On this day in history : 22nd May 1859 – The birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the British medical doctor and writer – and the creator of Sherlock Holmes….

Arthur Conan Doyle in 1914 – Public domain

Doyle was born at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh; his father was born in England but both of his parents were of Irish Catholic descent…. The family split up in 1864 due to his father’s alcoholism and Doyle stayed with a family friend whilst continuing his education at Newington Academy…. In 1867 the family reunited but were living in poor conditions in a run-down tenement flat….

However, thanks to his wealthy uncles, Doyle was sent away to school in England at the age of 9…. He was to attend the Jesuit preparatory school, Hodder Place in Stonyhurst, Lancashire…. After leaving in 1875 he spent a year studying in Austria and then until 1881 studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School…. He was also to study botany at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden….

It was at this time that Doyle began to write short stories…. His first published work was in the Chambers Edinburgh Journal in September 1879; it was a story set in South Africa, entitled ‘The Mystery of Sasassa Valley’….

Portrait of Doyle by Herbert Rose Barraud 1893 – Public domain

Doyle graduated as a Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery in 1881 and joined the crew of SS Mayumba as Ship’s Surgeon on a voyage to the west coast of Africa….He then went on to complete his Doctor of Medicine Degree and in 1882 became a partner in a medical practice in Plymouth…. However, it was a difficult working relationship and so he moved to the Portsmouth area to set up his own practice at 1, Bush Villas, Elm Grove, Southsea…. But his medical practice was slow to take off – and so he began to write fiction to fill in his time…. In November 1886 publishers Ward Lock & Co bought his first work featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson ‘A Study in Scarlet’…. Doyle had written it in just three weeks and the character of Holmes was based on Joseph Bell, one of his former university lecturers…. The story was received well by the public – and Doyle was commissioned to write a follow-up…. ‘The Sign of the Four’ first appeared in February 1890….

In 1885 Doyle married Louisa Hawkins and they had two children, Mary Louise in 1889 followed by a son, Kingsley in 1892…. However, his wife, a TB sufferer, died in 1906…. By this time Doyle had moved his medical practice to London and had been heavily involved with the design of the house he had built for his family…. They lived at ‘Undershaw’, near to Hindhead, Surrey from October 1897 to September 1907…. It became a hotel in 1924, closing in 2004 and then controversially stood empty falling into disrepair to the point of being derelict…. Rows about planning and development rumbled on – but finally in 2016 it opened as a school for children with disabilities….

Undershaw, with Doyle’s children, Mary and Kingsley, in the driveway – Public domain

In 1907 Doyle married Jean Elizabeth Leckie and had three more children; Denis 1909, Adrian 1910 and Jean 1912…. Sadly none of his children had offspring of their own – and so Doyle has no direct descendants….

Doyle with his family in New York, 1922 – Public domain

However, he was to leave us a legacy that includes many novels and short stories; there are 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories and 4 novels alone….

Doyle had many other interests in life…. He was a keen sportsman, playing football, cricket and golf…. He was an amateur boxer and even played billiards…. He became involved with politics at the turn of the century…. He was agnostic – despite his Catholic upbringing – and later in life became a spiritualist mystic…. He was also a Freemason, having been initiated in Southsea in 1887….

Doyle in 1930, the year of his death – with son Adrian – Image credit : Bundesarchiv CC BY-SA 3.0DE

Doyle died of a heart attack on the 7th of July 1930 at his home in Windlesham Manor at Crowborough, East Sussex…. He was originally buried there in the rose garden – but after the death of his wife in 1940 he was reinterred with her in the New Forest….

Image credit : Astrochemist – own work – Public domain

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