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Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle in June 1914
Arthur Conan Doyle in June 1914
Born Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle
(1859-05-22)22 May 1859
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 7 July 1930(1930-07-07) (aged 71)
Crowborough, Sussex, England
  • Writer
  • physician
Education University of Edinburgh
Notable works
  • Stories of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Lost World
    Louisa Hawkins
    (m. 1885; died 1906)
    Jean Leckie
    (m. 1907)
Children 5 (including Adrian and Jean)


Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle KStJ DL (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) was a British writer and physician. He created the character Sherlock Holmes in 1887 for A Study in Scarlet, the first of four novels and fifty-six short stories about Holmes and Dr. Watson. The Sherlock Holmes stories are milestones in the field of crime fiction.

Doyle was a prolific writer; other than Holmes stories, his works include fantasy and science fiction stories about Professor Challenger, and humorous stories about the Napoleonic soldier Brigadier Gerard, as well as plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction, and historical novels. One of Doyle's early short stories, "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement" (1884), helped to popularise the mystery of the Mary Celeste.


Doyle is often referred to as "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle" or "Conan Doyle", implying that "Conan" is part of a compound surname rather than a middle name. His baptism entry in the register of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, gives "Arthur Ignatius Conan" as his given names and "Doyle" as his surname. It also names Michael Conan as his godfather. The catalogues of the British Library and the Library of Congress treat "Doyle" alone as his surname.

Steven Doyle, publisher of The Baker Street Journal, wrote: "Conan was Arthur's middle name. Shortly after he graduated from high school he began using Conan as a sort of surname. But technically his last name is simply 'Doyle'." When knighted, he was gazetted as Doyle, not under the compound Conan Doyle.

Early life

Arthur Conan Doyle by Herbert Rose Barraud 1893
Portrait of Doyle by Herbert Rose Barraud, 1893
Title page from Arthur Conan Doyle's thesis
Title page from Arthur Conan Doyle's thesis

Doyle was born on 22 May 1859 at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was born in England, of Irish Catholic descent, and his mother, Mary (née Foley), was Irish Catholic. His parents married in 1855. In 1864 the family scattered, and the children were temporarily housed across Edinburgh. Arthur lodged with Mary Burton, the aunt of a friend, at Liberton Bank House on Gilmerton Road, while studying at Newington Academy.

In 1867, the family came together again and lived in squalid tenement flats at 3 Sciennes Place. Doyle's father died in 1893, in the Crichton Royal, Dumfries, after many years of psychiatric illness. Beginning at an early age, throughout his life Doyle wrote letters to his mother, and many of them were preserved.

Supported by wealthy uncles, Doyle was sent to England, to the Jesuit preparatory school Hodder Place, Stonyhurst in Lancashire, at the age of nine (1868–70). He then went on to Stonyhurst College, which he attended until 1875. While Doyle was not unhappy at Stonyhurst, he said he did not have any fond memories of it because the school was run on medieval principles: the only subjects covered were rudiments, rhetoric, Euclidean geometry, algebra, and the classics. Doyle commented later in his life that this academic system could only be excused "on the plea that any exercise, however stupid in itself, forms a sort of mental dumbbell by which one can improve one's mind". He also found the school harsh, noting that, instead of compassion and warmth, it favoured the threat of corporal punishment and ritual humiliation.

From 1875 to 1876, he was educated at the Jesuit school Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria. His family decided that he would spend a year there in order to perfect his German and broaden his academic horizons. He later rejected the Catholic faith and became an agnostic. One source attributed his drift away from religion to the time he spent in the less strict Austrian school. He also later became a spiritualist mystic.

Medical career

From 1876 to 1881, Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School; during this period he spent time working in Aston (then a town in Warwickshire, now part of Birmingham), Sheffield and Ruyton-XI-Towns, Shropshire. Also during this period, he studied practical botany at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. While studying, Doyle began writing short stories. His earliest extant fiction, "The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe", was unsuccessfully submitted to Blackwood's Magazine. His first published piece, "The Mystery of Sasassa Valley", a story set in South Africa, was printed in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal on 6 September 1879. On 20 September 1879, he published his first academic article, "Gelsemium as a Poison" in the British Medical Journal, a study which The Daily Telegraph regarded as potentially useful in a 21st-century murder investigation.

Professor Challenger
Professor Challenger by Harry Rountree in the novella The Poison Belt published in The Strand Magazine

Doyle was the doctor on the Greenland whaler Hope of Peterhead in 1880. On 11 July 1880, John Gray's Hope and David Gray's Eclipse met up with the Eira and Leigh Smith. The photographer W. J. A. Grant took a photograph aboard the Eira of Doyle along with Smith, the Gray brothers, and ship's surgeon William Neale, who were members of the Smith expedition. That expedition explored Franz Josef Land, and led to the naming, on 18 August, of Cape Flora, Bell Island, Nightingale Sound, Gratton ("Uncle Joe") Island, and Mabel Island.

