Henry Faulds – Father of Fingerprints

By Benjamin Elisha Sawe on July 15 2019 in Society

Henry Faulds theorized that fingerprints were identical to each person.
Henry Faulds theorized that fingerprints were identical to each person.

Henry Faulds is noted in history as an accomplished Scottish Doctor and missionary, as well as a pioneer in fingerprint identification. However, his significant role in the field of fingerprinting was not fully appreciated in his lifetime.

5. Early Life

Henry Faulds was born to parents of modest means in Beith, North Ayrshire on June 1, 1843. He left school at 13 years old and became a clerk in Glasgow after which he took classes in mathematics, the classics, and logic at the University of Glasgow beginning at the age of 21. Faulds subsequently enrolled to study medicine at Anderson’s College from where he graduated with a physician’s license.

4. Career

Faulds joined the medical missionaries for the Church of Scotland, and in 1872 was deployed to a hospital for the poor in Darjeeling, British India. On July 23, 1873, he got a letter of appointment to establish a medical mission in Japan from the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Faulds and his wife, Isabella Wilson, left for Japan that December. In 1874, Faulds oversaw the establishment of the first English mission in Japan complete with a hospital and a teaching institute. Faulds proved that he was a competent physician and gained the respect of Japanese society. While accompanying an archaeologist companion Edward S. Morse to an archaeological dig, Faulds became interested in the fingerprints visible by those who had molded ancient pottery. He extensively studied the science of fingerprinting and undertook experiments before arriving at the conclusion that fingerprints were unique to each person. Faulds returned to Britain in 1886 where he worked as a police surgeon.

3. Major Contributions

Faulds is credited with numerous contributions during his stay in Japan. He exposed Japanese surgeons to Dr. Joseph Lister’s antiseptic methods. He established lifeguard centers in canals to prevent drowning and helped create the first Japanese society for the blind, named Rakuzenkai. In 1880, a school for the blind was set up with Faulds' help. He also halted the rabies epidemic as well as a cholera outbreak. His Tsukiji Hospital, which was situated in Tokyo, had treated 15,000 patients by 1882. Faulds also pursued other activities other than medicine such as writing numerous academic articles and two books, as well as starting three magazines. Faulds also pioneered research in fingerprinting and passed his notes to naturalist Charles Darwin. Darwin recommended the work to Francis Galton who subsequently passed it on to the Anthropological Society of London. A publication of Faulds' appeared in the journal "Nature" in 1880, where he elaborated on fingerprints and explained how they could be used to identify criminals.

2. Challenges

After Faulds’ publication in 1880, a British civil servant working in India called Sir William Herschel addressed a letter to "Nature" saying he had been identifying criminals using fingerprints since 1860. Herschel did not make any reference to the potential of fingerprints in forensic use. A bitter controversy then ensued between the two men, where Faulds insisted he has been cheated his due credit. Upon Faulds return to Britain, his fingerprinting system was met with a dismissal from the Scotland Yard.

1. Death and Legacy

The use of fingerprints to identify criminals was implemented by Sir William James in India in the 1860s. Henry Faulds is credited as the first person to suggest the potential of fingerprint use in forensic work. Francis Galton used the idea of Faulds to study the use of fingerprints in criminology following which it was accepted by the courts. Galton, however, failed to credit Faulds. The Tokyo clinic that Faulds created became St. Luke’s International Hospital after it was purchased by Ludolph Teusler.

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