Notable Moments in the History of Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Joseph Bell

Renowned lecturer,
surgeon, and
master of observation

  • “I thought of my old teacher Joe Bell ...”

    Joseph Bell was a renowned lecturer at the University of Edinburgh Medical School when Conan Doyle enrolled there in 1876, at the age of 17. In his lectures, Dr. Bell stressed the importance of close observation of the patient in making a diagnosis.  At a glance, he could identify a cobbler by a worn patch on the trousers, or a cork-cutter by a callus on the thumb. “To his audience of Watsons,” Conan Doyle later remarked, “it all seemed very miraculous—until it was explained, and then it became simple enough.”

    Bell was also a pioneer of forensic science. He assisted the police in criminal investigations and testified at criminal inquests and murder trials.  Bell emphasized that careful observation—or induction—was just as important in medicine as it was in police work. “The student must be taught how to observe,” he insisted.

    When Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, Joseph Bell’s remarkable powers of observation became a vital part of the detective’s character. Holmes even bore a physical resemblance to Bell, who was tall and lean, with sharp features and a prominent nose. Conan Doyle dedicated The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to Bell, saying, “[N]o other name has as good a right to the place.”

Émile Gaboriau

Detective novelist whose main character
possessed the traits later
associated with Holmes

  • “Gaboriau had rather attracted me by the neat dovetailing of his plots ...”

    Sherlock Holmes was also dismissive of the fictional detective Monsieur Lecoq, whom he described as a “miserable bungler,” but Conan Doyle admired the talent and craft of Lecoq’s creator, the French novelist Émile Gaboriau. Largely forgotten today, Lecoq’s adventures began appearing in 1866, based on the exploits of the real-life criminal-turned-detective Eugène François Vidocq.

    Monsieur Lecoq possessed many of the traits and skills that later came to be associated with Sherlock Holmes.  Lecoq was not only a master of disguise but also employed scientific techniques such as the use of a plaster cast to take impressions of footprints. Lecoq’s disdain for Gevrol, the head of the Sureté, anticipates the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, and the good-hearted but slow-witted Father Absinthe, Lecoq’s admiring companion, suggests many of the characteristics of Dr. Watson.

Edgar Allan Poe

A writer who is widely
acknowledged today as
the father of detective fiction

  • “Poe’s masterful detective, M. Dupin, had from boyhood been one of my heroes ...”

    Conan Doyle also sought inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe, the writer widely acknowledged today as the father of detective fiction. Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination had been one of Conan Doyle’s favorite boyhood books. “I read it young when my mind was plastic,” he recalled. “It stimulated my imagination and set before me a supreme example of dignity and force in the methods of telling a story.”

    Poe’s reputation as the father of modern detective fiction rests on five short stories written between the years of 1841 and 1844.  In these stories, three of which feature the detective C. Auguste Dupin, Poe anticipated virtually every convention of the classic detective story—the brooding, eccentric sleuth; the comparatively dense sidekick; the wrongfully accused client; the unlikely villain; the secret code; the false clue and the impossible crime. In A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes story, Holmes would brazenly dismiss Poe’s Dupin as “a very inferior fellow,” but Conan Doyle revered both the author and his creation. “Poe is the master of all,” he declared.

  • Sherlock Holmes
    Occupation:Detective First Appearance:A Study in Scarlet

    Sherlock Holmes, who resides at 221b Baker Street, is the world’s foremost consulting detective.  His remarkable powers of deductive reasoning, together with his vast knowledge of forensic science, enable him to unravel mysteries that would otherwise go unsolved.  “My mind rebels at stagnation,” he once declared.  “That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.”

  • Dr. John H. Watson
    Occupation:Retired Army Surgeon First Appearance:A Study in Scarlet

    Dr. Watson is the chronicler of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as well as the detective’s friend and occasional flatmate. Watson assists Holmes on most of his cases, and the detective relies in the doctor’s steadfast courage, discretion and common sense. “Good old Watson!” he declared in one story. “You are the one fixed point in a changing age.”

  • Professor James Moriarty
    Occupation:Professor of Mathematics & Criminal Mastermind First Appearance:The Final Problem

    Professor Moriarty is “the Napoleon of crime,” according to Sherlock Holmes. “He is the organizer of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected in this great city,” the detective once remarked. “He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.”

  • Mrs. Hudson
    Occupation:Landlady & Housekeeper First Appearance:A Study in Scarlet

    Mrs. Hudson keeps house for her famous lodger at 221b Baker Street. She is a “long-suffering woman,” according to Dr. Watson, because the detective’s eccentric habits, which include malodorous scientific experiments and occasional indoor target practice, make him “the very worst tenant in London.”

  • Mycroft Holmes
    Occupation:Government Official First Appearance:The Greek Interpreter

    Mycroft is the elder brother of Sherlock Holmes and possesses deductive powers that are even greater than the detective’s. “If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived,” Sherlock Holmes once declared. “But he has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right.”

  • Irene Adler
    Occupation:Opera Singer First Appearance:A Scandal in Bohemia

    Irene Adler is a “well-known adventuress” whose cunning and resourcefulness enabled her to outwit Sherlock Holmes in their first and only meeting. “He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have not heard him do it of late,” Dr. Watson wrote after this encounter. “And when he speaks of Irene Adler . . . it is always under the honorable title of the woman.”