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Saturday, 1 November 2014

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born May 22, 1859 at 11 Picardy Street, Edinburgh. He was the first son and the third of ten children of  Mary and Charles Doyle.

Arthur was his parent's favorite child. Even at school he had the impulse to write and he produced his first story at the age of six.

When Arthur was in his teens his civil servant father became increasingly alcoholic and epileptic and eventually he was locked away in an asylum.

In his teens Arthur was the head of a street gang which was the origin of his Baker Street Irregulars.

Encouraged to study by his mother, Arthur was educated at Stonyhurst College, a harsh Jesuit Public School in England


Doyle went to Edinburgh University where he gained a medical degree and qualified as a doctor.

At Edinburgh he was taught by Dr Joseph Bell whose mastery of educative logic helped to inspire Sherlock Holmes.

In 1885 he was awarded a doctorate from Edinburgh for his dissertation on syphilis.

During his studies Doyle took various minor assistantships, and served as ship's doctor on a Greenland whaling boat.

Doyle practised between 1882-90 as a family doctor at Southsea, England. His medical practice was unsuccessful and his income was so small that he begun writing stories to help make ends meet.

In 1891 Doyle moved to London where he became an eye specialist. The following year he gave up medicine to take up writing full time.

Portrait of Doyle by Herbert Rose Barraud, 1893

Doyle was a senior physician of a field hospital in South Africa during the 1899-1902 Boer War.

Doyle was knighted 1902 for his work in South Africa, mainly for his pamphlet justifying England's part in the Boer War.


Doyle started writing short stories whilst waiting in his surgery for patients who didn't turn up.

Doyle's first full-length novel The Narrative of John Smith was lost on its way to the publisher.

In 1887 his novel A Study in Scarlet appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual, and introduced readers to Sherlock Holmes.

The inspiration for Sherlock Holmes was the Edinburgh surgeon Dr Joseph Bell (1837-1911) who used his powers of observation to help his diagnosis. It is claimed that sometimes he could diagnose a patient's problems purely by looking at him or her. Bell had taught Conan Doyle medicine at Edinburgh University.

An unsuccessful doctor, when he wrote A Study in Scarlet, Doyle sold  the copyright for £25.

One of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, A Scandal in Bohemia, was published in the seventh edition of a new magazine, The Strand, in 1891. It  popularised the genre and made Doyle well known in USA and Europe.

With the serialisation of Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, sales of The Strand reached their peak. Readers lined up outside the magazine's offices, waiting to get the next instalment.

The Hound of the Baskervilles was inspired by the west country's legend of demon dogs chasing along Dartmoor Abbots Way in search of unbaptised children.

The Vincent Prince "Must stand and face the hounds of hell" line in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" came from The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had always had an interest in writing for the stage  Recognizing the success of his character Sherlock Holmes, he decided to pen a play based on him. During Sherlock Holmes run London's at Lyceum Theatre in September 1901 a thirteen-year-old Charlie Chaplin played Billy the pageboy.

Charlie Chaplin was on £3 a week and he joked with Doyle during the rehearsal that he should pool their incomes and take half each for the rest of their lives. Sir Arthur declined - "I don't think so Mr Chaplin" he replied.

Doyle disliked his fictional detective, referring to him as "this monstrous growth from what was a comparatively small seed" and killed him off by pushing him down a mountainside. He resurrected him in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, before Moriaty killed him off for good.

The day he finished the "final" Holmes story, The Final Problem, Doyle's diary entry was pretty succinct: "Killed Holmes."

The mail address to Sherlock Holmes, 221B Baker Street is always answered. The Abbey National now occupying the building employs someone full to deal with Holmes' correspondence

According to the letters sent by the Abbey National Bank at 221B Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes  is retired from detective work and is keeping bees in the country.

Doyle also wrote painfully researched historically romances such as Micah Clark (1889), TheWhite Company (1891). He thought his historical romances had greater literary merit than his Sherlock Holmes stories.

Doyle was a compulsive writer of letters to newspapers on subjects ranging from gout to the use of bicycles in trench warfare.


A high level cricketer, Doyle was the captain of Portsmouth Cricket Club. He took one first class wicket - a prestigious one WG Grace, whom he bowled out for 110 on August 25, 1900.

Doyle once took 7 wickets for 51 runs for MCC before lunch.

On one occasion batting with WG Grace for the MCC, Doyle was rapped on the thigh by a fast ball. Noticing merriment emitting from his partner, Doyle was shocked to find his flannels alight set on fire by a direct hit on the box of matches in his pocket. "They couldn't get you out" giggled Grace "So they had to set you on fire".

