Sir Edward Richard Henry

Born: 26 July 1850, Shadwell, London, United Kingdom

Died: 19 February 1931, Ascot, United Kingdom

Sir Edward Richard Henry, 1st Baronet (26 July 1850 – 19 February 1931) was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 1903 – 1918. He is remembered for introducing police dogs to the force and championing the use of fingerprints to identify criminals.

Sir Edward Richard Henry 
Credit: Getty Images/George C. Beresford
Sir Henry

Early life

Henry was born to Irish parents in Shadwell, London, and his father was a doctor. He attended St Edmund’s College in Ware, Hertfordshire, then joined Lloyd’s of London as a clerk at the age of sixteen.

Meanwhile, he enrolled in evening studies at University College London to prepare for the Indian Civil Service entrance exam.


He is best renowned, though, for championing and introducing fingerprinting as a credible method of criminal investigation for the Metropolitan Police. This discovery arrived thirteen years too late to help the brave officers and detectives on the hunt for Jack the Ripper on the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields during the so-called fall of terror.

Indeed, one of the arguments frequently made when people analyze the challenges that plagued the police investigation into the Whitechapel Murders of 1888 to 1891 is that fingerprinting was not a standard element of police investigative technique at the time of the crimes.

It’s impossible to say whether fingerprinting would have aided Victorian detectives in their quest for Jack the Ripper because the crimes occurred before the arrival at the “Yard” of the man who would pioneer its use as a method of solving crimes.

In 1873, Henry entered the Indian Civil Service and was assigned to Bengal.

On April 2, 1891, he was named Inspector-General of Police, and he brought Bertillonage, an Alphonse Bertillon-developed system for identifying criminals by measuring their bodily measures, to the Bengal police department. He also began exchanging letters with Francis Galton, the scientist who classified fingerprints for the first time, about the idea of utilizing fingerprints in addition to or instead of Bertillonage (while it had been proven that fingerprints could identify people they were not yet used in policing).

In July 1896, Henry and Bengali sub-inspectors Azizul Haque and Hemchandra Bose began working on strengthening Galton’s eight-pattern classification scheme. They collaborated to create the Henry System, which assigns a numerical value to each finger and fingerprint pattern and uses a mathematical calculation to determine a suspect’s fingerprint makeup. Henry had intended to arrange the fingerprint patterns into pigeonholes by hand, but Haque persuaded him to apply the mathematical technique instead. On Henry’s advice, both Haque and Bose earned official acknowledgment for their roles in the Henry system years later. Other police forces immediately adopted Henry’s fingerprinting technology, and it was soon officially implemented in all British Raj areas.


Sir Edward Henry was called back to the United Kingdom from South Africa in 1901 to take up the position of Assistant Commissioner (Crime) at New Scotland Yard, where he was in command of the Criminal Investigation Department, or CID. On July 1, 1901, he founded the Metropolitan Police Fingerprint Bureau — not to track down criminals or solve crimes, but to prevent criminals from concealing previous convictions from the police, courts, and prisons.

However, after the successful conviction of burglar Harry Jackson in 1902, fingerprint evidence became an established tool in the CID’s crime-fighting arsenal. By 1911, the Metropolitan Police’s fingerprint database had grown to over twenty five lakhs records.

The introduction of fingerprinting would, most certainly, be a pivotal moment in the history of Scotland Yard’s fight against crime and it wasn’t long before Sir Edward Henry was being lined up for the role of Britain’s top police officer.


Henry was named Metropolitan Police Commissioner in 1903 and is credited with leading the police out of the Victorian era and into the modern era. He also continued to innovate, playing a key role in bringing telephones to all divisional police stations, standardizing the usage of the iconic police boxes, and ensuring that all recruits received sufficient training.

His accomplishments and inventions were so extensive that he is acknowledged as one of the great Metropolitan Police Commissioners.

