Anthropometric Laboratories in the UK and Ireland

By | January 11, 2021
Galton's Anthropometric Laboratory

The 1884 International Health Exhibition provided for Francis Galton the opportunity to set up an Anthropometric Laboratory for the first time. Taking place in South Kensington between Exhibition Road and Queen’s Gate, next to the South Kensington Museum, the exhibition was an opportunity for four million visitors to understand the importance of the ‘science of sanitation,’ which ‘affects the welfare of every individual’, while also ‘illustrat[ing] vividly and in a practical a manner as possible Food, Dress, the Dwelling, the School, and the Workshop, as affecting the conditions of healthful life’ (Acland 1884, 5).

The Laboratory of the 1884 International Health Exhibition

Galton’s Anthropometric Laboratory was set up in the South Gallery and its annexes, next to the Meteorological Instruments. It was advertised in the Exhibition’s official booklet as a place where ‘visitors can have their principal physical dimension taken, their hearing power and accuracy of eyesight ascertained, and their strength tested (Acland 1884, 14). In total, 9,337 visitors to the Laboratory during the Exhibition took the opportunity to have some of their abilities measured. These included ‘keenness of Sight; Colour-Sense; Breathing Power; strength of Pull and Squeeze; Swiftness of Blow; Span of Arms, Height, standing and sitting; and Weight’ (Galton 1884, 181).

Anthropometric Laboratory FlyerThe measurements were achieved with the aid of instruments developed by Galton. Records of each individual’s results were entered on a card given to the participant. Those measurements were also duplicated on a second card, which Galton kept ‘for statistical purposes’ (Galton 1884, 181). 

After the conclusion of the 1884 Exhibition, Galton transferred his Anthropometric Laboratory to the South Kensington Museum (Galton 1908, 249) to ‘familiarise the public with the method of anthropometry’ (Galton 1892, 32). This measured approximately a further 3,678 persons (Galton 1892, 32). At the same time, three more anthropometric laboratories were created, each with Galton’s input: Eton College, Cambridge University, and Trinity College Dublin (Forrest 1986, 1384).  

Cambridge, Dublin, Oxford, Aberdeen – and Cairo?

The Cambridge laboratory opened possibly in 1884, the year when Galton gave the Rede Lecture. Drawing from the experience he had with the International Health Exhibition, where the location played a key part in the laboratory’s success, Galton specified that the Cambridge laboratory should be housed in a room that ‘should bring the subject prominently under the notice of the students’ otherwise there won’t be extensive results (Venn 1889, 141). Space was given at the ‘centre of the new museums and lecture rooms’ (‘the library of the Philosophical Society’) and data was collected with the help of the librarian (Venn 1889, 141). 

The laboratory at Trinity College Dublin was set up by Daniel Cunningham and Alfred Haddon, with Galton providing ‘the greatest encouragement and the fullest assistance’ (Cunningham and Haddon 1892, 35). It was housed at the Comparative Anatomy museum, but the University also asked for it to be used as a ‘small Anthropological Department’ (Cunningham and Haddon 1892, 37). Forrest also mentions that the Irish laboratory also had a mobile version too!  

Little information survives about the laboratory at Eton, while other possible locations appear to have been in Oxford, Aberdeen and Cairo. 

None of these laboratories appears to have been successful, largely because they lacked the volume of passing traffic of willing subjects available in the London exhibitions. 

Do you have any additional information about any of them? If so, we’d like to hear from you! Get in touch at m.kiladi@ucl.ac.uk  

Bibliography 

  • Acland, H. W. (ed.) (1884). The Health Exhibition Literature, Vol. XIX. Return of number of visitors and statistical tables. Official Guide. Guide to the sanitary and insanitary houses. Handbook to the aquarium and fish culture department. London: The Executive Council of the International Health Exhibition and the Council of the Society of Arts by William Clowes. 
  • Cunningham, D. J. and Haddon, A. C. (1892). ‘The Anthropometric Laboratory of Ireland’. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 21, 35-39. 
  • Forrest, D. W. (1986). ‘The Anthropometric Laboratory of Ireland’. American Psychologist, 41 (12), pp. 1384-1385. 
  • Galton, F. (1884). ‘The Anthropometric Laboratory arranged by Francis Galton F.R.S.’, in Acland, H. W. (ed) The Health Exhibition Literature, Vol. XIX. Return of number of visitors and statistical tables. Official Guide. Guide to the sanitary and insanitary houses. Handbook to the aquarium and fish culture department. London: The Executive Council of the International Health Exhibition and the Council of the Society of Arts by William Clowes, pp. 181-191. 
  • Galton, F. (1892). ‘Retrospect of Work Done at my Anthropometric Laboratory at South Kensington’. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 21, pp. 32-35. 
  • Galton, F. (1908). Memories of my Life. London: Methuen. 
  • Venn, J. (1889). ‘Cambridge Anthropometry’. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 18, pp. 140-154.