After graduating with Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery (M.B. C.M.) degrees from the University of Edinburgh in 1881, he was ship's surgeon on the SS Mayumba during a voyage to the West African coast. He completed his Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree (an advanced degree beyond the basic medical qualification in the UK) with a dissertation on tabes dorsalis in 1885.

In 1882, Doyle partnered with his former classmate George Turnavine Budd in a medical practice in Plymouth, but their relationship proved difficult, and Doyle soon left to set up an independent practice. Arriving in Portsmouth in June 1882, with less than £10 (£1100 in 2019 ) to his name, he set up a medical practice at 1 Bush Villas in Elm Grove, Southsea. The practice was not successful. While waiting for patients, Doyle returned to writing fiction.

Doyle was a staunch supporter of compulsory vaccination and wrote several articles advocating the practice and denouncing the views of anti-vaccinators.

In early 1891, Doyle embarked on the study of ophthalmology in Vienna. He had previously studied at the Portsmouth Eye Hospital in order to qualify to perform eye tests and prescribe glasses. Vienna had been suggested by his friend Vernon Morris as a place to spend six months and train to be an eye surgeon. But Doyle found it too difficult to understand the German medical terms being used in his classes in Vienna, and soon quit his studies there. For the rest of his two-month stay in Vienna, he pursued other activities, such as ice skating with his wife Louisa. He also wrote The Doings of Raffles Haw.

After visiting Venice and Milan, he spent a few days in Paris observing Edmund Landolt, an expert on diseases of the eye. Within three months of his departure for Vienna, Doyle returned to London. He opened a small office and consulting room at 2 Upper Wimpole Street, or 2 Devonshire Place as it was then. (There is today a Westminster City Council commemorative plaque over the front door.) He had no patients, according to his autobiography, and his efforts as an ophthalmologist were a failure.

Literary career

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes Portrait Paget
Portrait of Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget, 1904

Doyle struggled to find a publisher. His first work featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, A Study in Scarlet, was written in three weeks when he was 27 and was accepted for publication by Ward Lock & Co on 20 November 1886, which gave Doyle £25 (equivalent to £2,900 in 2019) in exchange for all rights to the story. The piece appeared a year later in the Beeton's Christmas Annual and received good reviews in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald.

Holmes was partially modelled on Doyle's former university teacher Joseph Bell. In 1892, in a letter to Bell, Doyle wrote, "It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes ... round the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man", and in his 1924 autobiography, he remarked, "It is no wonder that after the study of such a character [viz., Bell] I used and amplified his methods when in later life I tried to build up a scientific detective who solved cases on his own merits and not through the folly of the criminal." Robert Louis Stevenson was able to recognise the strong similarity between Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... can this be my old friend Joe Bell?" Other authors sometimes suggest additional influences—for instance, Edgar Allan Poe's character C. Auguste Dupin, who is mentioned, disparagingly, by Holmes in A Study in Scarlet. Dr. (John) Watson owes his surname, but not any other obvious characteristic, to a Portsmouth medical colleague of Doyle's, Dr. James Watson.

Sherlock Holmes Statue, Edinburgh
Sherlock Holmes statue in Edinburgh, erected opposite the birthplace of Doyle, which was demolished c. 1970

A sequel to A Study in Scarlet was commissioned, and The Sign of the Four appeared in Lippincott's Magazine in February 1890, under agreement with the Ward Lock company. Doyle felt grievously exploited by Ward Lock as an author new to the publishing world, and so, after this, he left them. Short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes were published in the Strand Magazine. Doyle wrote the first five Holmes short stories from his office at 2 Upper Wimpole Street (then known as Devonshire Place), which is now marked by a memorial plaque.

Doyle's attitude towards his most famous creation was ambivalent. In November 1891, he wrote to his mother: "I think of slaying Holmes, ... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things." His mother responded, "You won't! You can't! You mustn't!" In an attempt to deflect publishers' demands for more Holmes stories, he raised his price to a level intended to discourage them, but found they were willing to pay even the large sums he asked. As a result, he became one of the best-paid authors of his time.

Statue of Holmes and the English Church in Meiringen

In December 1893, to dedicate more of his time to his historical novels, Doyle had Holmes and Professor Moriarty plunge to their deaths together down the Reichenbach Falls in the story "The Final Problem". Public outcry, however, led him to feature Holmes in 1901 in the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes's fictional connection with the Reichenbach Falls is celebrated in the nearby town of Meiringen.

