Pierre Barrère

Pierre Barrère (1690-1755) was a French physician and naturalist.

Barrère published works in medicine, presenting cadaveric dissections and detailed descriptions of pathologies such as pericardial effusion. He also studied ornithology, publishing a classification of birds into 4 groups based on the beak and feet shape; botany in medicine, and the flora and fauna of French Guiana; and fossils from mainly Catalonia and the Pyrenees, proposing an ancient ocean based on fossils of marine mollusks.

His name is eponymous with the genus Barreria Scop. (also known as Poraqueiba Aubl) of the Icacinaceae family; and the species Vanilla barrereana Veyret & Szlach.

  • Born in 1690 in Perpignan, France
  • 1717 – Achieved medical degree from the university in Perpignan
  • 1721 – Appointed as a naval surgeon
  • 1722-25 – Travelled to Cayenne in French Guiana to study botany in medicine, and the customs of the local inhabitants
  • 1727 – Returned to France, appointed professor in the botany department at the University of Perpignan. Also served as a doctor of the military hospital
  • Died on November 1, 1755, Perpignan

Medical Eponyms

Barrère described 5 cases of pericardial effusion in great detail, including the signs, symptoms and subsequent autopsy findings. He detailed the considerable respiratory distress suffered, and the postural changes made by the patient to improve breathing.

Il résulte du narré historique de ces Observations, que les signes qui sont réconnoitre cette hydropisie sont l’enflure des pieds, la paleur du visage, la petitesse et la fréquence du pouls, la peine qu’ont les malades de rester couchez dans le lit; une respiration génée; tous ces symptomes pris ensemble, de meme que des suffocations effrayantes qui viennent par boutades, paroissent distinguer.

Barrère 1753: 93

It follows from the historical narrative of these observations, that the signs that are recognized by this dropsy are swelling of the feet, paleness of the face, smallness and frequency of the pulse, the pain that the patients have in staying in bed; difficulty breathing; all these symptoms taken together, as well as frightening suffocations which come in sudden outbursts.

Barrère 1753:93

Barrère P. Section II: Des observations faites a la poitrine; Hydropisie du péricarde. In: Observations anatomiques, tirées des ouvertures d’un grand nombre de cadavres propres a découvrir les causes des maladies et leurs remédes. 1753; II: 79-93


Barrère published his work Dissertation sur la cause physique de la couleur des nègres in 1741 claiming that African bile was black, and that the bile was observed within the epidermal skin layer, based on his cadaveric dissections. This inaccurate theory was enforced by a 1742 publication in the Journal des Savants, contributing to the racial discourse of the time. However, these theories were strongly debated, notably by Dr Claude Nicolas Le Cat, which he disproved based on his microscopic examination studies.

Major Publications

Two works describing his observations in Guyana

  • Barrère P. Essai sur l’histoire naturelle de la France équinoxiale, ou Dénombrement des plantes, des animaux et des minéraux qui se trouvent dans l’isle de Cayenne, les isles de Remire, sur les côtes de la mer et dans le continent de la Guyane. 1741
  • Barrère P. Nouvelle Relation de la France équinoxiale, contenant la description des côtes de la Guiane, de l’île de Cayenne, le commerce de cette colonie, les divers changements arrivés dans ce pays, et les mœurs et coutumes des différents peuples sauvages qui l’habitent; avec les figures dessinées sur les lieux. 1743.



Doctor in Australia. Keen interest in internal medicine, medical education, and medical history.

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