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English computer scientist and mathematician, Alan Turing (1912-1954), was in foster care as a child.

Alan Mathison Turing was born in London to Ethel Sara (1881-1976), and Julius Mathison Turing (1873-1947).

Turing was in foster care for most of his first eight years. Julius Turing was a public servant in the Indian Civil Service and insisted that he and his wife, Ethel return to India without their two sons.

The boys were left in foster care with Mrs and Colonel Ward at St. Leonards-on-Sea, a town in East Sussex.

Always we referred to them as “the Wards”, writes Alan’s older brother, John.

We were the wards and they were our guardians but no matter – this was to be the centre of our existence for many years and our home from home. There we remained, on and off, for about eight years, except when our parents came home on leave from India at intervals of about three years. In many ways both of us felt more at home there [in foster care with the Wards] than we did when our parents were on leave and we were living in a rented house in Scotland or in lodgings (Turing, 147).

Alan would have been only about nine months old when his parents left the first time. John Turing insists this was hard on both boys.

I am no child psychologist but I am assured that it is a bad thing for an infant in arms to be uprooted and put in a strange environment. I cannot speak for Alan but it was certainly a shock for me, even at the age of five (Turning, 146).

He thinks he and his brother were “sacrificed” to the British Empire and that there were lasting negative effects on them both.

Alan was first at school at St Michael’s in St Leonards-on-Sea, before going on to the Hazlehurst Preparatory School in Frant, Sussex. He then began boarding at Sherborne in Dorset from the age of thirteen.

In 1931, Turing began attending King’s College, Cambridge where he graduated with honours in 1934 and was elected a Fellow of the College. During his time at Cambridge, Turing began working in the mathematical logic that would lead to the “Turing machine” in 1935; he won a Smith’s Prize in 1936.

Being a scholar born, Alan found himself thoroughly in his element when he went up to King’s…The balance of freedom and discipline just suited him. He at once took up rowing…For one so shy it was a curious thing that very much enjoyed reading the lessons in King’s College Chapel, which as a scholar he was occasionally called up to do (Turing, 40).

From Cambridge, Turing attended the Graduate College at Princeton University in the United States and in 1937 spent a second year there as a Jane Eliza Procter Visiting Fellow. He was back at Cambridge in 1938 on a Fellowship, which he held until 1952.

For 6 years from 1939 Turing worked for the Foreign Office at Bletchley Park, work that is commemorated in the 2014 historical drama, The Imitation Game, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing. For this work—which remained a secret until the 1970s—Turing received an Order of the British Empire.

These years were happy enough, perhaps the happiest of his life, with full scope for his inventiveness, a mild routine to shape the day, and a congenial set of fellow-workers. But the loss to his scientific work of the years between the ages of 27 and 33 was a cruel one. Three remarkable papers written just before the war, on three diverse mathematical subjects, show the quality of the work that might have been produced if he had settled down to work on some big problem at that critical time (Newman, 6).

At the end of the war, Turing joined a group at the National Physical Laboratory working on the “design, construction and use of a large automatic computing machine” (Newman, 6). Then, in 1948, he was appointed to the University of Manchester where he joined F.C. Williams and T. Kilburn in constructing a computer.

In 1952 Turing was arrested and convicted for having a sexual relationship with a man. Rather than go to prison, he accepted a year’s treatment of oestrogen intended to decrease his libido. Turing was given a posthumous royal pardon on 24 December 2013.

Alan Turing was found dead by his housekeeper on 8 June 1954; the coroner’s verdict was suicide. Turing was only forty-two years old but noted for his prodigious mathematical brilliance and early development of computers.

The Alan Turing Programme at King’s College, Cambridge is named in Turing’s honour and builds on his “legacy to create new ideas and technologies that will drive future change, much as Alan Turing did” (Kings College).


Hodges, Andrew. Alan Turing: The Enigma. London: Vintage Books, 1983/2014.

Hodges, Andrew.  ‘Alan Turing: an Introductory Biography.’ In Alan turing: Life and Legacy of a Great Thinker, edited by Christof Teuscher. Springer-Verlag, 2004.

Newman, Max. Alan Turing: His Work and Impact. Elsevier, 2013.

“The Alan Turing Programme at King’s.” King’s College Cambridge.

Turing, Sara. Alan M. Turing. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

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