Galton, Francis, 1822-1911

Alternative names
Birth 1822-02-16
Death 1911-01-17

Biographical notes:

Eugenicist. Fellow of the Royal Society. Born in Birmingham, England, educated in Boulogne, Kenilworth and King Edward's School, Birmingham; trained in medicine at Birmingham General Hospital and Kings College London until 1840; B. A. Trinity College, Cambridge. A generous inheritance allowed him to devote his life to travel, and to the study of a succession of virtually unexplored fields: the weather; physical and mental characteristics in man and animals; the influence of heredity on them; heredity in twins; fingerprints and personal identification. His study of "those agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally" led him to invent the work "eugenics" to describe his work. He founded the Galton Laboratory of National Eugenics at University College London (later renamed Galton Laboratory, Department of Human Genetics and Biometry) to further his work.

From the description of Papers, 1826-1911. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79972879

Astronomer. Fellow of the Royal Society.

From the description of Papers, 1850-1902. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 81675171

Francis Galton was the founder of the English eugenics movement and the science of biometrics.

From the description of Letters, 1870-1899. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122589313


From the description of Sir Francis Galton correspondence, 1875. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79450378

Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), born in Birmingham, England, was an early human geneticist and eugenicist. The term "eugenics" was coined by him in 1883. He laid the foundation for the science of biostatistics through his studies on the inheritance of mental traits. Galton, first cousin to Charles Darwin, was influenced by Darwin's Origin of the Species. He began to publish on heredity in 1865 and, in 1889, he published Natural Inheritance, a summary of his work on the subject. Galton was knighted in 1909 and received the Copley medal from the Royal Society in 1910.

Mrs. Maud Clark Gardiner was the wife of John Gardiner, the first professor of Biology at the University of Colorado. Both Mrs. Gardiner and her daughter Dorothy (the donor) are graduates of the University of Colorado. Dorothy Gardiner was the first baby ever to be fingerprinted. Her fingerprints are still housed at the Fingerprint Museum at Scotland Yard. Dorothy Gardiner authored The Golden Lady, The Great Betrayal, Lion in Wait, The Transatlantic Ghost, West of the River, and other works.

From the description of Sir Francis Galton correspondence (MS 81), 1894-1936 (bulk) 1894-1907. (Denver Public Library). WorldCat record id: 225210919

The polymath Francis Galton (1822-1911) led a privileged and adventurous life, lending his talents to the development of statistical inference, scientific meteorology, psychology, and becoming one of the first to apply the evolutionary theories of his cousin Charles Darwin to human populations, founding the new fields of eugenics and biometrics.

Born in Birmingham, England, on Feb. 16, 1822, Galton was still a boy when he was first gripped by a "passion for travel," touring eastern Europe and the Levant in the months before entering Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1840. At his parents' insistence -- and having already spent time studying at the General Hospital in Birmingham and at King's College, London -- Galton studied medicine at Cambridge. Yet medicine was not in his future. When his father died in 1844, the same year that he took a poll degree, Galton found himself liberated from the need to work, and almost immediately embarked upon a tour up the Nile as far as Khartoum and from there, to Syria. For five years, he dabbled in the sporting life, but after becoming thoroughly bored with leisure, he returned to travel. Approaching the Royal Geographic Society, Galton proposed leading an exploring expedition to Damaraland (present day Namibia), hoping to push from Walfish Bay inland to Lake Ngami, a lake which had been seen by Europeans only by David Livingstone. Galton failed in this attempt, but his account of that arduous journey, Tropical South Africa (London, 1853), established him as an important explorer and earned him the gold medal of the Royal Geographic Society in 1853, the gold medal of the French Geographical Society in 1854, and election to the Royal Society in 1856.

Despite having earned an enviable reputation as an explorer, Damaraland would be Galton's final expedition. Instead, he threw himself into a variety of scientific pursuits, and above all into quantitative inference. As an early experimental psychologist, he introduced the survey as a method for data collection, helped to demonstrate that different minds worked in different ways, promoted twin studies, and investigated the nature of memory and the senses. In meteorology, his work on atmospheric circulation (including coining the word "anticyclone") and his use of maps to show high pressure areas were both fundamental to the development of scientific weather forecasting. Although never as adept mathematically as he would have liked, Galton became a pioneer in the use of regression analysis during the 1870s and introduced the concept of statistical correlation in 1888. Using this approach, he helped to demonstrate that fingerprints were an index of personal identity, even persuading Scotland Yard to keep fingerprint records, and he stirred up a statistical controversy with a study that disproved the efficacy of prayer in healing. He also took on important administrative responsibilities: from 1868 to 1900 he served on the council of the Meteorological Office, and from 1863 to 1867 he was president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Galton's best known work, however, was inspired by his cousin. Within months of reading Darwin's Origin of Species, Galton became a zealous convert and almost immediately set out to give statistical heft to the study of differences in human abilities. Struck by the tendency of genius to run in families (including his own), he amassed data on the heritability of intelligence, collecting the genealogies and obituaries of dozens of eminent persons and spinning the results into a succession of books. Hereditary genius: an enquiry into its laws and consequences (1869) was followed by English men of science: their nature and nurture (1874), Natural inheritance (1889), Index to achievements of near kinsfolk of some of the Fellows of the Royal Society (1904), and Noteworthy Families (1906). In each of these, Galton argued that hereditary, not environment, was the key factor in explaining the distribution of intellectual (and other) talents in society. It was he who developed the catch phrase, "nature versus nurture," with the emphasis clearly on nature.

As early as 1865, Galton sought to turn his understanding of heredity actively to improve the human race, an idea he popularized in Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development (1883), the book in which he introduced the term eugenics. He intended this neologism to refer to the scientific effort to improve the human race through selective breeding of the best elements of society and discouragement of breeding of the worst. In his autobiography, Galton wrote that the aims of eugenics were simple and clear, and were rooted in biology.

Infirm during the last several years of his life, Galton died of acute bronchitis on Jan. 17, 1911. His wife Louisa Jane Butler, whom he married in August 1853, died in 1897, and he had no children. The bulk of his estate was left to the University College London to endow the laboratory of eugenics and to establish a chair in eugenics, of which the statistician Karl Pearson was the first tenant.

From the guide to the Francis Galton Collection, 1867-1909, (American Philosophical Society)


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  • Fingerprints
  • Statistics
  • Psychometry (Parapsychology)
  • Eugenics
  • Astronomical observations--19th century
  • Heredity
  • Fingerprints--History
  • Heredity (Sociology)
  • Meteorology
  • Genetics
  • Photography
  • Geneticists--Correspondence


  • Scientists
  • Astronomers


  • England (as recorded)
  • Namibia (as recorded)