In 1903, Doyle published his first Holmes short story in ten years, "The Adventure of the Empty House", in which it was explained that only Moriarty had fallen, but since Holmes had other dangerous enemies—especially Colonel Sebastian Moran—he had arranged to make it look as if he too were dead. Holmes was ultimately featured in a total of 56 short stories—the last published in 1927—and four novels by Doyle, and has since appeared in many novels and stories by other authors.

Other works

Arthur Conan Doyle house
Doyle's house in South Norwood

Doyle's first novels were The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, published only posthumously, in 2011. He amassed a portfolio of short stories, including "The Captain of the Pole-Star" and "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", both inspired by Doyle's time at sea. The latter popularised the mystery of the Mary Celeste and added fictional details such as that the ship was found in perfect condition (it had actually taken on water by the time it was discovered), and that its boats remained on board (the single boat was in fact missing). These fictional details have come to dominate popular accounts of the incident, and Doyle's alternative spelling of the ship's name as the Marie Celeste has become more commonly used than the original spelling.

Between 1888 and 1906, Doyle wrote seven historical novels, which he and many critics regarded as his best work. He also wrote nine other novels, and—later in his career (1912–29)—five narratives (two of novel length) featuring the irascible scientist Professor Challenger. The Challenger stories include his best-known work after the Holmes oeuvre, The Lost World. His historical novels include The White Company and its prequel Sir Nigel, set in the Middle Ages. He was a prolific author of short stories, including two collections set in Napoleonic times and featuring the French character Brigadier Gerard.

Doyle's works for the stage include Waterloo, which centres on the reminiscences of an English veteran of the Napoleonic Wars and features a character Gregory Brewster, written for Henry Irving; The House of Temperley, the plot of which reflects his abiding interest in boxing; The Speckled Band, adapted from his earlier short story "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"; and an 1893 collaboration with J. M. Barrie on the libretto of Jane Annie.

Sporting career

While living in Southsea, the seaside resort of Portsmouth, Doyle played football as a goalkeeper for Portsmouth Association Football Club, an amateur side, under the pseudonym A. C. Smith.

Doyle was a keen cricketer, and between 1899 and 1907 he played 10 first-class matches for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). He also played for the amateur cricket teams the Allahakbarries and the Authors XI alongside fellow writers J. M. Barrie, P. G. Wodehouse and A. A. Milne. His highest score, in 1902 against London County, was 43. He was an occasional bowler who took one first-class wicket, W. G. Grace, and wrote a poem about the achievement.

In 1900, Doyle founded the Undershaw Rifle Club at his home, constructing a 100-yard range and providing shooting for local men, as the poor showing of British troops in the Boer War had led him to believe that the general population needed training in marksmanship. He was a champion of "miniature" rifle clubs, whose members shot small-calibre firearms on local ranges. These ranges were much cheaper and more accessible to working-class participants than large "fullbore" ranges, such as Bisley Camp, which were necessarily remote from population centres. Doyle went on to sit on the Rifle Clubs Committee of the National Rifle Association.

In 1901, Doyle was one of three judges for the world's first major bodybuilding competition, which was organised by the "Father of Bodybuilding", Eugen Sandow. The event was held in London's Royal Albert Hall. The other two judges were the sculptor Sir Charles Lawes-Wittewronge and Eugen Sandow himself.

Doyle was an amateur boxer. In 1909, he was invited to referee the James Jeffries–Jack Johnson heavyweight championship fight in Reno, Nevada. Doyle wrote: "I was much inclined to accept ... though my friends pictured me as winding up with a revolver at one ear and a razor at the other. However, the distance and my engagements presented a final bar."

Also a keen golfer, Doyle was elected captain of the Crowborough Beacon Golf Club in Sussex for 1910. He had moved to Little Windlesham house in Crowborough with Jean Leckie, his second wife, and resided there with his family from 1907 until his death in July 1930.

He entered the English Amateur billiards championship in 1913.

While living in Switzerland, Doyle became interested in skiing, which was relatively unknown in Switzerland at the time. He wrote an article, "An Alpine Pass on 'Ski'" for the December 1894 issue of The Strand Magazine, in which he described his experiences with skiing and the beautiful alpine scenery that could be seen in the process. The article popularised the activity and began the long association between Switzerland and skiing.

