A ‘rare insight’ into Alan Turing’s mind: Unpublished papers sell at auction for £381,400 – revealing his attempts to develop a portable encryption system and voice scrambler

Alan Turing (pictured) was a British mathematician best known for his work cracking the enigma code during the Second World War

Alan Turing was a British mathematician born on June 23, 1912 In Maida Vale, London, to father Julius, a civil servant, and mother Ethel, the daughter of a railway engineer. 

His talents were recognised early on at school but he struggled with his teachers when he began boarding at Sherborne School aged 13 because he was too fixated on science. 

Turing continued to excel at maths but his time at Sherborne was also rocked by the death of his close friend Christopher Morcom from tuberculosis. Morcom was described as Turing’s ‘first love’ and he remained close with his mother following his death, writing to her on Morcom’s birthday each year. 

He then moved on to Cambridge where he studied at King’s College, graduating with a first class degree in mathematics.  

During the Second World War, Turing was pivotal in cracking the Enigma codes used by the German military to encrypt their messages.

His work gave Allied leaders vital information about the movement and intentions of Hitler’s forces.

Historians credit the work of Turing and his fellow codebreakers at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire with shortening the war by up to two years, saving countless lives, and he was awarded an OBE in 1946 for his services. 

Turing is also widely seen as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence due to his groundbreaking work in mathematics in the 1930s.

He was able to prove a ‘universal computing machine’ would be able to perform equations if they were presented as an algorithm – and had a paper published on the subject in 1936 in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society Journal when he was aged just 23. 

But he was disgraced in 1952 when he was convicted for homosexual activity, which was illegal at the time and would not be decriminalised until 1967.

To avoid prison, Turing agreed to ‘chemical castration’ – hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido.

As well as physical and emotional damage, his conviction had led to the removal of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for GCHQ, the successor to the Government Code and Cypher School, based at Bletchley Park. 

Turing was awarded an OBE in 1946 for his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, pictured, which is credited with ending World War II two years early

Turing was awarded an OBE in 1946 for his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, pictured, which is credited with ending World War II two years early

Then In 1954, aged 41, he died of cyanide poisoning. An inquest recorded a verdict of suicide, although his mother and others maintained that his death was accidental. 

When his body was discovered, an apple laid half-eaten next to his bed. It was never tested for cyanide but it is speculated it was the source of the fatal dose. 

Some more peculiar theories suggest Turing was ‘obsessed’ with fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and his death was inspired by the poisoned apple in the story. 

Following a public outcry over his treatment and conviction, the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a public apology in 2009. 

He then received a posthumous Royal pardon in 2014, only the fourth to be issued since the end of the Second World War.

It was requested by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, who described Turing as a national hero who fell foul of the law because of his sexuality.

An e-petition demanding a pardon for Turing had previously received 37,404 signatures. 

A 2017 law, that retroactively pardoned all men cautioned or convicted for homosexual acts under historical legislation, was named in his honour. 

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