Famous Londoners – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle…

October 28, 2013

Given our current Wednesday series, we thought it only fitting that we take a quick look at the life of Scottish-born Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a physician and author most famous for his creation of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

Born in Edinburgh on 12 May, 1859, to a wealthy Irish-Catholic family, Doyle was educated at a Jesuit preparatory school in England before  undertaking a medical degree at the University of Edinburgh. It was there where he met his mentor, Dr Joseph Bell, a figure who at least partly inspired the creation of Holmes, and it was also during his time here that he first began writing – his first short story was The Mystery of Sasassa Valley. Having taken a voyage to the Arctic Circle in the post of ship’s surgeon and worked in Birmingham as a doctor’s assistant, he was awarded a medical degree in 1881 (he became MD in 1885).

His first job after graduation was aboard another ship – this time sailing to Africa – and after the voyage he settled back in England, briefly in Plymouth and then in Portsmouth where he opened his first medical practice. For the next few years, he continued  practising as a doctor while writing and in 1885 married his first wife Louisa Hawkins.

In 1886, he started writing A Study in Scarlet. Introducing Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson to the world,  it was eventually published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1888. Doyle went on to write some 60 stories about Holmes over the ensuing years but also wrote other books including historical novels, fantasy and science-fiction stories (The Lost World), romances (The White Company), plays (including one about Sherlock Holmes), poetry and written works which reflected his interest in Spiritualism – an interest which had started while he was at university.

In 1890, having studied opthalmology in Vienna, he established a practice at 2 Upper Wimpole Street, Marylebone, London (the location lies only a short distance from his creation’s famous address at 221b Baker Street) and, with his family, took up residence in Montague Place and later at 12 Tennison Road in South Norwood (marked by a Blue Plaque). But with no patients, he spent his time writing, deciding to kill Holmes off in 1893 but subsequently bringing him back to life after a public outcry. He toured the US in 1894 (other countries he visited during his life included Australia) and later served as a surgeon in the Boer War (1899-1902), for which he was knighted in 1902.

Following the death of his first wife form tuberculosis in 1906 (with whom he had two children), Doyle married Jean Elizabeth Leckie in 1907. Moving to Windlesham in Sussex (it was here Doyle would live for the rest of his life while keeping a flat in London), they had three further children. Meanwhile his interest in Spiritualism continued to grow, particularly following the death of his son, Kingsley, in World War I.

His final 12 stories about Sherlock Holmes were published in 1928 in a compilation called The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. The following year, despite poor health, he embarked on a Spirtualism tour on the continent but had to break it off and return home to Crowborough, East Sussex, in England. There he died on 7th July, 1930, leaving behind a literary legacy which has continued on unchecked. His grave can be found in Minstead Churchyard in New Forest.

For more on Sherlock Holmes, see our earlier posts Famous Londoners – Sherlock Holmes and 10 fictional character addresses in London – 1. 221b Baker Street….

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