Family life

Sir A. Conan Doyle and family LCCN2014715849 (cropped)
Doyle with his family c. 1923–1925

In 1885 Doyle married Louisa (sometimes called "Touie") Hawkins (1857–1906). She was the youngest daughter of J. Hawkins, of Minsterworth, Gloucestershire, and the sister of one of Doyle's patients. Louisa had tuberculosis. In 1907, the year after Louisa's death, he married Jean Elizabeth Leckie (1874–1940). He had met and fallen in love with Jean in 1897, but had maintained a platonic relationship with her while his first wife was still alive, out of loyalty to her. Jean outlived him by ten years, and died in London.

Doyle fathered five children. He had two with his first wife: Mary Louise (1889–1976) and Arthur Alleyne Kingsley, known as Kingsley (1892–1918). He had an additional three with his second wife: Denis Percy Stewart (1909–1955), who became the second husband of Georgian Princess Nina Mdivani; Adrian Malcolm (1910–1970); and Jean Lena Annette (1912–1997). None of Doyle's five children had children of their own, so he has no living direct descendants.

Political campaigning

Arthur Conan Doyle by George Wylie Hutchinson
Arthur Conan Doyle by George Wylie Hutchinson, 1894

Doyle served as a volunteer physician in the Langman Field Hospital at Bloemfontein between March and June 1900, during the Second Boer War in South Africa (1899–1902). Later that year, he wrote a book on the war, The Great Boer War, as well as a short work titled The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct, in which he responded to critics of the United Kingdom's role in that war, and argued that its role was justified. The latter work was widely translated, and Doyle believed it was the reason he was knighted (given the rank of Knight Bachelor) by King Edward VII in the 1902 Coronation Honours. He received the accolade from the King in person at Buckingham Palace on 24 October of that year.

He stood for Parliament twice as a Liberal Unionist: in 1900 in Edinburgh Central, and in 1906 in the Hawick Burghs, but was not elected. He served as a Deputy-Lieutenant of Surrey beginning in 1902, and was appointed a Knight of Grace of the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem in 1903.

Doyle was a supporter of the campaign for the reform of the Congo Free State that was led by the journalist E. D. Morel and diplomat Roger Casement. In 1909 he wrote The Crime of the Congo, a long pamphlet in which he denounced the horrors of that colony. He became acquainted with Morel and Casement, and it is possible that, together with Bertram Fletcher Robinson, they inspired several characters that appear in his 1912 novel The Lost World. Later, after the Irish Easter Rising, Casement was found guilty of treason against the Crown, and was sentenced to death. Doyle tried, unsuccessfully, to save him, arguing that Casement had been driven mad, and therefore should not be held responsible for his actions.

As the First World War loomed, and having been caught up in a growing public swell of Germanophobia, Doyle gave a public donation of 10 shillings to the anti-immigration British Brothers' League. In 1914, Doyle was one of fifty-three leading British authors—including H. G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy—who signed their names to the "Authors' Declaration", justifying Britain’s involvement in the First World War. This manifesto declared that the German invasion of Belgium had been a brutal crime, and that Britain "could not without dishonour have refused to take part in the present war".

Legal advocate

Doyle statue in Crowborough, East Sussex

Doyle was also a fervent advocate of justice and personally investigated two closed cases, which led to two men being exonerated of the crimes of which they were accused.

Freemasonry and spiritualism

Doyle had a longstanding interest in mystical subjects and remained fascinated by the idea of paranormal phenomena, even though the strength of his belief in their reality waxed and waned periodically over the years.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and family
Doyle with his family in New York City, 1922

In 1920, Doyle travelled to Australia and New Zealand on spiritualist missionary work, and over the next several years, until his death, he continued his mission, giving talks about his spiritualist conviction in Britain, Europe, and the United States.

Cottingley Fairies 1
One of the five photographs of Frances Griffiths with the alleged fairies, taken by Elsie Wright in Cottingley, England in July 1917

Doyle wrote a novel The Land of Mist centred on spiritualist themes and featuring the character Professor Challenger. He also wrote many non-fiction spiritualist works. Perhaps his most famous of these was The Coming of the Fairies (1922), in which Doyle described his beliefs about the nature and existence of fairies and spirits.


Façade of Undershaw with Doyle's children, Mary and Kingsley, on the drive

Another of Doyle's longstanding interests was architectural design. In 1895, when he commissioned an architect friend of his, Joseph Henry Ball, to build him a home, he played an active part in the design process. The home in which he lived from October 1897 to September 1907, known as Undershaw (near Hindhead, in Surrey), was used as a hotel and restaurant from 1924 until 2004, when it was bought by a developer and then stood empty while conservationists and Doyle fans fought to preserve it. In 2012, the High Court in London ruled in favor of those seeking to preserve the historic building, ordering that the redevelopment permission be quashed on the ground that it had not been obtained through proper procedures. The building was later approved to become part of Stepping Stones, a school for children with disabilities and special needs.

