Scientists and Society

Francis Galton (1822-1911), Biographical Notes

1822 Born as the last child in a wealthy family in Birmingham; his mother is a daughter of Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin). His sister Adele (12 years elder) taught him before he went to school.

1840 Entered Trinity College, Cambridge, after spending a few years as an apprentice in the Birmingham General Hospital and then at King's College Medical School in London. In Cambridge he mainly studied mathematics. Nervous breakdown in 1843.

1844 His father died and Francis inherited a large fortune.

1845 A trip to Egypt; he met a Frenchman Arnaud who gave him a crucial advice for his subsequent life. On his return he led "the life of a country gentleman" for a while, reading widely.

1850 Explored South West Africa at his own expense but under the auspicies of the Royal Geographical Society. This region was largely unknown to Europe at that time. He returned to England in 1852 with numerous geographical data of this unmapped region. The Royal Geographical Society awarded him a gold medal and its fellowship. Thus he established himself as a "gentleman in pursuit of science." He married Louisa Butler, and got acquainted with many eminent persons through her connection. But they had no child.

1853 An Explorer in Tropical South Africa

1855 Art of Travel

1859 Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published, and Galton was influenced by this work.

1863 In 60s he began meteorological investigations; he wondered whether the climatic regularities may be recorded for accurate forecasting. He published his findings in Meteorographica. He was very fond of numerical studies, and he often said "Whenever you can, count."

1865 "Hereditary Character and Talent" (in two parts) in Macmillan's Magazine 11. In this, he first propounded the basic idea of "eugenics" (without that word, which he later coined). The paper was later revised and published as Hereditary Genius (1869). [You can read the paper here.]

1869 Hereditary Genius

In the late 60s Galton began a series of experiments in relation to Darwin's hypothesis of pangenesis (which says that the environment induces organic modifications, and these are transmitted by particles "gemmules" via the circulation of bodily fluids to the sexual organs and to succeeding generations); but by early 70s he obtained negative results.

1873-4 Invented Quincunx

1877 Analysis of sweet pea experiment

1884 Founded Anthropometric Laboratory

1885 Studies of stature of parents and children; later extended to brothers

1889 Natural Inheritance

1892 Fingerprints

1908 Memories of My Life

1911 On his death, University College (London) established a Galton Eugenics Professorship (which was given to Karl Pearson)


Francis Galton (website) http://www.cimm.jcu.edu.au/hist/stats/galton/

Hacking, Ian (1990) The Taming of Chance, Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Kevles, Daniel J. (1985) In the Name of Eugenics, University of California Press, 1985.

Pearson, Karl (1914-30) The Life, Letters, and Labours of Francis Galton, 3 vols., Cambridge University Press

Stigler, Stephen M. (1986) The History of Statistics, Harvard University Press, 1986.

Last modified November 2, 1999. (c) Soshichi Uchii