A partial print of the history of forensic science
Forensic science is the application of scientific techniques to the evidence in a criminal investigation.
No two people have fingerprints that are exactly alike. In the late 19th century, techniques for fingerprint identification and classification were developed, and fingerprint evidence was first accepted in British courts in 1901.
'DNA fingerprinting' or 'genetic profiling' was invented 25 years ago at the University of Leicester. Comparing samples of DNA can provide evidence for forensic analysis and identification of an individual by calculating the probability of a match just occuring by chance.
This month we highlight descriptions for the papers of physicians, chemists and toxicologists, and records relating to forgery and violent crimes. There are also links to selected websites and some suggested reading.
The case of double-murderer Dr. Buck Ruxton led to new techniques in forensic science developed by the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Above right: Police search for evidence in Moffat, Scotland, 1935 (Ref. GUA FM/2A/25/109). Below: detail of Ruxton's fingerprint form. Ruxton's prints were taken in Liverpool Prison. Photos courtesy of Glasgow University Archive Services.
- Rex v. Ruxton: in 1935, Dr. Buck Ruxton of Lancaster murdered his wife and their house-maid, cut up their bodies, and deposited them in a Scottish river; these are photographs and sketches of the remains and effects of the victims in the collection of James Couper Brash (1886-1958), Professor of Anatomy at Edinburgh University.
- Ruggles Bequest: forged drawings of the American Civil War, supposedly made in the 1880s; the collection includes photographic enhancements of the drawings, made by the Forensic Department of Tayside Police; Ruggles' Regiment was an infantry regiment of the Union army.
- Robert Cowan (1796-1841): Regius Professor of Medical Jurisprudence and Forensic Medicine at the University of Glasgow; collection includes papers of his son John Black Cowan (1829-1896), lecturer in Medical Jurisprudence.
- Professor Sir Robert Christison (1797-1882): Christison was Medical Advisor to the Crown, 1829-1866, appearing as an expert witness in forensic toxicology in many celebrated criminal cases, and was a medical expert witness in the trial of the notorious murderers Burke and Hare - who sold their victims' bodies for medical research.
- Douglas Maclagan (1812-1900): Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University; close friend of toxicologist Sir Robert Christison, often assisting him in forensic matters.
- Thomas Scattergood (1826-1900): lecturer in forensic medicine and toxicology.
- Henry Duncan Littlejohn (1828-1914): Professor of Medical Jurisprudence at Edinburgh University.
- Littlejohn Collection: collection of correspondence received by Henry Duncan Littlejohn (1826-1914) and Henry Harvey Littlejohn (1862-1927), who succeeded his father to the Chair of Forensic Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
- Henry Faulds (1843-1930): physician whose fingerprint identification research was published in the journal Nature in 1880, although his later claim for the discovery of fingerprinting was controversial.
- Francis Howard Carr (1874-1969): Carr was a chemist; this collection includes notes on laboratory work on the poison aconitine.
- James Wilkie Nisbet: forensic pharmacy lecture notes of a student at the University of Glasgow, 1921-1927.
- Eric Thurman: forensic pharmacy lecture notes made by a student at University College Nottingham, 1928-1929.
- Frederick Sydney Dainton, Lord Dainton (1914-1997): Professor of Chemistry, member of the Royal Society; in 1993, Dainton chaired the Forensic Science Sub-Committee of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology; there is some discussion of DNA fingerprinting in the report, which includes a letter from a prisoner convicted on DNA evidence.
- Crimes of Violence Datasets: coroners' inquests and prosecutions for violent offences in English, Australian and New Zealand courts, from the 17th century to the early 20th century.
- Nuremberg military tribunals: records of the International Military Tribunal and the Nuremberg Military Tribunals, which dealt with the investigation and punishment of the war criminals of the Nazis and their allies in Europe.
- Atomic bomb: the British scientist Baron Solly Zuckerman .(1904-1993) evaluated the findings of the teams sent to Japan to study the physiological effects of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S. in 1945.
- Forensic Medicine Archives Project: forensic medicine resources held at the University of Glasgow archives, including photographs and documents from the Ruxton case
- West Midlands Police Museum: museum in Birmingham of the police forces in the West Midlands; includes prison cell and Victorian prisoner photgraphs.
- Greater Manchester Police Museum: includes a Victorian Magistrates' court and police cells, and displays of historical police equipment, vehicles and uniforms, and photographic collections.
- Metropolitan Police and Crime Museums: museums in London providing a comprehensive history of the Metropolitan Police from 1829 to the present; these include the Crime Museum, a 'Black Museum' founded in 1875.
- Strathclyde Police Museum: includes many exhibits relating to forensic science and other important aspects of modern policing.
- Seized! Revenue and Customs uncovered: the national museum of HM Revenue and Customs, who deal with the smuggling of illegal goods, such as guns and drugs (Liverpool Museums website).
- Forensic Science Society: founded in 1959 and one of the oldest and largest forensic associations in the world
- Cranfield Forensic Institute: the application of science and technology to law enforcement through forensic science and engineering.
- Forensic Science Service: provides forensic services to police forces in England and Wales.
- Crime scene house: the University of the West of England in Bristol has a crime science house to train students in crime scene investigation
- DNA profiling: DNA profiling explained, and the work of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit (University of Leicester website)
Links are provided to records on Copac for these items. The Copac library catalogue gives free access to the merged online catalogues of major University, Specialist, and National Libraries in the UK and Ireland, including the British Library. For more information about accessing items see the FAQs on the Copac website.
- Cases of poisoning. With remarks by Douglas Maclagan (1849) Records on Copac
- Forensic science: evidence received after 31July 1993 Select Committee on Science and Technology; Lord Dainton chaired the Forensic Science Sub-Committee (1993) Records on Copac
- Medico-legal aspects of the Ruxton case by John Glaister and James Couper Brash (1937). "Lucid and scrupulously detailed ... a classic", Colin Evans Records on Copac
- Notebooks of medical case histories compiled by Thomas Scattergood (1846-1897) Records on Copac
- "The toxicology of Robert Christison: European influences and British practice in the early nineteenth century" by Anne Crowther, in Jose Ramon Bertomeu-Sanchez and Agusti Nieto-Galan (editors) Chemistry, Medicine, and Crime: Mateu J.B. Orfila (1787-1853) and his times (2006) Records on Copac
- The casebook of forensic detection: how science solved 100 of the world's most baffling cases by Colin Evans (2007); includes examples of disputed document analysis, and a chapter on the Ruxton case Records on Copac
- Cause of death: the story of forensic science by Frank Smyth; with a foreword by Colin Wilson (1980) Records on Copac
- Crime and circumstance: investigating the history of forensic science by Suzanne Bell (2008) Records on Copac
- Crime scene to court: the essentials of forensic science edited by Peter White (2004) Records on Copac
- Criminalistics: an introduction to forensic science by Richard Saferstein (2007) Records on Copac
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