Time’s Hand: Fingerprints, Empire, and Victorian Narratives of Crime
Over the course of the nineteenth century, crime became a subject of debate in England in a way that it had never been before. In the eighteenth century, crime management consisted primarily of a severe penal code whose list of crimes constituting capital offenses increased so rapidly that it earned the nickname “the Bloody Code”. Despite the Penal Servitude Acts of 1853 and 1857, the Prison Act of 1865, and the Habitual Criminals Act of 1869, crime continued to flourish, contributing to a growing concern over what appeared to be one of the great and unfortunate drawbacks to a century of progress. Recorded in Herschel’s summary of his experience with fingerprinting called The Origin of Fingerprinting, this brief episode embodies the suspicion that so often characterized British relationships to their Indian subjects in the wake of the Mutiny of 1857. For Herschel, the system of fingerprinting as established through the sign-manual had an added virtue: that of preventing future crime.