Murshidabad contractor’s tips changed the direction of the investigation! How ‘Fingerprint’ was invented

Fingerprints: Herschel dips the contractor’s hand in ink and takes all the fingerprints on the back of the last page of the contract.

August, 1880. Somehow an old man sat on the table after dragging the almost broken body. An enveloped letter is placed on the table. The old man read the letter and put it back in the envelope. He thought of something and called Beyara. He called Bayara and ordered him to post the letter to the address of a friend of his. This friend was actually the famous mathematician Francis Galton and the old man I’ve been talking about for so long is Charles Darwin. However, despite Darwin’s letter, no reply came from Galton.

A few months after Darwin’s letter was sent, a research paper was published in the renowned science journal ‘Nature’ on 10 November. The main topic of this research paper was how to investigate crimes using fingerprints. This research paper was written by Henry Faulds. Henry became famous all over the world after the research paper was published. Since the early part of the 20th century, this process of investigation through fingerprints began in almost all of Europe. Needless to say, full credit goes to Henry Faulds. But fame also has its own problems. As Henry Faulds’ name spread, it reached the ears of another British man. His name is William Herschel (William Herschel). When Herschel finds out, Faulds is being called the father of fingerprint technology; He was very angry. Because he had invented this method long before Henry Faulds. Herschel wrote a letter to the authorities of Nature magazine. A long two-and-a-half decades followed, a sort of letter war between Henry Faulds and William Herschel. Finally, Galton came to the meeting to stop this letter war.

Francis Galton

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Francis was the mathematician who did not respond to Darwin’s letters. In fact, the letter that Charles Darwin sent to Galton was written by Henry Faulds. The letter was written about how to investigate crimes using fingerprints. Francis Galton was very surprised to read the letter. Because his friend William Herschel told him about this same method a few days ago. Galton mentioned the discovery of his friend William Herschel at a meeting a few days after Faulds’ paper was published in Nature. Naturally, there was an uproar everywhere. Many continued to claim that Galton was unethically giving Faulds credit to his friend. But whose real achievement? To know that, we must first know how the two discovered this method.

Henry Faulds

Let’s start with William Herschel. In 1853, William Herschel came to Murshidabad as Collector. After 5 years, that is, in an incident in 1858, the importance of fingerprints came to his mind. A contract was to be signed that year between local contractors and the government to supply raw materials for road construction. Naturally Herschel went to sign on behalf of the government. An event occurs during signing. Suddenly, Herschel dips the contractor’s hand in ink and takes all the fingerprints on the back of the last page of the contract. Herschel later wrote of the incident, “The contractor was very corrupt. I took all his fingerprints so he wouldn’t be able to say later that the tips on the contract weren’t really his.” This method was so effective that Herschel started using this same method in all contracts from then on. In 1860, William Herschel was transferred to Nadia. Nadia was the seat of the Blue Rebellion at that time. After the indigo revolt, the condition of the indigo growers was deplorable. English government was there, moreover the local landlords also exploited them arbitrarily. Often the zamindars took away the land from the peasants by signing fakes or demanding rent for the land. William Herschel became active in stopping this corruption after being transferred to Nadia. Even after coming here, he launched his ‘Murshidabad Model’.

William Herschel

Herschel rules, henceforth fingerprints will be mandatory on all land documents and government contracts. Later, Herschel requested the government to make fingerprinting mandatory for all government jobs. The then British government rejected this request. Then William Herschel was transferred to Hooghly in 1870. He came here and saw more corruption. Many giving away each other’s pensions by forging signatures, influential convicts forging signatures and putting others in jail in their name – these were very common in Hooghly. At that time, William Herschel made it a rule that all government employees and prison inmates would be fingerprinted. The introduction of this rule has reduced the number of frauds significantly. A few years later, William Herschel returned to England. On returning home, he came to know that the same method which he had introduced in Bengal was being carried out by Henry Faulds as his own invention.

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Henry Faulds’ life also started from Bengal. He was a missionary doctor by profession. He was sent to Darjeeling by the Church of Scotland to run a hospital. After running a missionary hospital here for a few years, Henry Faulds left for Japan in 1873. He conducted the first postmortem in the history of Japan. When an outbreak of the Japanese plague occurs, Faulds uses his skills to prevent that plague as well. While in Japan, he visited an archaeological site at the invitation of a friend. He went there and saw 2,000-year-old utensils and idols recovered from the ground. Seeing some fine lines on the nearly 2000-year-old urn caught his eye. Faulds realized that it was actually the fingerprint of a 2,000-year-old urn maker. After this incident, Henry Faulds started researching fingerprints. As Faulds understands from research, every person’s fingerprint is different from each other. Using his and his students’ fingerprints, he developed a hypothesis and based research papers on it. In his research, Faulds claims that fingerprints can be the most reliable ‘identification mark’ of people. Faulds proved hand-in-hand that criminals can be caught based on fingerprints. Once some important things were stolen from his laboratory. It is said that Henry Faulds himself was caught as a criminal by calling the police and checking his and everyone else’s fingerprints. Faulds mentioned these events in his research paper. Henry Faulds also wrote a letter to renowned scientist Charles Darwin mentioning this research paper and his own research. Overwhelmed by the letter, Darwin sent it to his very close friend Galton to read. As mentioned earlier, by then Galton and William Herschel had talked about fingerprints.

After all, it must be acknowledged that both Henry Faulds and William Herschel invented this method in their own way. It’s just a coincidence that the two worked on the same thing. Hence both are considered to be the fathers of this method today. After nearly two and a half decades of correspondence, Herschel and Faulds reached an agreement mediated by Galton. In 1916, William Herschel wrote a book about this entire controversy. How he prevented corruption with fingerprints, his conversation with Francis Galton on the subject, Henry Faulds’s research paper, their correspondence and subsequent reconciliation – the whole story is covered in the book. With the publication of this book, people all over the world got a clear idea about the conflict between the two. Since then both men are being credited with the discovery of this incredible method.

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