Bet you’ve never heard of Henry Faulds? He’s been dead for over 90 years but his role in legal systems around the globe should never be underestimated.

Henry Faulds Biography - Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline

(Henry Faulds 1843-1930)

He was born in 1843 in a small town in North Ayrshire. He studied Maths at Glasgow University and subsequently medicine at Anderson’s College (Strathclyde University) where he graduated with the ability to practice as a Doctor. Significantly, he then became a missionary and was posted to India (then under British rule). He worked at a hospital in Darjeeling.

One of several claims to fame then followed when, having been posted to Japan, he established an English speaking mission and hospital. He helped to introduce the method of antiseptic surgery originally created by Dr Joseph Lister (hence Listerine, the mouthwash 😉).

Joseph Lister 1902.jpg
Dr Joseph Lister who developed the idea of sterile surgery at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1865.

Whilst in Japan he accompanied a friend (and famed Japanese archaeologist Edward Morse) on a dig. Whilst there, Faulds noted that delicate ‘finger imprints’ appeared to be visible on various items made of clay. Fascinated, he started to conduct a detailed examination of his own fingerprints and those of his friends. He soon realised that each was individual. Celebrated naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin (he of ‘On The Origin Of Species’ fame) declined to become involved but referred Faulds to Francis Galton, his half-cousin. To this day there has been ongoing controversy in relation to whether it was Faulds or Galton who was responsible for the remarkable concept of the forensic analysis of fingerprinting.

Then enter a certain William Herschel who had also been stationed in India and who claimed he had first used the concept in 1860 but without suggesting it would be of any direct use ‘forensically’. An extraordinary spat then developed and lasted decades until, in 1917, Herschel conceded that it was indeed Faulds who was the first to suggest a forensic use.

By this stage, disillusioned and beleaguered by the bickering and doubt cast upon him, Faulds returned home to the UK, became a Police surgeon but died in 1930 embittered at his lack of recognition at ‘inventing’ such a seminally important concept.

CSI'/ Forensics Fingerprint Identification

Fingerprints are unique patterns, made by friction ridges (raised) and furrows (recessed), which appear on the pads of the fingers and thumbs. Prints from palms, toes and feet are also unique; however, these are used less often for identification. The fingerprint pattern, such as the print left when an inked finger is pressed onto paper, is that of the friction ridges on that particular finger.
Friction ridge patterns are grouped into three distinct types—loops, whorls, and arches—each with unique variations, depending on the shape and relationship of the ridges.

No. 2529: Comparing Fingerprints

The two underlying premises of fingerprint identification are uniqueness and persistence (permanence). To date, no two people have ever been found to have the same fingerprints—including identical twins. In addition, no single person has ever been found to have the same fingerprint on multiple fingers. Persistence, also referred to as permanence, is the principle that a person’s fingerprints remain essentially unchanged throughout their lifetime.

Despite the extraordinary effect of such a forensically amazing tool, it is not without its problems. In 1997, a Scottish detective, Shirley McKie, was accused by ‘fingerprint analysis staff’ of having left her thumb print at the home of an Ayrshire murder victim. McKie stated categorically that she had never been in the house. However, she was suspended, dismissed from her employment and even arrested and stood trial for perjury, a charge upon which she was unanimously found not guilty.

The case undoubtedly raised concerns on the accuracy (or otherwise) of this great ‘Faulds’ creation. The backlash was severe as can be seen here in this BBC news report from September 2004 – BBC NEWS | Scotland | Print case ‘shames Scots justice’.

Indeed for all you insomniacs out there, you can view ‘The Fingerprint Inquiry Report’ findings here – – all 790 pages of it…………………..

Despite Faulds’ remarkable and seismic ‘discovery’ all those years ago, it is evidently not without infallibility. Indeed in a summary of its findings, the report stated, inter alia, that ‘…there is no reason to suggest that fingerprint comparison in general is an inherently unreliable form of evidence but practitioners and fact-finders alike require to give due consideration to the limits of the discipline’.


Law and science……..aaahhhh………a mesmerising mix.

Everyday is indeed a school day. You can thank me later 😊

Stay safe all.