoration and Louis Philippe’s reign, he was praised, but during the 1848 revolutions, he quickly fell out of favor. He was allowed to serve as president of the Académie de Médecine from 1850 to 1852, despite his medical deanship being abruptly ended on February 28, 1848. The stress he experienced during the Second Republic is considered to have hastened his physical decline and ultimately contributed to his death.

This branch of forensics has evolved to encompass the investigation of both illegal and legal drugs, such as alcohol. As previously said, forensic toxicology can discover poisons and hazardous compounds that can be utilized to evaluate the outcome of actual circumstances. Each substance’s chemical makeup is investigated, and they are also recognized from various sources such as urine or hair. The way drugs are absorbed, distributed, or removed in the body by metabolism is the subject of forensic toxicology. When studying drugs and how they work in the body, forensic toxicology will look at where and how the substance impacts the body. While forensic toxicological testing can be used for a variety of purposes, most people are most aware of drug and alcohol testing. Testing like this is widespread in the transportation industry and at workplaces.

There are many toxins and poisons in our world, many of which have an impact on how we work and live. Forensic toxicology is also used in post-mortem investigations to determine if an excessive amount of a drug was consumed and, if so, whether this contributed to the death. Using forensic toxicological testing, forensic scientists can identify chemicals and track their use patterns. In India and other countries, suicide, homicide, and unintentional poisoning are all prevalent. It is important in criminal and coroner investigations of poisoning, drug use, and death, as well as suspected cases of doping, inhalant or drug abuse, and driving while intoxicated. Toxic substances, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, volatile substances, and industrial, household, or environmental compounds that harm the human body are isolated and chemically identified in this forensic discipline.

With the availability of diverse agents such as pesticides, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals, there is a risk that they may be misused. Aconite, strychnine, calotropis, oleander, copper, mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous compounds are preferred. To determine the presence of these chemicals, the forensic toxicology laboratory analyses body fluids and tissues. Toxicologists do the testing, write reports on their findings, and testify in court to interpret the results.

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