Despite his genius as the leader of one of the world’s most famous and respected police organizations, Sir Edward Henry had a rare ability to extend forgiveness and kindness, even to a criminal who had nearly killed him.

Indeed, his ability to forgive a man whose acts caused him continual suffering in the final years of his life bordered on sainthood. With the onset of World War I, Henry wanted to retire in 1914 but was forced to stay in his job since his designated successor was needed by the War Office. He held the position until August 30, 1918, when he resigned due to disagreements with the government on how to handle the general police strike. He went on to serve on the board of the intellectual Athenaeum Club and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s committee. On February 19, 1931, he died of a heart attack.


Sir Edward was at his home at 19 Sheffield Terrace in Kensington on Wednesday, November 27th, 1912, when he received a call at the front door.

When he opened the door, he was met by a gunman who immediately fired three shots at him. The first two missed Sir Edward, but the third pierced his abdomen. The gunman was seized and pulled to the ground by the Commissioner’s driver at this moment and was quickly arrested by police.

The would-be assassin turned out to be a man named Alfred (some reports spell his name “Albert”) Bowes, a disgruntled tax-driver whose application for a taxi driver’s license had been denied. Fortunately, the bullet had missed Henry’s vital organs, although the damage proved long-lasting and Sir Edward would suffer recurrent pain from the resultant wound for the rest of his life.


But, when Bowes appeared in court, Sir Edward Henry emerged and appealed for forgiveness for his assailant explaining that he had only intended to raise his station in life to enable him to earn a respectable enough living to provide for his widowed mother.

Bowes’ life sentence was reduced to fifteen years in jail as a direct result of the Commissioner’s intervention. Even more astonishing, Henry continued interested in the fate of his would-be murderer, and when Bowes was released from jail in 1922, Sir Edward paid for his travel to Canada, allowing him to start a new life.

Archaeologists discovered evidence that thousands of years ago, ancient peoples used fingerprints to “sign” or seal business deals or government documents. The present science of collecting, categorizing, and comparing fingerprints, on the other hand, dates back to 1880. Dr. Henry Faulds, a British physician, released his research on fingerprints at that time and claimed that they could be used for personal identification. Dr. Faulds also invented the standard ink-based fingerprint collection method.

Dr. Faulds’ pioneering work was immediately advanced by Sir Francis Galton, an anthropologist, who identified and named the key patterns seen in fingerprints, such as loop, whorl, and arch. Sir Edward Richard Henry, a friend of his, created a system for classifying fingerprints in 1900 that is still in use today.

Fingerprinting was quickly adopted by police departments and governments all around the world as a technique to positively identify persons around the turn of the twentieth century. Today, fingerprints are used to help solve crimes, identify victims of crimes and natural disasters, keep guns out of criminals’ hands, and allow employers to do complete background checks on job applicants ranging from police officers and firefighters to teachers and child care workers.

While the science of fingerprinting has not changed, the technology for collecting fingerprints has advanced dramatically in recent years.

Fingerprints are unique to each individual. Even identical twins, who share the same DNA, have unique fingerprints. Fingerprints can be utilized for a variety of purposes, including background checks, biometric security, mass catastrophe identification, and, of course, criminal circumstances, due to their uniqueness. For more than a century, fingerprint analysis has been used to identify criminals and solve crimes, and it remains a highly valuable tool for law enforcement. One of the most essential functions of fingerprints is to help investigators in connecting one crime scene to another involving the same individual. Fingerprint identification also aids detectives in tracking a criminal’s past, previous arrests, and convictions, and in making choices about sentencing, probation, parole, and pardoning.

The Identification of Prisoners Act of 1920 was enacted to make it easier for criminals. The major goal of this act is to give legal authorization to the collection of measurements such as finger impressions, footprints, and pictures of a person accused or suspected of committing a crime. Taking finger impressions of criminals and suspected criminals was illegal before the passing of this Act. However, it has now approved the use of finger impressions and measurements.

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