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Interesting and Strange Facts about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Updated on January 3, 2015
Colin Quartermain profile image

Colin has been reading as long as he can remember, and the works of Conan Doyle were some of the early works that kept him reading.

In the history of British literature, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ranks highly amongst the most famous authors of all time. Mention his name, and most people will immediately think of one thing; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle equates to Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was certainly much more than his most famous creation, and away from his most famous creation, his life was full of interesting and strange facts and events.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Herbert Rose Barraud (1845-1896) PD-life-70
Herbert Rose Barraud (1845-1896) PD-life-70 | Source

Name

It is common to see Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s name shortened to just Conan Doyle, Conan though, was not part of his surname, and was in fact just one of his two middle names. Conan Doyle’s full name was Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle. It was only when he started his professional career that Arthur started to use Conan as part of his surname.

More interesting though is the Sir part of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1902, Conan Doyle was knighted by King Edward VII. The knighthood did not come about for his literary work as most people would presume, but because of his work in producing propaganda during the Boer War.

Conan Doyle Pamphlet

PD-life-70
PD-life-70 | Source

The Boer War

Just like his famous literary creation, Dr John Watson, Conan Doyle was briefly an army doctor, serving as he did during the Boer War (1899-1902), as a senior physician. Whilst in South Africa, Conan Doyle would write “The War in South Africa; Its Cause and Conduct”. This 150 page work did much to boost the image of Britain during the war. Conan Doyle would also write “The Great Boer War” during this period.

Professional Career

Conan Doyle was not considered fit enough to fight during the war, and so took up the medical position in the field hospital, because by profession he was a doctor. Specifically, Conan Doyle was an eye specialist, having been an undergraduate at Edinburgh University from 1876 to 1881.

After completing his time at Edinburgh University, Conan Doyle undertook work as a ship’s doctor, ran doctor’s practices in Birmingham, Plymouth, Portsmouth and London, and he even went to Vienna briefly to continue his studying.

The south coast of England would often prove to be home to Conan Doyle, and for a long period he lived in Hindhead; and when he died of heart-attack, aged 71, in 1930, Conan Doyle was buried in Minstead.

Conan Doyle Place, Meiringen

Michael Yew CC-BY-SA-2.0
Michael Yew CC-BY-SA-2.0 | Source

Sporting Life

The practices run by Conan Doyle were not particularly successful, and so Conan Doyle would often find that he had plenty of spare time to indulge in other interests, including writing and playing sport.

It is often said that Conan Doyle is one of the world’s most famous goalkeepers; Conan Doyle though played for the amateur side Portsmouth Association Football Club, and not the more famous Portsmouth FC as is often said as fact. Portsmouth FC was founded in 1898, whilst Portsmouth AFC operated from 1884 to 1896.

In 1893, Conan Doyle would briefly move to Switzerland, staying in Davos. Here he started taking part in the brand new winter sport of skiing, being one of the very first from Britain to try it. Conan Doyle would write enthusiastically about it, and is credited with starting the influx of Brits to Switzerland for winter sports.

In Meiringen, Switzerland there is a square called Conan Doyle Place; this though is not in recognition of his contribution to skiing, but because of the use of the town in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Final Problem”.

In Europe in 1911, Conan Doyle also took part in the Prinz Heinrich Fahrt (Prince Henry Tour), a road race and tour, where British cars competed with German cars. Conan Doyle would write to the Times about the warm welcome received in Germany, and the enthusiastic, often too enthusiastic, welcome from the public in England.

Conan Doyle and Family

Library of Congress PD-Bain
Library of Congress PD-Bain | Source

Politics and Marriage

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was both twice married and twice an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate.

In 1900 and 1906 Conan Doyle stood for the Liberal Unionists at Edinburgh and Hawick Burghs, but despite polling a respectable number of votes, he was not elected.

Conan Doyle’s marriages were more successful.

In 1884, when just 25, Conan Doyle would marry Louise Hawkins. Louise though suffered from tuberculosis, and it was to aide her recuperation that Conan Doyle was in Switzerland in 1893; Louise though would die in 1906 from the illness.

Within 14 months Conan Doyle had remarried, this time to a woman by the name of Jean Leckie. Conan Doyle had secretly been in love with the Jean for more than ten years, but had kept a purely platonic relationship with her, out of loyalty to Louise.