Doyle made his most ambitious foray into architecture in March 1912, while he was staying at the Lyndhurst Grand Hotel: He sketched the original designs for a third-storey extension and for an alteration of the front facade of the building. Work began later that year, and when it was finished, the building was a nearly exact manifestation of the plans Doyle had sketched. Superficial alterations have been subsequently made, but the essential structure is still clearly Doyle's.

In 1914, on a family trip to the Jasper National Park in Canada, he designed a golf course and ancillary buildings for a hotel. The plans were realised in full, but neither the golf course nor the buildings have survived.

In 1926, Doyle laid the foundation stone for a Spiritualist Temple in Camden, London. Of the building's total £600 construction costs, he provided £500.


Doyle Arthur Conan grave
Doyle's grave at Minstead in Hampshire
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-10068, Schriftsteller Conan Doyle mit seinem Sohn
Doyle in 1930, the year of his death, with his son Adrian

Doyle was found clutching his chest in the hall of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, Sussex, on 7 July 1930. He died of a heart attack at the age of 71. His last words were directed toward his wife: "You are wonderful." At the time of his death, there was some controversy concerning his burial place, as he was avowedly not a Christian, considering himself a Spiritualist. He was first buried on 11 July 1930 in Windlesham rose garden.

He was later reinterred together with his wife in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, Hampshire. Carved wooden tablets to his memory and to the memory of his wife, originally from the church at Minstead, are on display as part of a Sherlock Holmes exhibition at Portsmouth Museum. The epitaph on his gravestone in the churchyard reads, in part: "Steel true/Blade straight/Arthur Conan Doyle/Knight/Patriot, Physician and man of letters".

A statue honours Doyle at Crowborough Cross in Crowborough, where he lived for 23 years. There is a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place, Edinburgh, close to the house where Doyle was born.

Honours and awards

Knight-Bachelor.ribbon.png Knight Bachelor (1902)
Order of St John (UK) ribbon -vector.svg Knight of Grace of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (1903)
Queens South Africa Medal BAR.svg Queen's South Africa Medal (1901)
Cavaliere OCI BAR.svg Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy (1895)
Order of the Medjidie lenta.png Order of the Medjidie – 2nd Class (Ottoman Empire) (1907)


Doyle has been commemorated with statues and plaques since his death. In 2009, he was among the ten people selected by the Royal Mail for their "Eminent Britons" commemorative postage stamp issue.


Arthur Conan Doyle has been portrayed by many actors, including:

Television series

  • Nigel Davenport in the BBC Two series The Edwardians, in the episode "Conan Doyle" (1972)
  • Michael Ensign in the Voyagers! episode "Jack's Back" (1983)
  • Robin Laing and Charles Edwards in Murder Rooms: Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes (2000–2001)
  • Geraint Wyn Davies in Murdoch Mysteries, 3 episodes (2008–2013)
  • David Calder in the miniseries Houdini (2014)
  • Martin Clunes in the miniseries Arthur & George (2015)
  • Stephen Mangan in Houdini & Doyle (2016)
  • Michael Pitthan in the German TV series Charité episode "Götterdämmerung" (2017)
  • Bill Paterson in the Urban Myths episode "Agatha Christie" (2018)

Television films

Theatrical films

Other media

  • Carleton Hobbs in the BBC radio drama Conan Doyle Investigates (1972)
  • Iain Cuthbertson in the BBC radio drama Conan Doyle and The Edalji Case (1987)
  • Peter Jeffrey in the BBC radio drama Conan Doyle's Strangest Case (1995)
  • Adrian Lukis in the stage adaptation of the novel Arthur & George (2010)
  • Chris Tallman in Chapter 10 of The Dead Authors Podcast (2012)
  • Steven Miller in the Jago & Litefoot audio drama "The Monstrous Menagerie" (2014)
  • Eamon Stocks in the video game Assassin's Creed Syndicate (2015)
  • Ryohei Kimura in the mobile game Ikémen Vampire: Temptation in the Dark (2019)

In fiction

Arthur Conan Doyle is the ostensible narrator of Ian Madden's short story "Cracks in an Edifice of Sheer Reason".

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle features as a recurring character in Pip Murphy's Christie and Agatha's Detective Agency series, including A Discovery Disappears and Of Mountains and Motors.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Arthur Conan Doyle para niños

  • William Gillette, a personal friend who performed the most famous stage version of Sherlock Holmes
  • List of notable Freemasons
  • Physician writer
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