Francis Galton was born, in 1822, into a wealthy and influential English family. Through his mother's line, he was a cousin to Charles Darwin and related by marriage to the notable Wedgwood pottery family. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a founder of the Lunar Society, whose membership included many of the great scientific thinkers of his day, including Josiah Wedgwood, James Watt, and Joseph Priestly.
Galton exhibited his curious intellectual ability early in life — he could read by the age of three, knew the Iliad and Odyssey by heart at age six, and wrote his own will at age eight. After an undistinguished academic career at King's College and Cambridge, his travelogue of a two-year expedition to Tropical South Africa (1853), followed by his advice on travel to wild places, Art of Travel (1855), secured his reputation as a naturalist. His work was recognized by a prestigious Founder's Medal from the Royal Geographical Society and election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1856.
Galton's eugenics work occupied the second half of his life. His interest in the habitability of "noble" traits sprang at least partly from the qualities he saw in his own extended Galton-Darwin-Wedgwood family. His first observations were published in Macmillan's Magazine (1865), and his complete thesis was presented in Hereditary Genius (1869). Using information from biographical dictionaries and alumni records at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, Galton investigated the families of notable British judges and statesmen. He concluded that superior intelligence and abilities were inherited with an efficiency of about 20% among primary relatives in these families. He also extended this analysis to "the kindred of the most illustrious Commanders, men of Literature and of Science, Poets, Painters, and Musicians, of whom history speaks."
Like his contemporary, the French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon, Galton was highly interested in anthropometry — the measurement of human physical attributes. His interest in fingerprints grew out of his attempts to determine whether mental characteristics could be determined from facial features. This involved "blending" photographic exposures of several individuals to make a composite portrait, which was representative of a group of people. For example, he created composite portraits of family members, Jews, scientists, criminals, and even Roman women (from ancient coins). Although the use of fingerprinting for personal identification had been proposed before, Galton's 1890 publication actually categorized the important fingerprint characteristics that could be compared between people. In fact, it was the system developed by Edward Henry some years later that had became the legal standard when the Central Fingerprint Branch of Scotland Yard was established in 1901.
Galton's quantitative analyses of human traits led him to develop statistical tools for comparing different population groups. However, Galton's treatment of mathematics was not rigorous; it was collaboration with Karl Pearson that formalized the basis of modern statistics — including chi-square, regression, and correlation.
Only in the last few years of his life did Galton begin to promote eugenics. His lectures at the Royal Anthropological Institute (1901) and at the London School of Economics (1904), as well as his unpublished moral fantasy Kantsaywhere, laid out a vision of eugenics employed for the benefit of a privileged class. He died in 1911, leaving the British movement to emphasize his concept of the voluntary improvement of a family's genetic endowment, which became known as "positive eugenics."