Collection highlights

The majority of the Collection is formed by the Galton Bequest, left to College by Galton on his death in 1911.

Family ties and personal effects
The personal effects of Sir Francis Galton

In addition to personal effects, such as his spectacles, membership card to the Times Book Club, and photographs, the Galton Collection also includes a number of objects that relate to the history of his family and notable relations. There is a silhouette drawing of Erasmus Darwin (Galton’s maternal grandfather, who was the paternal grandfather of Charles Darwin), an a letter of indenture for Samuel Tertius Galton, Galton’s father, and a number of genealogies and family trees showing the connections between the Galtons, Darwins, Wedgewoods and others.

Objects from Galton's travels around the world

As a young man, Galton travelled through Eastern Europe — a rare journey for an Englishman travelling alone — to Constantinople before going to Cambridge. In 1845-6 he travelled down the Nile through Egypt to Khartoum and across to the Near East in Beirut, Damscus and Jordan. He joined the Royal Geographical Society in 1850 and two years later mounted an expedition to South West Africa (modern Namibia). He wrote of his journeys in two books: Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical South Africa and The Art of Travel, which gained him fame as a world traveller.

Statistical illustrations

Galton was, first and foremost, a statistician and most of the work he did involved the collection and analysis of raw data, particularly measurements.

The collection includes a quincunx, which demonstrates the law of error and the normal distribution, a series of homemade illustrations of statistical phenomena using cress seeds and pea pods, and Galton’s own counting gloves which were used to gather data for his beauty map of Britain. Karl Pearson, Galton’s close friend and follower, founded the UCL Department of Statistical Science.

Galton's weather map plates and sunshine recorder

Galton served on the Meteorological Council and made significant contributions to the study of weather patterns, including defining the anticyclone. He was the first person to call for the use of maps to illustrate weather conditions across wide geographical areas rather than data tables which could only be understood by specialists.

In the collection, we have the printing plates for the first ever weather map which appeared in The Times on April 1st 1875, and a sunshine recorder.

Anthropometric instruments and scales from the Galton Laboratory

Galton’s main area of interest was heredity. He coined the term ‘eugenics’ to describe the science and idea of breeding human ‘stock’ to give ‘the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable’. His studies in heredity also led to his interest in anthropometrics — the measurement of human features which Galton considered indicators of human ability and behaviour.

To gain enough data to make statistically valid conclusions, Galton established the Anthropometric Laboratory at the London International Health Exhibition of 1885. Over 9,000 visitors paid a small fee to be measured and for a copy of their data. They were tested with a wide range of devices many of which Galton had devised himself.

Some of the measuring devices from the Anthropometric, later the Galton Laboratory, are now part of the collection, including head spanners, craniometers, hair and eye colour reference samples, and a hand dynamometer. The collection also contains an example of Galton’s Whistle (i.e. the dog whistle) which he invented to measure the hearing abilities of different animals.

The success of the Galton Laboratory led to its incorporation into UCL in 1904. and in 1996 it became part of the UCL Department of Biology.

Criminology and Crime Science
Bertillonage cards depicting Sir Francis Galton and Alphonse Bertillon as criminals

Galton made notable contributions to the fields of criminology and crime science. Among many others, he was a correspondent of Alphonse Bertillon, the French police officer who developed anthropometry and the mug shot as systematic ways of identifying criminals. These photos show of Galton and Bertillon as criminals.

Fingerprints from the Galton Collection

Having been encouraged to study the subject by Charles Darwin, Galton’s most significant contribution to this field is the science of fingerprinting. Using detailed observation and statistical analysis, Galton demonstrated that the chances of two people having the same fingerprints is 1 in 64 billion.

The collection includes Galton’s own albums of fingerprints and also large bundles of prints gathered from numerous individuals in the UK and around the world.

Composite photographs of criminals

Galton was keen to exploit new technologies for his research. He developed the technique of composite photography in a (failed) attempt to isolate the physical characteristics that define particular ‘types’ of criminal and people with mental and physical illnesses.

The Galton Archive

The Galton Archive of papers and manuscripts are held in the UCL Special Collections. These are part of UCL Library Services, which is a separate department from UCL Museums. If you would like to see material from this archive you will need to contact UCL Special Collections directly.

The Noel Collection

Plaster life and death masks from the Noel Collection

These plaster casts come from a collection of 35 life and death masks which were donated to the Galton Laboratory after Galton’s death and have been kept with the collection ever since. They were originally collected by the phrenologist Robert Noel between 1837 and 1845, and illustrate a wide range of individuals including “poets and murderers, professors and highwaymen, child prodigies and medics.”

Phrenology involves the measurement of different parts of the skull to ascertain the size of corresponding parts of the brain which were thought to relate to different aspects of an individual’s mind and personality.

While originally keen on phrenology, Galton eventually dismissed the subject as not taking exact account of human behaviour. His own work in this area led to the development of psychometrics and differential psychology and he was the first to propound the Lexical Hypothesis.