Holmes and Watson

PD-US license not renewed
PD-US license not renewed | Source

Writing

It is of course impossible to think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle without thinking about his writings. Conan Doyle was a prolific writer of historical novels, and also the Professor Challenger series, including The Lost World. Of course, and much to the disgust of Conan Doyle, most people only think about Sherlock Holmes.

Conan Doyle had killed off Sherlock Holmes in 1893 at the Reichenbach Falls, but because of a public desire, and monetary requirements, ten years later, the consulting detective was resurrected. A theory is put forward that Conan Doyle had killed off Holmes as his alcoholic father had died in asylum in 1893.

In the original canon, Sherlock Holmes would appear in 56 short stories and four novels, but the inspiration for the detective is still debated.

A general theory is that Sherlock Holmes is based on Dr Joseph Bell, an old tutor of Conan Doyle, whilst the name derived from a mix of Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American doctor, and Alfred Sherlock, a prominent violinist of the period.

Dr Watson seems though to be named after a doctor named John Watson from Southsea; an acquaintance of Conan Doyle from his period of practice in Portsmouth.

In his lifetime, Conan Doyle, of course, had many other famous acquaintances; Robert Louis Stephenson was up at Edinburgh at the same time as Conan Doyle, whilst he was friendly with JM Barrie, Bram Stoker, and Harry Houdini. Conan Doyle was also an antagonist of George Bernard Shaw.

Photo of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with Spirit

Ada Deane PD-life-70
Ada Deane PD-life-70 | Source

The Occult

Arguable the most strange and interesting thing about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle though is just how different he was to Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes is English literatures most rational characters, believing only in evidence and reasoning; Conan Doyle though believed in the occult and fairies, things which were far removed from his Roman Catholic parents and Jesuit schooling.

Spiritualism seemed to have become an important part of Conan Doyle’s life after the death of his son, Kingsley, in 1918 from pneumonia, and the death of his brother from the same condition the following year.

Conan Doyle would subsequently support a number of Mediums financial and with publicity. This support though would be at the cost of his friendship with Harry Houdini. Conan Doyle would believe that spirits were aiding the escapologist in his undertakings, whilst Harry Houdini had made it his mission to disprove the Spiritualist movement.

Conan Doyle also famously believed in fairies, and would spend a great deal of his personal wealth in promoting them as real. To this end Conan Doyle published “The Coming of Fairies” (1921) to publicise the supposed genuineness of the Cottingley Fairies.

Richard Milner, the American historian of science, would also claim that Conan Doyle was involved in the creation of the Piltdown Man hoax of 1912.

Conan Doyle is of course somewhat of an enigma. As an author he created a truly rational creation, and yet in his personal life he would believe greatly in the irrational.

Comments

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  • Colin Quartermain profile imageAUTHOR

    Colin Quartermain 

    3 years ago

    Jaye many thanks for that. I did the research for this hub a while ago, and have to say I forgot to put anything about his family life in it.

    Colin

  • JayeWisdom profile image

    Jaye Denman 

    3 years ago from Deep South, USA

    I read a biography of Conan Doyle about a year ago that was a real eye-opener, but (unfortunately), I can't recall the title or author. However, by the time I finished reading it I had a very changed view of the man as father. While he stayed married to his ill first wife, apparently his relationship with the woman who was to become his second wasn't truly platonic, just hidden.

    Also, as a father he was a lot to be desired. He was very good to his second group of children by the second wife, but horrid to the first ones. It may have been due to pressure from Jean, he left his first family of children out of his will altogether.

    I still like the Sherlock Holmes books, but I no longer have a good opinion of Sir Author Conan Doyle.

    If I recall the title of the biography and/or author, I'll return and let you know.

  • Colin Quartermain profile imageAUTHOR

    Colin Quartermain 

    3 years ago

    Gene thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Strangest thing I find about it is Houdini who could have pushed the magical element debunked it, whilst Conan Doyle who you would presume to be rational was too into it

    Colin

  • gposchman profile image

    Gene Poschman 

    3 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area

    A nice article, though I had already known about most of what you wrote, it is a good introduction to the writer and certainly encourages additional research if one is new to the Sherlock Genre of mysteries. We often forget that he wrote other things and as analytic as he portrays his lead character, he himself was given to believe in the extraordinary.

    Gene Poschman

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