Francis Galton


Francis Galton : biography

16 February 1822 – 17 January 1911

Galton was by many accounts a child prodigy — he was reading by the age of 2, at age 5 he knew some Greek, Latin and long division, and by the age of six he had moved on to adult books, including Shakespeare for pleasure, and poetry, which he quoted at length . Later in life, Galton would propose a connection between genius and insanity based on his own experience. He stated, “Men who leave their mark on the world are very often those who, being gifted and full of nervous power, are at the same time haunted and driven by a dominant idea, and are therefore within a measurable distance of insanity”Pearson, K. (1914). The life, letters and labours of Francis Galton (4 vols.). Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Galton attended King Edward’s School, Birmingham, but chafed at the narrow classical curriculum and left at 16.Oxford Dictionary of National Biography accessed 31 January 2010 His parents pressed him to enter the medical profession, and he studied for two years at Birmingham General Hospital and King’s College, London Medical School. He followed this up with mathematical studies at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, from 1840 to early 1844.

According to the records of the United Grand Lodge of England, it was in February 1844 that Galton became a freemason at the so-called Scientific lodge, held at the Red Lion Inn in Cambridge, progressing through the three masonic degrees as follows: Apprentice, 5 Feb 1844; Fellow Craft, 11 March 1844; Master Mason, 13 May 1844. A curious note in the record states: "Francis Galton Trinity College student, gained his certificate 13 March 1845".’Scientific Lodge No. 105 Cambridge’ in Membership Records: Foreign and Country Lodges, Nos. 17-145, 1837-1862. London: Library and Museum of Freemasonry (manuscript) One of Galton’s masonic certificates from Scientific lodge can be found among his papers at University College, London.M. Merrington and J. Golden (1976) A List of the Papers and Correspondence of Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) held in The Manuscripts Room, The Library, University College London. The Galton Laboratory, University College London (typescript), at Section 88 on p. 10

A severe nervous breakdown altered Galton’s original intention to try for honours. He elected instead to take a "poll" (pass) B.A. degree, like his half-cousin Charles Darwin . (Following the Cambridge custom, he was awarded an M.A. without further study, in 1847.) He then briefly resumed his medical studies. The death of his father in 1844 had left him financially independent but emotionally destitute,citation? and he terminated his medical studies entirely, turning to foreign travel, sport and technical invention.

In his early years Galton was an enthusiastic traveller, and made a notable solo trip through Eastern Europe to Constantinople, before going up to Cambridge. In 1845 and 1846 he went to Egypt and travelled down the Nile to Khartoum in the Sudan, and from there to Beirut, Damascus and down the Jordan.

In 1850 he joined the Royal Geographical Society, and over the next two years mounted a long and difficult expedition into then little-known South West Africa (now Namibia). He wrote a successful book on his experience, "Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical South Africa". He was awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal in 1853 and the Silver Medal of the French Geographical Society for his pioneering cartographic survey of the region . This established his reputation as a geographer and explorer. He proceeded to write the best-selling The Art of Travel, a handbook of practical advice for the Victorian on the move, which went through many editions and is still in print.

In January 1853 Galton met Louisa Jane Butler (1822–1897) at his neighbour’s home and they were married on 1 August 1853. The union of 43 years proved childless.

Middle years

Galton was a polymath who made important contributions in many fields of science, including meteorology (the anti-cyclone and the first popular weather maps), statistics (regression and correlation), psychology (synaesthesia), biology (the nature and mechanism of heredity), and criminology (fingerprints). Much of this was influenced by his penchant for counting or measuring. Galton prepared the first weather map published in The Times (1 April 1875, showing the weather from the previous day, 31 March), now a standard feature in newspapers worldwide.