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Prominent Odessans: Nikolai Bokarius


The name of this man is equally well known to both forensic doctors and forensic scientists. The country’s oldest forensic research institutes named by him as well as “white lines” – elements of the palmar surface of human hands and crystals used to study bio-traces of material evidence. He was the Coryphaeus of forensic medicine.


Nikolai Bokarius, was born on March 31, 1869 in Odessa, in the family of a teacher at the Richelieu gymnasium. He graduated from one of the Odessa gymnasiums, and in in 1890 he entered the medical faculty of the Kharkov Imperial University, graduating from which in 1895 he began the work of a resident at a surgical clinic, where he became interested in pathological histology. In 1897, he was elected as an assistant of prosecutor at the Department of Forensic Medicine of Kharkov University, with which he later connected his entire scientific career. His first series of publications can be considered seven scientific papers, mainly on the study of physical evidence.

Nikolai Bokarius

In 1911, N.S. Bocarius published “A Short Course in Forensic Medicine”. “In that the same year, a criminal case was described in which Nikolai Sergeevich took part as an expert, having established the identity of the criminal by the trace of the papillary pattern of the finger of the hand on the anonymous letter ”

Nikolai Sergeevich, back in 1911, pointed out the need for conditions for the formation of traces of papillary patterns, highlighting three main factors that determine the features of the display of signs of papillary patterns in the tracks: the amount of trace substance, the force of pressure and the magnitude of the plane of contact.

Bokarius’s expert practice was exceptionally extensive (he carried out an autopsy of more than 3 thousand corpses and conducted an expert examination of 5 thousand material evidence).

In 1913 – 1914, Bocarius publishes works in which he proposes a new method of obtaining crystals in the study of blood stains. In 1915, he publishes his book “Forensic Medicine Explained for Lawyers”, exclusive in terms of content and design.

“This wonderful work with wonderful photographs, tables, colour drawings, occupying almost 800 pages, in which the basics of anatomy, histology, pathology and forensic medicine are presented in a bright, simple and accessible way for lawyers, is unsurpassed”

The book in question was only the first volume of a four-volume book he had conceived. “However, the edition of the latter was not completed due to the First World War.”

Bocarius with colleagues

Nikolai Sergeevich Bokarius, the first laureate of the title “Honoured Professor of the Ukrainian SSR”, awarded in 1925 in connection with the 30th anniversary of medical and scientific-pedagogical activity.

In 1926, thanks to the energy of Bokarius, the department was replenished with special equipment. Students had the opportunity to get acquainted with the latest achievements in the field of forensic medicine.

Edited by N.S. Bokarius publishes the journal Archive of Criminology and Forensic Medicine (1600 pages). The summary of scientific articles was presented in French, German and English. Some articles by foreign authors were printed in the respective languages ​​(including Italian and Spanish).

“All this was made possible because Nikolai Sergeevich himself was an exceptional linguist and spoke 17 foreign languages.”

The magazine was the brainchild of Bokarius, who put a lot of effort and energy into its creation. N. S. Bokarius not only edited all materials, submitted to the journal, but also published articles, abstracts, chronicles of scientific life, etc. The authors of the journal materials were representatives forensic medicine and forensic science not only in Ukraine, but also in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland and other countries. Thus, Bokarius established wide contacts with scientists from different countries, the journal was sent to different countries, where he used a special popular among professionals.

Forensic Medicine Training Session

Professor Bokarius passed away on December 23, 1931. Death did not allow him to fully implement those great plans that he charted for forensic training. The business started by Bocarius was continued by his students, and the leadership of the institute was inherited by his son Nikolai Nikolaevich Bokarius.

Despite all the tragedy of the forensic profession, Nikolai Sergeevich was a very sincere person. He was a good artist, having survived German occupation of Kharkov, several of his paintings have survived. Relatives also note his piety, which is not so characteristic of a specialist in determining the causes of death.

A study-museum of Nikolai Bokarius was opened in Kharkov. The museum collected about 500 books of the professor, there is his family photo album with a personal signature, letters, albums of his children. On the desktop are drawings of a greenhouse for growing medicinal plants, which Nikolai Bokarius wanted to build, his father’s personal seal, which he certified documents with all his life, and there is also a typewriter of those years, a microscope, and a telephone. The professor himself is sitting at the table – his wax figure, which was created from hundreds of personal photographs of the scientist in order to reliably convey his appearance.

Office-Museum of Nikolai Bocarius. Photo:city.kharkov.ua
Office-Museum of Nikolai Bocarius. Photo:city.kharkov.ua
Office-Museum of Nikolai Bocarius. Photo:city.kharkov.ua
Office-Museum of Nikolai Bocarius. Photo:city.kharkov.ua