Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: 10 Facts About Sherlock Holmes’s Creator | History Hit

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: 10 Facts About Sherlock Holmes’s Creator

Kyle Hoekstra

05 Jul 2021
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Arthur Conan Doyle, around 1920
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On 7 July 1930, Arthur Conan Doyle died in the Edwardian country house of Windlesham Manor, Sussex, where he had spent the previous 23 years. Doyle is best known for his work writing the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, but he was also a doctor, spiritualist, justice advocate and political campaigner.

Here are 10 facts about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

1. Sherlock Holmes was based on Conan Doyle’s professor

Between 1876 and 1881, Arthur Conan Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. While a medical student, he was impressed by Dr. Joseph Bell, a professor who appeared to observe his patients’ conditions extremely closely.

Dr. Bell became an important influence on Conan Doyle’s character of Sherlock Holmes, who is renowned for his deductive skill. The writer Robert Louis Stevenson recognised the similarity between them: “Can this be my old friend Joe Bell?” he asked Conan Doyle.

Statue of Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place in Edinburgh, the street where his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born.

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2. Conan Doyle served as a doctor on a whaling ship

In 1880, Arthur Conan Doyle was the doctor on the whaling ship Hope, which specialised in catching whales near Greenland. After graduating with his degrees from Edinburgh, Conan Doyle was ship’s surgeon on the SS Mayumba during a voyage to the West African coast.

He later served as a volunteer doctor during the Second Boer War in South Africa. Between march and June 1900, Conan Doyle was based at the Langman Field Hospital at Bloemfontein.

Sherlock Holmes stories by sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the original illustrated Strand edition

3. Success made Conan Doyle ambivalent towards Holmes

Having originally struggled to find a publisher for A Study in Scarlet, his first work featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Conan Doyle became ambivalent about the character’s success.

He wrote to his mother in November 1891 that “I think of slaying Holmes… He takes my mind from better things.” Conan Doyle even raised the price he asked for his Holmes stories in order to stifle his publishers’ demands for more of them. Instead, however, publishers were willing to pay, turning Arthur Conan Doyle into one of the best-paid authors of his time.

SIR Arthur Conan Doyle, British physician and writer, in South Africa in 1900

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4. Conan Doyle was knighted

Conan Doyle was knighted by King Edward VII in 1902. He suspected it was for his non-fiction works The Great Boer War (1900) and The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct. In the latter work, Doyle responded to critics of the war by arguing that the United Kingdom’s role in the war was justified.

Conan Doyle wrote other non-fiction works during his life, including a campaigning pamphlet called The Crime of the Congo (1909). As a supporter of the campaign to reform the Congo Free State led by E. D. Morel and Roger Casement, he denounced the horrors that took place in the Belgian colony.

5. He stood for Parliament

Sir Arthur stood for Parliament twice as a Liberal Unionist. This was a political party in Britain that was formed in 1886 when it split from the Liberal Party because it was opposed to Irish Home Rule.

Conan Doyle was a candidate for Edinburgh Central in 1900 and Hawick Burghs in 1906. He also served as a Deputy-Lieutenant of Surrey from 1902, and in 1903 was appointed a Knight of Grace in the British royal order of chivalry, the Order of Saint John.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle playing cricket, bowled out by A P Lucas

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6. He played cricket with P. G. Wodehouse and A. A. Milne

Conan Doyle continuously involved himself in amateur sports including football, boxing and cricket. He played as goalkeeper under the pseudonym A. C. Smith for Portsmouth Association Football Club, while as a cricketer, he played 10 first-class matches for the Marylebone Cricket Club between 1899 and 1907.

He also played for amateur cricket team the Authors XI. Founded in 1892, it included writers such as the creator of Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie, Winnie-the-Pooh creator A. A. Milne and humourist P. G. Wodehouse. The team was revived in 2012, with players on the revived team including historians Tom Holland, James Holland and Peter Frankopan.

In early 1900, Rudyard Kipling, Mary Kingsley and Arthur Conan Doyle crossed paths in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War. Motivated in various ways by notions of duty, service, patriotism and jingoism, they were each shaped by the theatre of war. Sarah LeFanu joined me on the podcast to explore the cultural legacies, controversial reputations and influence on colonial policy of these three British writers.
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7. Conan Doyle was sometimes an architect

Between 1897 and 1907, Conan Doyle lived in his home of Undershaw. He had commissioned an architect called Joseph Henry Ball to build this home, and Conan Doyle was active in the design process.

Later, in 1912, Conan Doyle stayed at the Lyndhurst Grand Hotel. He sketched designs for a third-story extension, as well as a front façade for the building. The finished work closely resembled the plans Doyle had sketched. Meanwhile, a trip to Jasper National Park in Canada led him to design a golf course that was then fully realised.

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

Image Credit: Alamy

8. Conan Doyle investigated two closed cases himself

Conan Doyle was an advocate of justice and personally looked into two closed cases, which led to two men being exonerated from crimes which they had been accused. He helped George Edalji, a British-Indian lawyer blamed for writing threats and mutilating animals, to clear his name.

Inconsistencies in the case against Oscar Slater, a German Jew convicted of bludgeoning an 82-year-old woman in Glasgow, convinced Conan Doyle to pay most of Slater’s costs in his successful 1928 appeal.

9. A séance was held in Royal Albert Hall

Arthur Conan Doyle was a spiritualist. Just two months before his death, he recorded his response to the question, “What do you get from spiritualism?” He responded, “The first thing you get is, that it absolutely removes all fear of death. Secondly, it bridges death for those dear ones whom we may lose.”

On 13 July 1930, a few days after his death, thousands of his readers and supporters attended London’s Royal Albert Hall for a séance. The spiritualist medium Estelle Roberts claimed to have made contact with Conan Doyle.

Four years later, a séance held by Noah Serden at the Aeolian Hall was fully attended, and Conan Doyle was one of 44 people reportedly heard speaking from the ‘other side’.

Funeral of Arthur Conan Doyle

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10. Conan Doyle’s spiritualism complicated his burial

Doyle was first buried in the rose garden of Windlesham Manor on 11 July 1930. Though Doyle considered himself a Spiritualist, and not a Christian, he was later interred with his wife in Minstead churchyard in Hampshire.

At his funeral, Conan Doyle’s family and spiritualist community aimed to celebrate rather than mourn the occasion.

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Kyle Hoekstra

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