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Significant Scots
Henry Faulds

Whilst still in Japan, on 28/10/1880 his Nature paper on fingerprints was published. This paper is typical of the time and rather turgid, but in it Faulds makes two critical observations:

1) "When bloody finger-marks or impressions on clay, glass etc., exist, they may lead to the scientific identification of criminals."

2) "A common slate or smooth board of any kind, or a sheet of tin, spread over very thinly and evenly with printer's ink, is all that is required [to take fingerprints]."

This was the first suggestion ever, that fingerprints could be used to catch a crook, and most importantly how you might do it.

DR HENRY Faulds defines the forgotten Scot, a scientific pioneer who changed the world by betting on a 64-billion-to-one chance that no two people have the same fingerprints.

But his place in history was usurped by the unscrupulous, and it was no comfort that his chief betrayer was Charles Darwin, a man who had also challenged human thinking.

But recently, Dr Faulds’s obscurity has been redressed. A book published in the United States has gone some way to reinstate the medical missionary - still revered in Japan - as the father of one of the most significant developments in crime detection.

Now, the people of Beith, in Ayrshire, his home town, with the support of the Scottish Executive, are to create a lasting memorial to Dr Faulds.

They have raised money, which they hope will be added to by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, to erect a permanent monument, only the second memorial in the world to the pioneer.

The other is at Tsukiji hospital in Tokyo, which Dr Faulds founded for the sick and needy of that city.

Donald Reid, a former police superintendent in Glasgow who is a member of the Henry Faulds Society, founded in Beith last year, said: "As an ex-cop, I know only too well the value of what this man did. It would be dreadful to let his memory or his achievements slip out of our consciousness."

Meanwhile, the Scottish Parliament passed a motion tabled by Campbell Martin, the local MSP, which sought to "right the wrong" of the scientist’s name being written out of history.

Dr Faulds, who was born in 1843, was the first person to recognise the unique nature of fingerprints and their potential for forensic application.

Later research revealed that the chances of two people having the same prints were 64 billion to one against.

The discovery revolutionised law enforcement as the definitive means of human identification until the advent of DNA.

Dr Faulds was the first man in history to establish the innocence of a suspect and assist in the conviction of a felon.

However, when Dr Faulds, then in Japan, appealed to the ageing Darwin, author of The Origin of Species, for help to expand his research, Darwin passed Dr Faulds’s findings to his scientist nephew, Sir Francis Galton.

But Sir Francis and his colleague, William Henry, stole the discovery and history has recorded it as their work.

Dr Faulds died in obscurity in 1930, but the New York author, Colin Beavan, wrote a book which "set the record straight".

Dr Faulds studied medicine at Anderson College - later part of Glasgow University - and later became a missionary. In 1874, he became the United Free Presbyterian Church’s first medical missionary to Japan, where, in 1875, he established the Tsukiji hospital and was offered the post of physician to the Imperial Household.

But the moment that changed the history of criminal detection came when he was studying ancient pottery and found a fingerprint. Curious, he began a scientific study by removing his own prints with chemicals and discovered they grew back in the same pattern.

The breakthrough came when Tokyo police arrested a man for burglary. Dr Faulds proved he was not the thief, and when they arrested another suspect he established his guilt.

In 1880, Dr Faulds published his research, in which he predicted its forensic application.

Mr Reid added: "He made a remarkable contribution and we are currently identifying a site for his memorial, only the second in the world."

Tuesday, 14th October 2003
The Scotsman

For further information visit the BBC Education site

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