Papers of Sir Francis Galton, consisting of papers relating to the personal history of Galton and his family, 1612-1926; papers relating to Galton's scientific work, 1850-1922; and correspondence 1765-1923.
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- ReferenceGB 103 GALTON
- Dates of Creation1612-1926
- Name of Creator
- Language of MaterialEnglish German Dutch Bengali Arabic Italian French Hungarian Latin
- Physical Description175 standard boxes, 19 volumes plus oversize items
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
Francis Galton was born in Birmingham on the 16th February 1822. His father was Samuel Tertius Galton (1783-1844), a banker, and his mother was Frances Anne Violetta Darwin (1783-1874), daughter of the physician Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802). Through his mother's family he was a cousin of the naturalist Charles Darwin.
Galton was educated in Kenilworth and at King Edward's School, Birmingham, until the age of sixteen. Following in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather, he was enrolled to study medicine at Birmingham General Hospital in 1838 and moved to King's College Medical School in 1839. However, he gave up his medical education and in 1840 spent six months travelling through Europe, Turkey and Syria. On his return he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge to read mathematics and was awarded his BA in 1844. When his father died later that year, a generous inheritance allowed Galton to give up his plans to study medicine at Cambridge and instead he embarked on a year-long tour of the Middle East.
In 1850 he explored south-west Africa on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society and later published two books as a result of his experiences: Tropical South Africa (1852) and The Art of Travel (1855). He married Louisa Jane Butler in 1855 and they established a home in Rutland Gate in South Kensington, London.
Galton then devoted his life to the study of diverse fields, including the weather, physical and mental characteristics in man and animals, the influence of heredity, heredity in twins, and fingerprints. He was preoccupied with counting and measuring, and collected a huge amount of statistical data to support his hypotheses.
Today, Galton is perhaps best known for his studies into the inheritance of mental and physical characteristics in humans, for example estimating the frequency with which eminent individuals come from similarly distinguished families. His questionable hypotheses and methods led him to conclude that "talents" could be inherited, and later in his life he was zealous in advocating the study of "those agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally". He invented the word "eugenics" to describe this. Many of his genetic theories, such as eugenics, have since been discredited, although his study into the concept of inheritance - that certain characteristics can be passed from one generation to the next - is an important legacy.
One of Galton's other fields of interest was his work on fingerprints. He discovered that a person's fingerprints could be used for personal identification because they are unique and do not change throughout a person's lifetime. His archive contains a large number of examples of fingerprints, which he used to create a taxonomic system still in use today. Galton also carried out further studies into the method of inheritance, for example disproving Charles Darwin's theory of pangenesis (inheritance via particles in the bloodstream) and making various discoveries through his data analysis that eventually formed the basis of biostatistics.
Galton was also involved in many societies and organisations, particularly the Royal Society, the Royal Geographical Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He was on the governing committee of the Meteorological Office from 1868 to 1900. He founded the Galton Laboratory of National Eugenics at University College London to further his work on eugenics, although under the leadership of L S Penrose in the 1960s the name of this department was changed to the Galton Laboratory, Department of Human Genetics and Biometry.
Francis Galton died on the 17 January 1911 and he was buried at the Galton family vault in Claverdon, Warwickshire. His wife Louisa predeceased him; they had no children.
Divided into three sections: 1. Personal and family papers; 2. Work-related material; 3. Correspondence
The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.
The papers were deposited in University College London by Sir Francis Galton's executors soon after his death in 1911. They were added to by gifts from his nephew, Edward Galton Wheler-Galton, and from other members of the family. Purchases were made from sale rooms and private owners by Karl Pearson and other members of the Galton Laboratory during the following thirty years.
Other Finding Aids
A full, detailed catalogue is available online. Please note this catalogue supercedes the printed handlist and researchers should note that the system of numbering has been changed.
Now obsolete published handlist 'A list of the papers and correspondence of Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) held in the Manuscripts Room, the Library, University College London' compiled by M Merrington and J Golden (University College London, 1976); name and subject index.
Conditions Governing Use
Normal copyright restrictions apply.