The forefathers of the 'Father of Computer Science'

14th December 2021

A collection of medals awarded to ancestors of Alan Turing, the ‘father of computer science’, have sold at auction in Salisbury.

The seven lots related to the descendants of Mossom Boyd – Turing’s great-great-grandfather – who was a general in the Bengal Army. Turing’s own father retained links to India (working for the civil service) and his parents divided their time between India and the UK.

“The first lot in the collection was a CBE that was awarded to Turing’s first cousin once removed,” explained Ned Cowell of Woolley and Wallis where the medals were sold. “It is somewhat ironic that despite his incredible achievements, Alan Turing was awarded the lesser honour of an OBE by George VI – possibly because the work he was doing was so secretive.”

Two of the medals were awarded to one of Turing’s great uncles, Captain Brooke Boyd of the 68th Bengal Native Infantry (lot 14, sold for £1,125); and another two to another great-uncle, Captain Alexander Boyd of 2nd Bengal Fusiliers (lot 15 sold for £2,375). A Royal British Nurses Association badge was also sold with a religious publication that was given to the wife of Turing’s cousin by Florence Nightingale. It realised £400.

“The generations of the Boyd family are a fascinating example of British military families in the 19th century,” continued Cowell. “Turing was brought up in a family of the old Empire, where people had strong links to India and Africa, and there is no doubt that his upbringing had a significant impact on how he decided to use his gifts. But while his great-uncles would have relied on very slow forms of communication during their service, Turing was involved in increasingly sophisticated forms of immediate communication that changed the face of the Second World War. The conflict that he experienced would have been very different to that experienced by his great-great-grandfather.”

The medals were sold on 14th December as part of the Medals and Coins auction, which also included a First World War group of five medals to Leading Telegraphist Alexander McKintosh Cowie (sold for £1,375), and a Victoria Cross group of miniature dress medals awarded to Major General Henry Edward Manning Douglas (sold for £5,250).

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