Henry Faulds Scotland England Japan

Biography of Henry Faulds

Henry Faulds
Henry Faulds

Henry Faulds (1843-1930), born in Ayrshire, studied at the University of Glasgow from 1865-1871. He was among the pioneering researchers of modern day fingerprint technology and the forensic application of fingerprints.

Faulds enrolled to study in the Faculty of Arts where he took classes in Mathematics, Logic, Greek, Latin and Divinity. He later graduated from Anderson’s College with a physician’s license and became a medical missionary for the Church of Scotland.

Faulds established the first medical mission in Japan in 1874 where he opened a hospital at Tokyo, a teaching faculty, and founded a society for the blind. While involved in archaeological digs in Japan in the 1870s, Faulds was intrigued by the imprints left in shards of ancient pottery by the potters. It was this observation that reportedly gave him the impetus to study fingerprints further. He then gathered fingerprints from his students, noticed that they were unique to each individual, and started to form the idea that they could be used to identify their owners.

He wrote to Charles Darwin in 1880 about his theory though Darwin passed the letter onto his relative Francis Galton. In the same year Faulds published a letter in Nature magazine on the forensic possibilities of fingerprints: describing the use of printer’s ink to take impressions that could be used to identify criminals. He later described his own use of fingerprints in discovering who had stolen alcohol from a bottle in his hospital.

After his return to Britain in 1886, Faulds contacted Scotland Yard about the forensic use of fingerprints however they did not act upon his recommendation and fingerprinting did not gain official attention until its consideration by a Parliamentary committee in 1894.

By 1905 fingerprint technology was well established with recognition going to Francis Galton and William Herschel. Although, Galton and Herschel agreed that Faulds was the first person to publish on the subject, Galton also remarked that his research was not sufficiently substantiated by evidence.

Henry Faulds died in 1930 having never felt he gained the recognition he deserved.


Henry Faulds
Born 1 June 1843.
Died 19 March 1930.
GU Degree: 1865-1871;
University Link: Student
Occupation categories: physicians
Record last updated: 10th Nov 2015

Country Associations

Scotland Scotland, Ayrshire
Place of Birth

England England, Wolstanton
Place of Death

Japan Japan, Tokyo

University Connections

University Roles

  • Student

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