Sir William Herschel, 2nd Baronet

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Sir William Herschel, Bt
William James Herschel.jpg
Born(1833-01-09)9 January 1833
Died24 October 1917(1917-10-24) (aged 84)
Known forFingerprints, Forensics

Sir William James Herschel, 2nd Baronet (9 January 1833 – 24 October 1917)[1][2][3][4][5] was a British ICS officer in India who used fingerprints for identification on contracts.[2][6][7]

Personal life[edit]

He was born in Slough in Buckinghamshire (now Berkshire), the third child (of twelve) and the eldest son (of three) of the astronomer, John Herschel. His younger brothers were Alexander Stewart Herschel and John Herschel the Younger.

On 19 May 1864 he married (Anne) Emma Haldane, youngest daughter of Alfred Hardcastle of Hatcham House, Surrey. She died at the birth of their second son, having borne him 4 children:

He lived at Warfield in Berkshire. Upon his death the baronetcy passed to his son.


Herschel is credited with being the first European to note the value of fingerprints for identification. He recognized that fingerprints were unique and permanent. Herschel documented his own fingerprints over his lifetime to prove permanence. He was also credited with being the first person to use fingerprints in a practical manner. As early as the 1850s, working as a British officer for the Indian Civil Service in the Bengal region of India, he started putting fingerprints on contracts.[2][8]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ A. Spokes Symonds, ‘Herschel, Sir William James, second baronet (1833–1917)’, rev. Katherine Prior, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 14 Nov 2013
  2. ^ a b c "Michele Triplett's Fingerprint Dictionary: H" (glossary), Michele Triplett, 2006, webpage: Fprints-H.
  3. ^ Death Of Sir William Herschel. Author Of Finger-Print Identity System. (Obituaries) .He was The Times Thursday, Oct 25, 1917; pg. 9; Issue 41618; col F
  4. ^ Sir William Herschel. (News) The Times Saturday, Oct 27, 1917; pg. 9; Issue 41620; col E
  5. ^ ‘HERSCHEL, Sir William James’, Who Was Who, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 1920–2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007 accessed 13 Nov 2013
  6. ^ "Michele Triplett's Fingerprint Dictionary: K" (glossary), Michele Triplett, 2006, webpage: Fprints-K.
  7. ^ Herschel, William J (1916). The Origin of Finger-Printing (PDF). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-1-104-66225-7.
  8. ^ Sengoopta Chandak, Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting was Born in Colonial India [1]