Henry Faulds (1st June 1843 to 24th March 1930)


Most nights my dad goes to bed before me. Usually I put food out for the foxes and sit in darkness with a bowl of cereal with peaches slices on top. All week I record all those police shows like Road Wars, Police Interceptors, Bodycam Cops, etc. I like the car chases in the middle of the night through the countryside and especially the ones where German Shepherds chase burglars and try to rip off their arms. When I first started watching these programmes years ago the police often took baddies back to the police station took their fingerprints the old-fashioned way - each finger rolled in a moist ink pad and pasted onto paper. After that they graduated to electronic scanners and now they have portable ones they keep in their cars.


Who invented fingerprints I wondered to myself. I read that Henry Faulds was one of the godfathers behind the use of fingerprints and he’s buried in Staffordshire. I went to seek out his gravestone and here I am by him minutes before a downpour.


Henry was a brainy lad – a physician, missionary and scientist who liked to have a few plates spinning simultaneously. Moreover he saved thousands of lives.


He was born into poverty in Beith, North Ayrshire. His mum and dad were so poor he was forced to leave school at 13 to find work. Aged t 21 he enrolled at Glasgow University and graduated with a physician's licence. He was a religious man and became a medical missionary for the Church and aged 28 went to British India to work in a hospital. He married Isabella Wilson but there was no settling back in Scotland. They moved to Japan where he helped establish a medical mission.


It’s surprising that this man’s name isn’t better known as he was a gushing font of goodness: he established the first English mission in Japan, set up a hospital and a teaching facility for Japanese medical students. He introduced antiseptic methods to Japanese surgeons saving countless lives. At 32 he helped set up a society for the blind (the Tokyo Institute For The Blind) and lifeguard stations to prevent drowning in nearby canals. He found that small children played with infected mice and picked up rabies and were dying in great numbers. He made great inroads into stopping the spread of rabies and cholera saving even more lives. What a good dude.


This lad must have rarely slept as he learnt to become fluent in Japanese, worked full-time as a doctor, wrote two factual books on travel in the Far East and started three magazines.


Where did his interest in fingerprints come from? One day he accompanied an archaeologist friend on a dig. He spotted tiny impressions left in clay fragments by their makers, examined his own (and friends) fingertips and found them to be unique. Shortly after this the hospital where he worked was broken into and a man was arrested. Henry thought the man was innocent and pointed out that the fingerprints of the suspect were different from those left at the scene (the man was released.)


He wrote up his thoughts about using fingerprints to pin criminals to crimes and mailed them to Charles Darwin (though CD was too busy and passed them onto a relative.) Aged 37 Henry published a paper in Nature magazine on fingerprints but William Herschel, a British civil servant in India, replied saying he’d been using fingerprints as a method of signature. This caused much bitterness and Henry never got the full recognition he deserved.


Aged 43 he returned to Britain after a quarrel with the missionary society. He offered the concept of fingerprint identification to Scotland Yard but they were dismissed, probably because he lacked enough evidence demonstrate fingerprints are unique and classifiable. Disappointed he returned to the life of a police surgeon in London then Stoke-on-Trent town of Fenton.


Aged 79 he sold his practice and moved to James Street in nearby Wolstanton (a blue plaque is bolted to it). He died aged 86 still embittered by the lack of recognition for his fingerprint work. He would probably be a little bitter at the view he now has for prosperity. His grave - occupied also by his wife and their daughters - resides on a slant at the rear of the church and looks out onto a nondescript grey distribution centre.


Just as I’d finished taking photographs rain pummelled down. I dashed back to car with blurred scarlet wreaths passing my eye – a war memorial. I always salute at war memorials to let folk know they’re not forgotten (even when passing one on my usual jogging route I do a quite salute.) The rain was so bad I got in the car for a coffee and waited for it to pass.



Now then….where to start…




Not many people get a plaque on their home…


The view of a distribution depot he ended up with…