Open Educational Resources

Francis Galton’s dog whistle and his albino puppy Wee Ling by Rosalind Janssen

Housed in the Galton Collection at UCL are eight curious whistle components, in an original cardboard box, and two framed photographs dated to 1909. One of these photographs shows the eighty-seven year old Sir Francis Galton in his bath chair. Standing beside him is his faithful manservant Albert Gifi holding Wee Ling, a pure white albino puppy. Back in 1876, Galton, a prominent Victorian scientist and statistician, had invented a whistle to test the range of human hearing abilities at higher frequencies. He later adapted it to test animal hearing. His discovery from roaming the streets of Berne and other towns, was that only small breeds heard very high pitched notes. However, the darker side is that Galton was an advocate of selective breeding. In turn, Wee Ling was the result of dog-breeding experiments carried out by Galton’s eugenic disciple Karl Pearson. Both men are seen seated together in the second photograph on the day of the puppy’s arrival. As Pearson chillingly wrote: ‘I gave you Wee Ling because we had decided he was the most intelligent’; nonetheless he ‘turned out to be incapable of reproducing his kind!’ Just two years later, as a result of his mentor’s generous bequest, Pearson was destined to become the first holder of the Galton Chair in National Eugenics at what was then University College London. In this article, the contrasting sources – whistle(s) and photographs – are critically analysed by means of an object-based learning methodology. Their stories reveal Galton as inventor, eugenic mentor, and as an ageist and ageing individual. The end result is an enhanced understanding into the tensions between his inventive genius, darker thinking, and eugenic legacy.

Date created: 
Monday, March 23, 2020
Attribution for this resource:
Francis Galton’s dog whistle and his albino puppy Wee Ling by Rosalind Janssen, All rights reserved.
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