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University College London



Reference code(s): GB 0103 GALTON

Held at: University College London


Date(s): 1612-1926

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 175 standard boxes, 19 volumes plus oversize items

Name of creator(s): Galton | Sir | Francis | 1822-1911 | Knight | eugenicist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Francis Galton was born in Birmingham on the 16th February 1822. His father was Samuel Tertius Galton (1783-1844), a banker, and his mother was Frances Anne Violetta Darwin (1783-1874), daughter of the physician Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802). Through his mother's family he was a cousin of the naturalist Charles Darwin.

Galton was educated in Kenilworth and at King Edward's School, Birmingham, until the age of sixteen. Following in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather, he was enrolled to study medicine at Birmingham General Hospital in 1838 and moved to King's College Medical School in 1839. However, he gave up his medical education and in 1840 spent six months travelling through Europe, Turkey and Syria. On his return he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge to read mathematics and was awarded his BA in 1844. When his father died later that year, a generous inheritance allowed Galton to give up his plans to study medicine at Cambridge and instead he embarked on a year-long tour of the Middle East.

In 1850 he explored south-west Africa on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society and later published two books as a result of his experiences: Tropical South Africa (1852) and The Art of Travel (1855). He married Louisa Jane Butler in 1855 and they established a home in Rutland Gate in South Kensington, London.

Galton then devoted his life to the study of diverse fields, including the weather, physical and mental characteristics in man and animals, the influence of heredity, heredity in twins, and fingerprints. He was preoccupied with counting and measuring, and collected a huge amount of statistical data to support his research.

Today, Galton is perhaps best known for his studies into the inheritance of mental characteristics in humans, for example estimating the frequency with which eminent individuals come from similarly distinguished families. His questionable hypotheses and methods led him to conclude that talents could be inherited, and later in his life he was zealous in advocating the study of "those agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally". He invented the word "eugenics" to describe this. Many of his genetic theories, such as eugenics, have since been discredited, although his study into the concept of inheritance - that certain physical characteristics can be passed from one generation to the next - is an important legacy.

One of Galton's other important legacies was his work on fingerprints. He discovered that a person's fingerprints could be used for personal identification because they are unique and do not change throughout a person's lifetime. His archive contains a large number of examples of fingerprints, which he used to create a taxonomic system still in use today. Galton also carried out further studies into the method of inheritance, for example disproving Charles Darwin's theory of pangenesis (inheritance via particles in the bloodstream) and making various discoveries through his data analysis that eventually formed the basis of biostatistics.

Galton was also involved in many societies and organisations, particularly the Royal Society, the Royal Geographical Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He was on the governing committee of the Meteorological Office from 1868 to 1900. He founded the Galton Laboratory of National Eugenics at University College London to further his work on eugenics, although under the leadership of L S Penrose in the 1960s the name of this department was changed to the Galton Laboratory, Department of Human Genetics and Biometry.

Francis Galton died on the 17 January 1911 and he was buried at the Galton family vault in Claverdon, Warwickshire. His wife Louisa predeceased him; they had no children.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir Francis Galton, consisting of papers relating to the personal history of Galton and his family, 1612-1926; papers relating to Galton's scientific work, 1850-1922; and correspondence 1765-1923.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Divided into three sections: 1. Personal and family papers; 2. Work-related material; 3. Correspondence

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

Normal copyright restrictions apply.

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:

Published handlist 'A list of the papers and correspondence of Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) held in the Manuscripts Room, the Library, University College London' compiled by M Merrington and J Golden (University College London, 1976); name and subject index. This electronic catalogue supercedes the printed handlist and researchers should note that the system of numbering has been changed.

Detailed catalogue


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were deposited in University College London by Sir Francis Galton's executors soon after his death in 1911. They were added to by gifts from his nephew, Edward Galton Wheler-Galton, and from other members of the family. Purchases were made from sale rooms and private owners by Karl Pearson and other members of the Galton Laboratory during the following thirty years.


Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

University College London Special Collections also holds photographs of, and papers relating to, Galton in the Pearson Papers (Ref: PEARSON), and letters of Galton to A G Butler (Ref: MS ADD 305), to Millicent Lethbridge 1883-1910 (Ref: MS ADD 310), and to James Sully (Ref: MS ADD 158).

The Royal Geographical Society holds astronomical observations, 1850-1851, and letters to Royal Geographical Society, 1855-1902; Oxford University Museum of the History of Science has some papers relating to Galton; Oxford University Museum of Natural History holds correspondence, mainly letters to Sir E B Poulton, 1887-1908; the Royal Society hold letters and papers of British scientists; the McLennan Library at McGill University has a Galton notebook, 1894-1897; Cambridge University King's College Modern Archive Centre holds letters to Oscar Browning, 1884-1886, (Ref: OB); the Department of Manuscripts and University Archives at Cambridge University Library holds letters to Charles Darwin (Ref: Darwin), and letters to Sir George Stokes, 1868-1885 (Ref: Add 7342, 7656); the British Library Manuscript Collections holds correspondence with MacMillans the publishers, 1861-1909 (Ref: Add MS 55218); Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories holds letters to Lord Rayleigh, 1876-1908.

Publication note:



Archivist's note: Sources: British Library on-line public access catalogue 1997; Historical Manuscripts Commission, on-line UK National Register of Archives. Compiled by Annabel Dodds as part of the RSLP AIM25 project.

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: Sep 2000

Eugenics | Heredity | Genetics
Scientists | Scientific personnel | Personnel | People by occupation | People

Personal names
Galton | family
Galton | Sir | Francis | 1822-1911 | Knight | eugenicist

Corporate names