Francis Galton Biography

Academic, Academic, Anthropologist, Scientist, Inventor, Explorer(1822–1911)
Francis Galton was an English explorer and anthropologist best known for his research in eugenics and human intelligence. He was the first to study the effects of human selective mating.


Born in Birmingham, England, on February 16, 1822, Francis Galton was an explorer and anthropologist known for his studies in eugenics and human intelligence. As a child, Galton rejected conventional methods of teaching, and he began studying medicine in his teens. He soon embraced a passion for travel with the help from a sufficient fortune left to him from his father. A cousin of Charles Darwin, Galton researched the implications of Darwin’s theory of evolution, focusing on human genius and selective mating.

Early Life

A relative of famed naturalist Charles Darwin, Francis Galton spent much of his life dedicated to research and critical inquiries into several different subject areas, from exploration to eugenics to weather to fingerprints. He was born on February 16, 1822, and grew up in a wealthy family near Birmingham, England. At an early age, he began to show great intellectual promise.

At first, Galton planned to become a doctor. He studied medicine at Birmingham's General Hospital and at King's College in London in the late 1830s. But he abandoned this idea and went on to study mathematics at Cambridge University. After his father's death in 1844, Galton received a substantial inheritance. This inheritance enabled him to pursue whatever topic piqued his curiosity. And he soon decided that it was time to explore more distant shores.

Exploration and Accomplishments

In the mid-1840s, Galton made his first trip to the Middle East and Africa. He went to Egypt and traveled down the Nile River to the Sudan, among other destinations in the area. His travels inspired him to undertake an exploration of southern Africa. In 1850, Galton joined the Royal Geographical Society and soon set off on his journey, with the society's approval. He initially planned to travel from an area known as Damaraland to Lake Ngami, but he ended up traveling through a Southwestern section called Ovamboland.

Galton's maps and observations and descriptions of the native peoples of these regions brought him great acclaim, including a gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society. He published on a book on his exploration, entitled Tropical South Africa (1853). Two years later, Galton offered his advice for other would-be explorers in The Art of Travel: Or, Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries (1855).

Married in 1853 to Louisa Jane Butler, Galton ended his explorations for other scientific pursuits. He became interested in weather and created the first weather map, showing different climate conditions across a geographical area. In 1863, he published a book on the subject, called Meteorgraphica, or Methods of Mapping the Weather.

Strongly influenced by Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species (1859), Galton developed his own theories on inherited traits. He studied identical twins, and worked on the first intelligence test in his exploration of the roles of "nature and nurture"—a phrase created by Galton—in human attributes. According to some sources, Galton also coined the term "eugenics," a controversial field of study about selective breeding in humans to produce preferred traits.

Final Years

Galton spent much of his life studying heredity and eugenics, and he later thought that a person's fingerprints might be a part of human genetic puzzle. He thought that these prints might provide information on differences between people, from race to moral character to intelligence. While he never made any discoveries in this area, Galton established a fingerprint classification system that is still in use today.

In 1908, Galton published his autobiography. He received a knighthood from King Edward the following year. Galton died on January 17, 1911, in Haslemere, England, at the age of 88. In his will, he donated funds for a professorship in eugenics to University College London.

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