Henry Faulds

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Dr Henry Faulds (1 June 1843 - 1930) was a Scottish scientist who is noted for the development of fingerprinting.

Faulds was born in the Scottish town of Beith. Aged 13, he went to Glasgow to work as a clerk; at 21 he decided to enrol at Glasgow University, where he studied mathematics, logic and the classics. He later studied medicine at Anderson College.

Following his education he became a missionary and was sent to Japan, where he became the superintendent of Tuskiji Hospital, Tokyo and founded the Tokyo Institute for the Blind. Whilst accompanying a friend to an archaeological dig he noticed how the delicate impressions left by craftsmen could be discerned in ancient clay fragments. Examining his own fingertips and those of friends, he became convinced that the pattern of ridges was unique to each individual.

Shortly after these observations his hospital was broken into. The local police arrested a member of staff who Faulds believed to be innocent. Determined to exonerate the man he compared the prints left behind at the crime scene to those of the suspect and found them to be different. On the strength of this evidence the police agreed to release the suspect.

In an attempt to promote the idea of fingerprint identification he sought the help of the noted naturalist Charles Darwin. Darwin declined to work on the idea, but passed it on to his relative Francis Galton. As a result of this interchange some controversy has arisen about the inventor of modern forensic fingerprinting. However, there can be no doubt that Faulds' first paper on the subject was published in the scientific journal Nature in 1880.

The following month Sir William Herschel, a British civil servant based in India, wrote to Nature saying that he had been using fingerprints (as a form of bar code) to identify criminals since 1860. However, he did not mention their potential for forensic use. In 1888 at the Royal Institution, Galton wrongly claimed that Herschel had suggested forensic usage before Faulds, and it was not until 1917 that Herschel conceded that Faulds had indeed been the first.

Returning to Britain in 1886 Faulds offered the concept of fingerprint identification to Scotland Yard but he was dismissed. It was not taken up in England until 1901. Subsequently, Faulds returned to the life of a police surgeon in the Stoke-on-Trent town of Fenton. In 1922 he sold his practice and moved to nearby Wolstanton where he died in March 1930 aged 86.

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