Sir William Herschel, 2nd Baronet

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Sir William Herschel, Bt
William James Herschel.jpg
Born(1833-01-09)9 January 1833
Slough, England
Died24 October 1917(1917-10-24) (aged 84)
Scientific career
FieldsFingerprints, 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 and John.

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:

  • Margaret Eliza Emma Herschel (1865–1880) She had a brain tumor early on.
  • Emma Dorothea Herschel (1867–1954)
  • Reverend Sir John Charles William Herschel, 3rd Baronet (1869–1950)
  • Arthur Edward Hardcastle Herschel (1873–1924)

He lived at Warfield in Berkshire and at Littlemore in Oxfordshire.[8] Upon his death the baronetcy passed to his son.


Fingerprints taken by Herschel 1859/60

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 1858, working as a British officer for the Indian Civil Service at Jangipur in the Bengal region of India, he started putting fingerprints on contracts.[2][9]

He worked from his late teens all the way through until 2 years before death.

External links[edit]


Coat of arms of Sir William Herschel, 2nd Baronet
Arms of the Herschel baronets.svg
A demi-terrestrial sphere Proper thereon an eagle wings elevated Or.
Argent on a mount Vert a representation of the forty feet reflecting telescope with its apparatus Proper a chief Azure thereon the astronomical symbol of Uranus or the Georgium Sidus irradiated Or.
Coelis Exploratis [10]


  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 Archived 16 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  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 Archived 16 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Herschel, William J (1916). The Origin of Finger-Printing (PDF). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-1-104-66225-7.
  8. ^ Lobel, Mary D. "Parishes: Littlemore Pages 206-214 A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 5, Bullingdon Hundred". British History Online. Retrieved 5 September 2021.
  9. ^ Sengoopta Chandak, Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting was Born in Colonial India [1]
  10. ^ Burke's Peerage. 1949.
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Baronet
(of Slough)
Succeeded by
John Herschel