Doyle was one of the British officials during the Marathon at the 1908 London Olympics.

Conan Doyle was among the pioneers in making skiing, originally a Norwegian form of travel, into an international sport.

Doyle played in goalkeeper as AC Smith during the 1880s for the amateur side Portsmouth AFC, a precursor of the modern Portsmouth FC.


Sir Arthur twice ran for Parliament as a Liberal Unionist, once in Edinburgh and once in the Border Burghs, but although he received a respectable vote he was not elected.

Arthur Conan Doyle

Doyle came from an Irish Catholic family but by the time he’d left school, he'd rejected his Catholic upbringing to become an agnostic.

Doyle became interested in Spiritualism and other physic phenomena after losing a brother and a son in the First World War.

In preparing an article for Strand Magazine on fairies Doyle came across a photo showing a young girl with four butterfly winged little dark haired sprites dancing on a bush before her. When shown other photos of these fairies, the 58-year-old writer was convinced of their authenticity, arguing for the case of fairies in his Strand article. Doyle failed to use his creation, Sherlock Holmes’ skeptical reasoning, and readers questioned the writer’s sanity.

By the 1920s Doyle was travelling the world as an evangelist for Spiritualism and giving  many public lectures. When he failed to arrive one day for a lecture at Cambridge, university students mounted a placard; “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has failed to materialise.”

Doyle was proud that Holmes's methods had influenced contemporary police practice, and,in 1907 he, turned detective himself to clear the name of George Edaljee. A young half-British, half-Indian lawyer, Edaljee had been arrested four years earlier after a series of horse and cattle murders and sentenced to seven years hard labour on questionable evidence. Doyle became increasingly convinced of the young Indian's innocence and he questioned whether there were racial overtones to the case. After lobbying the government a commission was set up and George was exonerated.

A second case—that of Oscar Slater, a German Jew and gambling-den operator convicted of bludgeoning an 82-year-old woman in 1908—excited Doyle's curiosity because of inconsistencies in the prosecution case and a general sense that Slater was framed. Doyle ended up paying most of the costs for Slater's successful appeal in 1928


Arthur met his first wife, Louise Hawkins in 1885 through being a cricket captain during his time in Southsea. Cheerful, dark haired, attractive Jean had a fine singing voice and was 14 years younger than Arthur.

Louise gave birth to two children. A daughter daughter Mary and a son, Kingsley, who died in the First World War, which intensified Arthur's interest in psychic phenomena.

In 1897 Arthur met Jean Leckie. they fell in love, but Arthur maintained a platonic relationship with her out of loyalty to his first wife.

Louise suffered from tuberculosis and eventually died in 1906.When Arthur learnt that Louise had TB and only had a short time to live, he looked after her with the help of Jean Leckie.

Arthur married Jean Leckie in 1907.Jean gave birth to three children – Denis, Adriand and Jean  who became director of the Women's Royal Air Force.


Whilst studying for medicine  Doyle went on a seven month voyage as a surgeon on a whaling trip. He earned the nickname on the journey of "The Great Northern Diver" on account of his tendency to fall off ice floes into the freezing arctic water.

After his graduation from university in 1881 Doyle was a ship's surgeon on the SS Mayumba during a voyage to the West African coast.

Seeing the Reichenbach Falls during a holiday with his wife in Switzerland he decided this was the exit he wanted for his Sherlock Holmes character with whom he was bored.


Doyle was found clutching his chest in the hall of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, East Sussex, on  July 7, 1930.  He had been ill with heart trouble for seven months since returning from a Scandinavian trip where he'd given a series of lectures on spiritualism.

Doyle died of a heart attack at 19.30 on July 7, 1930. His last words were to Jean Leckie, "You are wonderful." It was the birthday of Dr Watson..

He was first buried – vertically – in Windlesham’s rose garden. Doyle and Jean Leckie were re-interred in 1955 after the estate grounds were sold and re-buried in the churchyard at Minstead, Hampshire.

Doyle's grave can be found under a large tree at the rear of the churchyard, His epitaph reads: "Steel true. Blade straight. Arthur Conan Doyle. Knight/Patriot, Physician, and man of letters."

Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed fictional character.

The popularity of Doyle's detective, Sherlock Holmes created a pattern for the crime tale and popularized it as a genre.

Sources Faber Book of Anecdotes, Mail On Sunday's Event magazine.

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