Francis Galton

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Sir Francis Galton, D.C.L., F.R.S. By Dr. J. Beddoe, LL.D., F.R.S., F.R.C.P.   

My acquaintance with Mr. Galton—one hardly can think of him as Sir Francis, for our most accomplished biologist was not recognised by the British Government until he was nearing his end—began more than fifty years ago, and speedily ripened into friendship. But though we were very intimate I could have but little intercourse with, him, as we lived one hundred miles apart. And there were compartments in the mind of this most many-sided of men that I never had an opportunity of knowing.

I never had, indeed, a chance of measuring his head, though I scarcely ever saw. him without wondering at its peculiar shape, peculiar at least for England, and speculating as to what quality was wanting in him in connexion with that extreme flatness of occiput that suggested deficiency of part of the posterior cerebral lobe. But though there might possibly be superabundance, one could not think of deficiency in the nature of Francis Galton. Mild and pacific he was; but it was from no lack of energy and courage in the man who risked his life among the savage Damara, and who taught us how to go to bed comfortably with a rifle. He had the solidity of his Quaker ancestors, a solidity that did not exclude, but gave steady quiet force to enthusiasm. Humour was the only quality one could conceive as lacking in him; and we know it is apt to be so in the Quakers.

I may be permitted to recall an instance of his inventiveness in which I was personally interested. Knowing my methods of observation of colour, and the difficulties I occasionally had in making use of them coram publico, he contrived an instrument which could be carried in a pocket, and which would make, and record a division of a number of subjects into five categories, in accordance with the colour of the hair, or any other physical difference. This little instrument I made trial of, at his instigation, and found that it could be perfectly well worked with a hand in a trouser pocket, without, the knowledge or suspicion of’ the subjects.  


This obituary first appeared as: Beddoe, John. 1911. ‘Sir Francis Galton, D.C.L., F.R.S.’. Man Vol. 11, pp. 34. Reproduced with permission.


To cite this article:

BEDDOE, JOHN. 1911. ‘Sir Francis Galton, D.C.L., F.R.S.’. Man Vol. 11, pp.34. (available on-line:



GRAY, JOHN. 1911. ‘Sir Francis Galton, M.A., D.C.L., F.R.S. Born, February 16, 1822; Died, January 17, 1911’. Man Vol. 11, pp.33-34. (available on-line:


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