Hameau was born in La Teste itself on October 5th 1779 in a small house located on what is now Rue du 14 Juillet. His father, André, was a local tailor who had married Jeanne Labouroir from Dax, further south in the Landes area. Aged just 16, Hameau began his medical studies under the guidance of one Dr Desquives in Ychoux, a few kilometres to the east of Biscarrosse. Two years later, in 1797, he departed for Paris, pursuing his studies at École de Santé de Paris where he spent four years and contributed to an initiative known as the “Centre de la Vaccine”.
|Jean Hameau's birthplace, complete with discreet grey plaque. Not sure whether the stars were already in position in 1779!|
In 1843 his theories were presented to the National Academy of Medicine, again with limited results. The seeds were sown though and Hameau’s ideas began to make gentle headway, resulting in articles in medical journals and a formal presentation of Hameau’s thesis “Mémoire sur les virus” before the Académie in 1950, this time by one Professor Londe.
This time the Académie formally acknowledged the importance of Hameau’s work which, over the following decades, would provide a blueprint for more extensive, elaborate and heavily-funded research. It was to culminate in the achievements of chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur and his breakthroughs in the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and (what became known as) pasteurisation.
|Statue in central La Teste. The monument is a 2011 replica of a work by the sculptor Gaston Leroux, first erected in 1900 but which was melted down during the Second World War.|
Hameau died aged 72 in August 1851 following an operation for an ingrowing toenail which led to a generalised infection and ultimately septicaemia. He was buried in the municipal cemetery in La Teste.
Forty-five years passed before the local tributes to La Teste’s illustrious son began to flourish. In 1896, his name was given to one of the town’s central squares. Four years later, a bronze statue depicting Hameau was erected there although this was melted down by the German forces in 1942. In 1962, a more modest bust of the physician was installed in a small park known as Parc Jean Hameau to one side of the square.
|What used to be La Teste's Hôpital Jean Hameau, soon to be demolished to make way for housing in a similar vein to the designs pictured right.|
Finally, in the coming months, an additional paragraph may have to be added here because a permanent museum celebrating Hameau’s life and achievements may take shape in a section of La Teste’s mairie building. If so, Invisible Bordeaux will be there, notebook in hand!
- Find them: statue, park and square, Place Jean-Hameau, birthplace, Rue du 14 Juillet, former Hôpital Jean-Hameau, La-Teste-de-Buch
- Jean Hameau is the subject of two books: Jean Hameau, médecin humaniste by Jean-Marie Chabanne and Jean Hameau : Un médecin précurseur et le Bassin d'Arcachon autrefois by Jacques Battin. The history of the statue is detailed in a document produced by Les Amis de Jean Hameau: www.amisjeanhameau.fr/Files/histoire_statue.pdf