Galton Institute Home Page June 2000 Newsletter Contents Newsletter Index

Who Is Sir Francis Galton?

Gary E Pittman

VI. The Lecture Part 5

The Anthropometric Laboratory

One of the great feats of Galton’s life, and there were many, was the organisation and operation of The Anthropometric Laboratory.

An international exhibition was held in South Kensington, England in 1884, and Francis Galton set up, at his own expense, an anthropometric laboratory. Below is a reproduction of the actual “flyer” used to advertise the laboratory.

Around 10,000 persons were measured.

In the table below we see some statistics from the thousands of measurements made by Galton. Females scored higher than males on only one count: keenness of sight.


Highest Record


4726 Adult Males

1657 Adult Females

Stature without shoes

6 ft. 7.5 in.

5 ft. 10.3 in.


22 st. 0 lbs.

15 st. 8lbs.

Vital Capacity

354 in.

270 in.

Strength of Pull

148 lbs.

89 lbs.

Strength of Squeeze

112 lbs.

86 lbs.

Swiftness of Blow

29 ft. per sec.

20 ft. per sec.

Keenness of Sight (reading distance)

39 in.

40 in

On the other hand, the lady with the strongest pull was about equal to the average for the men. It must be strongly noted that this means she was stronger than half of the male population!

It would be quite interesting to take data from the Olympic Games in Atlanta and make similar comparisons. After having watched Jackie Joyner Kersey on TV, my estimate would be that the gap has closed considerably. And in fact, there were suggestions after Galton’s data was published that some of the “country ladies” would have fared much better than those “city ladies” who were able to come to the Exhibition.

After learning a little bit about Sir Francis, I have often said that he had something to say about everything. After learning a bit more, I make that same statement with more confidence, and so when a friend mentions some subject to me, I often try to find out what Sir Francis had to say. The next part of the lecture contains some items which were discovered in this way.


In Victorian England, the clergy were called “Divines”, a title which is quite descriptive, if not always apt. This passage I discovered during the time when our television evangelists were having so much difficulty.

“Very devout people are apt to style themselves the most miserable of sinners, and I think they may be taken to a considerable extent at their word.”

We see here an early example of Galton’s interest in deviations from an average, when he says, “The amplitude of the moral oscillations of religious men is greater than that of others whose average moral position is the same.”

The Beauty Map

Sir Francis mentioned women many times in his early books about exploration and travel, but less often as he grew older and his books became increasingly technical. But in his autobiography, and at the age of 86, he tells us about his attempt to collect data for a “Beauty-Map” of the British Isles.

And in fact, he draws the conclusion from his survey that London ranks highest, and Aberdeen lowest.

“I may here speak of some attempts by myself, to obtain materials for a ‘Beauty Map” of the British Isles. Whenever I have occasion to classify the persons I meet into three classes, “good, medium, bad,” I use a needle mounted as a pricker, wherewith to prick holes, unseen, in a piece of paper, torn rudely into a cross with a long leg. I use its upper end for “good”, the cross arm for “medium,” the lower end for “bad.” The prick-holes keep distinct, and are easily read off at leisure. The object, place, and date are written on the paper. I used this plan for my beauty data, classifying the girls I passed in streets or elsewhere as attractive, indifferent, or repellent. Of course this was a purely individual estimate, but it was consistent, judging from the conformity of different attempts in the same population. I found London to rank highest for beauty: Aberdeen lowest.

“Memories of My Life”, p 315

Not, I think, a project that would be well received by women today!

Other Topics

For the reader, I’ve added some additional Galton comments on topics of considerable interest today. Following each Galton comment is one of my own.

The Galton comments have quotation marks. All of the following quotes are from “Inquiries into Human Faculty”, 1883.


“Energy is the capacity for labour. It is the measure of fulness of life; the more energy the more abundance of it; no energy at all is death. In any scheme of eugenics, energy is the most important quality to favour.”

Many have been misled into thinking and saying that Galton wanted to develop a race of intellectual eggheads. But here we see that it is energy, not intellect, which is most important.


“It is foolish to fold the hands and to say that nothing can be done, inasmuch as social forces and self-interests are too strong to be resisted. They need not be resisted; they can be guided. It is one thing to check the course of a huge steam vessel by the shock of a sudden encounter when she is going at full speed in the wrong direction, and another to cause her to change her course slowly and gently by a slight turn of the helm. Nay, a ship may be made to describe a half circle, and to end by following a course exactly opposite to the first, without attracting the notice of the passengers.”

This description of a way to accomplish change reflects Galton’s patience and persistence. Would Sir Francis today still advocate such patience?

The Ecology

“Man has already shown his large power in the modifications he has made on the surface of the globe, and in the distribution of plants and animals. He has cleared such vast regions of forest that his work that way in North America alone, during the past half century, would be visible to an observer as far off as the moon.”

Imagine what man had already done to this fragile earth more than one hundred years ago!

The Lottery

“Gamblers have not infrequently the silliest ideas concerning numbers, their heads being filled with notions about lucky figures and beautiful combinations of them, especially in connection with the rage for lottery tickets.”

I had a lot of fun with this one. Because we have only recently started a lottery in Texas, there is a lot of interest in the odds, probabilities, etc. Galton’s reference to “lucky figures, and beautiful combinations” is reflected today in computer software, which is represented to dramatically improve your odds of winning. Of course, nothing will improve your odds of winning except buying more tickets.


Sir Francis wrote about 300 “Memoirs” or articles during his career. Any of you who have done the work required to publish even a single effort know what labour is involved. Another example of the tremendous energy and resolve which Sir Francis brought to his life’s work. Well, we don’t have time, unfortunately, to look at very many of these works, but I can tell you that I have looked at many, and all are fascinating, and they cover, as we might expect, a very broad range of interests.

So, in the box below, are the titles of just eight of these memoirs; just a sample.

Francis Galton Memoirs

“A Selection”

“Strawberry cure for Gout”, Nature, 60 (1899), p. 125

“An examination into the registered speeds of American trotting horses.” Proc. Royal Society, 62 (1897), pp. 310-5.

“Intelligible signals between neighbouring stars.” Fortnightly Review, 60 (1896), pp. 657-64.

“Three generations of lunatic cats,” Spectator, 11 April 1896.

“Nuts and men.” Spectator, 30 May 1874, p. 689.

“The avalanches of the Jungfrau.” Alpine Journal, 1 (1863), pp. 184-8.

“Number of strokes of the brush in a picture.” Nature, 72 (1905), p. 198

“Statistical inquiries into the efficacy of prayer.” Fortnightly Review, 12 (1872), p. 125-35.

Here we see once again the broad range of Sir Francis’ interests, from cats to racing horses to avalanches. Many of these take the form of small tutorials and often illustrate the practical use of statistical methods.

The memoir entitled “Number of strokes of the brush in a picture” was prompted by Galton’s own experience of sitting for a portrait. Considering the problem no doubt helped to relieve the boredom of the process.