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Conan Doyle, Arthur

Arthur Conan Doyle, born in 1859, had his fair share of adventure. Not to be outdone by the hero of his magnum opus, Sherlock Holmes (who would become the most iconic detective in fiction), Conan Doyle trained as a surgeon in Edinburgh with authors Bram Stoker and Robert Louis Stevenson, played first-class cricket with author J M Barrie, worked as a doctor aboard whaling ships heading for the Arctic and later West Africa, opened a failed doctor’s practice in Portsmouth, studied the anatomy of the eyeball for a few months in Vienna, opened a failed eye specialist consultancy in London, went skiing in Norway with author Jerome K Jerome, took his ill wife to Switzerland and, while there, became the first British man to cross the Alpine pass Maienfelder Furgga. He later cruised up the River Nile to visit the frontline of the Sudanese war, served in the Boer War as a doctor, was knighted for writing a pamphlet about the Boer War, ran for a seat in Parliament (but lost!), became a Freemason, ran for a seat in Parliament a second time (and lost again!), travelled to Canada, then to Australia, where he met Harry Houdini, then toured North America giving lectures (and, incidentally, telling people fairies are real), before visiting several African countries, then Scandinavia, until, finally, he settled down in Sussex for a year before he died of a heart attack. While his commitment to spiritualism may seem strange to many of us, there is no questioning Arthur Conan Doyle’s sharp character and commitment to adventure. And somewhere, among all of that, he had time to write a host of short stories and novels.

Conan Doyle single-handedly changed the way we think about crime fiction, though it may surprise you to learn that towards the end of Conan Doyle’s life, he had grown sick of the character. Regardless, Sherlock Holmes is the bench mark against which all other fictional detective stories are measured, and we’re still reading and watching his stories over 130 years later.

He struggled to find a publisher for his early work, though the popularity of Holmes led to Conan Doyle being one of the highest-paid authors of his time. The success of The Sign of Four allowed him to quit the medical profession and become a full-time writer, and critically it was considered to be a great improvement on Holmes’s first outing – particularly with regard to the depth of the main character.

It would be unfair not to at least mention some of his other works that do not feature the genius detective: The Lost World (1912) starred Professor Challenger, another character who featured heavily in Conan Doyle’s oeuvre. In fact, without The Lost World, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1990) might never have been written! It would also be remiss to exclude the historical adventure novel The White Company (1892), which Conan Doyle himself believed to be his greatest work. Critics are generally very positive about The White Company, though few would argue it was greater than The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
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Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on 22nd May 1859 to Charles and Mary Doyle in Edinburgh. Arthur was the third of eight children, though two of them died in infancy.

Alcoholism in the family

He spent some time away from his father on account of Charles’s alcoholism.

Went to a Jesuit boarding school

When he was nine, his extended family paid for him to attend a Jesuit boarding school in Lancashire called Hodder Place. In his autobiography, Conan Doyle recounted that he cried the entire length of the journey into England. The only fond memories he had of his time at boarding school were the letters he wrote to his mother, playing cricket, and telling stories to the other children.

Attended Stonyhurst College

He attended Stonyhurst College, also in Lancashire.

Moved to Austria

He moved to another Jesuit school in Feldkirch, Austria, in order to improve his German.

Studied Medicine at university

Instead of deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an artist, Conan Doyle enrolled at University of Edinburgh Medical School. Here, he met Professor Dr Joseph Bell, who would later serve as inspiration for the character of Sherlock Holmes.

First story published

His first short story, ‘The Mystery of Sasassa Valley’, was published in Chambers’s Journal.

Served as a ship’s surgeon

He joined the crew of an Arctic whaling ship called Hope as the ship’s surgeon.

Earned his degree

Conan Doyle earned his degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery.

Father admitted to a nursing home

His father, Charles, was admitted to a nursing home specialising in alcoholism.

First novel published

He published his first novel, The Narrative of John Smith.


He married Louisa Hawkins.

First Sherlock Holmes novel published

He published his first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet.

First child born

He had his first child, Mary Louise.

Second Sherlock Holmes novel published

He published his second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of the Four in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine.

Became a full-time writer

He decided to give up on his medical profession, and became a full-time writer. The first six ‘Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ were published in Strand Magazine.

Father admitted to an asylum

Conan Doyle’s father, Charles, was admitted to an asylum.

Second child born

He had his second child, Arthur Alleyne ‘Kingsley’.

His wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis

He took his wife, Louisa, to Switzerland for treatment.

‘Death’ of Sherlock Holmes

He published ‘The Adventure of the Final Problem’, in which Sherlock Holmes dies in Switzerland, in Strand Magazine.

Return of Sherlock Holmes

He wrote another Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Received a knighthood

He was knighted by King Edward VII.

Sherlock Holmes revived

Conan Doyle revived the character of Sherlock Holmes after his supposed ‘death’ in ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’.

Wife, Louisa, died

His first wife, Louisa, died.


Conan Doyle married Jean Elizabeth Leckie.

Third child born

He had his third child, Denis Percy Stewart.

Fourth child born

He had his fourth child, Adrian Malcolm.

Fifth child born

He had his fifth child, Jean Lena Annette.

Last Sherlock Holmes novel

The last Sherlock Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear, was published.

Interest in spiritualism

Conan Doyle about his beliefs concerning spiritualism, and, a year later, announced he was a spiritualist.

Eldest son died

His eldest son, Kingsley, died of Spanish flu, his immune system weakened by a neck wound from the Battle of the Somme.

Met Houdini

He met Harry Houdini. They became friends due to their shared interest in spiritualism. The friendship deteriorated when Conan Doyle’s wife Jean, a self-proclaimed medium, produced 15 pages of perfectly grammatical English which she claimed was communicated to her by Houdini’s mother from beyond the grave. Houdini was not convinced, because his mother’s English had been very poor in life.

Belief in fairies

Conan Doyle publicly acknowledged his belief in fairies while on a lecture tour in North America. His belief in spiritualism and fairies was strengthened by the horrors of the First World War and the loss of his son.

Suffered a heart attack

He suffered a heart attack upon his return from visiting Scandinavia.

Conan Doyle died

He died in Sussex on 7th July, of another heart attack.