Fingerprint Evidence is Crucial?

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Print Pioneers

Sir William HERSCHEL 1833 - 1917, UK
A man of wide interests, he worked in the Indian Civil Service from 1853. He became interested in the use of hand/finger prints on contracts made with locals, and conducted experiments with colleagues and friends, taking their prints over periods of time. On the 28th. July 1858 he obtained the palm impression of Rajyadhar Konai as part of a written contract for the supply of 2000 millions of mand (80 lbs per mand) of marbles to build a road. This effectively marked the beginning of the modern era of papillary line identification as Herschel originally termed it. By careful notation he established the principle of persistence and immutability. He used his various posts as a magistrate (which included control of prisons and registration of deeds) to introduce the use of fingerprints to prevent impersonation.
In 1877 he suggested in a letter to his superiors that this practice should be more universal, even mentioning the use of fingerprints to identity cadavers, but his suggestion received little encouragement. He indicated taking thousand of prints over 20 years and was prepared to answer for the identity of every person whose sign-manual (fingerprint) I can now produce if I am confronted with him?. He returned to England in 1878 suffering from poor health. His reply to FAULDS (see below) letter in 1880 included comments on the ease of taking signatures or sign-manuals, their use to avoid impersonation, and persistence. He also suggested Scotland Yard should keep prints of army recruits to identify subsequent deserters.


Sir William HERSCHEL

Dr. Henry FAULDS 1843 - 1936, UK
A medical missionary and a controversial figure in fingerprint history. In 1879 while serving in Japan, he became interested in fingerprints. In February 1880 he wrote to Charles DARWIN and suggested the use of fingerprints to identify convicted criminals, cadavers (in as much as he suggested hereditary patterns) and the use of marks, bloody fingers or impressions on clay, glass etc? to identify murderers or robbers. This letter was passed by DARWIN to GALTON (see below). In October 1880 he wrote to the Editor of Nature (On the skin furrows of the hand). He repeated the use of crime scene marks in that, they may lead to a scientific identification of criminals? and quoted examples of positive and negative evidence. Herschel replied to this letter in November 1880, giving details of his own use of fingerprints over 20 years. In October 1894 in a further letter to Nature, Faulds derided Herschel's work on the basis that Herschel had only supplied GALTON (see below) with the prints of 15 different persons. (This ignored Herschel?s collection in India, which, as public records, would not be available in this country). In 1886 Faulds offered to set up, at his own expense, a fingerprint bureau at Scotland Yard to test his suggestion, but this was rejected in favor of Bertillonage (the anthropometric system). In his later years, his lack of recognition may have influenced his opinions. He worked as a defense expert in the STRATTON case (see below).


Dr. Henry FAULDS

Sir Francis GALTON 1822 - 1911, UK
One of the greatest scientists of his time, and a cousin of Charles DARWIN. In 1888 he was asked by the Royal Institution to provide a report on Bertillonage, so went to Paris, met Bertillon (see below) but was not totally impressed with the statistical basis on which individuals could be separated. Recalling Faulds letter (which he had passed to the Anthropological Institute - where nothing was apparently done with it) he also contacted Herschel. During his lecture to the Royal Institution he demonstrated the persistence of Herschel's fore and middle fingers that had been recorded in 1860 and again in 1888. In the following years he took a great interest in developing identification. By calculation and statistics he estimated the chances of any one human possessing ten fingerprints identical to another were one in 64,000,000,000. In 1892 he published his first work on the subject entitled Fingerprints, and in 1895 -Fingerprint Directories. In these he paid tribute to Faulds, but regarded Herschel as the first person who devised a practical use for using fingerprints. Galton's interest in the subject and his eminence in the British scientific community almost certainly influenced authorities in their decision to adopt the fingerprint system of identification. Much of his work can still be seen in the Galton Laboratory, University College, London. Ridge characteristics are also known in the US as Galton details.


Sir Francis GALTON

Juan (John) VUCETICH 1858 - 1925, Argentina, First Homicide Solved
In 1891 he was head of the statistical bureau in Argentina and was tasked with setting up an Anthropometric Bureau. However, he had also read about the work of Galton and Herschel. By 1892 he had devised his own fingerprint classification system. In the same year Francesco Rojas of Nechochea, Buenos Aires Province, was found in a house with neck injuries. Her two sons were found dead with their throats cut. Rojas accused a neighbor, a Snr. Velasquez. Despite thrashings and being made to stay with the corpses overnight Velasquez would not confess. Inspector Alvarez, a colleague of Vucetich, found a bloody thumb latent on the house door, which he cut out, and compared with Rojas's prints. The latent was her right thumb and she subsequently confessed. In 1894 the whole province of Buenos Aires adopted the fingerprint system. In 1909 Vucetich was awarded the honor of Perito Identificator (skilled in identification) by the President of Argentina. Bertillon never forgave him for criticising his measuring system, snubbing him in 1913 when he visited Paris. Vucetich's dream to fingerprint the whole Argentine population was cancelled in 1917 after protest riots. He was banished to another city and his records and files were seized. He died of tuberculosis and cancer, mentally and physically sick, but his system continues to be used in South America.


Juan Vucetich

Sir Edward HENRY 1850 - 1931, UK
Another member of the Indian Civil Service, working in various posts from 1873 to 1900. In 1891 he was appointed Inspector of Police for the Lower Provinces, Bengal. By 1892, he had started experimenting with the anthropometric system and later thumbprints. To increase his knowledge of fingerprints he wrote to Galton, and visited him whilst on leave in 1894. On return to India, he arranged for 10 finger sets to be taken and set out to devise a classification system. In this he was assisted by (and later paid tribute to) two of his staff - Azizul HAQUE and Chandra BOSE, and kept Galton informed of his efforts. In December 1896, on an express train to Calcutta, Henry was reputed to have had a flash of inspiration that enabled him to complete his classification system. He made his final calculations on his shirt cuff because he had travelled without a notepad. On the 29th March 1897 an independent commission, chaired by C. Shahan, Surveyor General of India, examined Henry,s system. Six months later, on July 12th 1897, the Governor General ordered anthropometry (Bertillion's system) to be discontinued and fingerprinting to be introduced in all of British India. During 1898, in Bengal alone, 345 criminals were identified by fingerprints. This rose to 569 in 1899. In that same year the Indian legislature passed a special Act (Act 5 of the India Council) amending law of evidence to permit fingerprint experts to give testimony in Indian Courts of Law. The term expert was defined as those who by study have become proficient in fingerprint decipherment.
Word of Henry's success (probably through Galton) caused him to address the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1899 on Fingerprints and the Detection of Crime in India. Galton addressed the same meeting. His presence before the Belper Committee was in some respects fortunate as he had been recalled to England by the Colonial Office, receiving instruction to organize the civil police in Johannesburg and Pretoria at the time of the South African war. As a result of the recommendation of the Belper Committee he was recalled and appointed Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of C.I.D (Criminal Investigation Department). In March 1903 he became Commissioner at New Scotland Yard. His book Classification and Uses and Fingerprints was published in 1900.

Contact: Graham Ford


Sir Edward HENRY