Recognized HTML document
Previous Index Next

Personal Identification and Description   149

Inspector of Prisons, and Mr M. L. Macnaghten, Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police Force, to inquire (a) into the method of registering and identifying habitual criminals now in use in England; (b) into the "Anthropometric System" of classified registration and identification in use in France and other countries; (c) into the suggested system of identification by means of a record of finger-marks, and to report whether the anthropometric system or the finger-mark system can with advantage be adopted in England either in substitution for or to supplement the existing method. It will be seen that the inquiry resulted from Galton's work of 1892 and earlier, and if the evidence given be examined*, it will be found that the Committee were really considering whether bertillonage, or what we may call galtonage in contradistinction, or a combination of the two should be adopted. Galton was the only finger-print expert examined as a witness, and the Committee visited his laboratory, saw finger-prints being taken, and the relative ease with which Galton picked out from his cabinet the finger-prints of an individual, whose prints were provided in duplicate. It is noteworthy that Galton, with a foresight for possible difficulties, gives a very simple arrangement for a drawer into which it is impossible to place a card which does not belong to that drawer. It could be easily adapted to , work for a finger-print index, but Galton actually arranged it in his illustration on the basis of five bodily measurements each grouped in three categories (see p. 81 and plate). There are two other appendices by Galton, the first (p. 79) giving directions for taking finger-prints, and the second for searching a cabinet of finger-prints indexed by a simple form of bertillonage. When the Committee came to report on the Finger-Print System (pp. 25 et seq.) it is of Galton and his work alone that they speak. They write

"The second system on which we are specially directed to report is that now associated with the name of Mr Francis Galton, F.R.S., though first suggested and to some extent applied practically by Sir William Herschel.... A visit to Mr Galton's laboratory is indispensable in

order to appreciate the accuracy and clearness with which finger-prints can be taken and the real simplicity of the method. We have during this inquiry paid several visits to Mr Galton's laboratory; he has given us every possible assistance in discussing the details of the method and in further investigating certain points which seemed to us to require elucidation. He also accompanied us with his assistant to Pentonville Prison and superintended the taking of the finger-prints of more than a hundred prisoners... .The patterns and the ridges of which they [finger-prints] are composed possess two qualities which adapt them in a singular way for use in deciding questions of identity. In each individual they retain their peculiarities, as it would appear, absolutely unchangeable throughout life, and in different individuals they show an infinite variety of forms and peculiarities.

"Both these qualities have formed the subject of special investigation by Mr Galton, and having carefully examined his data, we think his conclusions may be entirely accepted." (p. 25.)

The difficulty that arose in the minds of the Committee will be a familiar one to students of the subject, namely the large classes formed by some of the loop categories. Galton was not wholly prepared to meet this difficulty of indexing, although he was already counting the ridges of loops, and differentiating them in other ways by the nature of their cores. It was not till

* Blue Book (C.-1763). Identification of Habitual Criminals Report, Minutes of Evidence and Appendices.


Previous Index Next