2nd December 1837

Sherlock Holmes inspiration born in Edinburgh

Surgeon Joseph Bell is said to have inspired author Arthur Conan Doyle to create the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. Bell was educated at the University of Edinburgh and qualified as a doctor, later to become a surgeon. He performed in that role at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for 25 years, and was eventually promoted to consulting surgeon, which he remained for the rest of his life.

Joseph Bell died “at his residence, Mauricewood, near Penicuik, yesterday” according to The Scotsman of 5 October 1911. “It may be recalled that in February last Dr Bell, on account of heart affection, had a serious breakdown in health. He, however, rallied, and was able during the summer to be out again and to enjoy a motor car run. About a fortnight ago serious symptoms again supervened, and he had been in a critical state since.”

Sherlock Holmes

By the time of his death, the fact that he had inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes was no secret. On 5 October 1911, the Aberdeen Press and Journal told readers that:

“while studying medicine in Edinburgh, Sir A Conon [sic] Doyle came under the doctor’s influence, and the young student was deeply impressed by the famous surgeon’s marvellous powers of intuition. So deep was the impression, and so permanent, that it led to the abandonment of the scalpel for the pen, and gave to the world the striking figure of the amateur detective, half doctor, half virtuoso… even the personal appearance of Sherlock Holmes reminds one of Dr Joseph Bell, with his piercing eyes, eagle nose, and striking features, and his general air of decision. When interviewing patients at the Royal Infirmary, the doctor was fond of mystifying his students by the amount of the information obtained by a glance at a man. ‘I see,’ he would observe to a patient, ‘you’re suffering from drink. You even carry a flask in the inside breast of your coat.’ To another he would say, ‘Cobbler, I see,’ and then he would indicate the mark where the lapstone had worn the man’s trousers.”

The Daily Mirror of 5 October 1911 noted that “he disliked publicity, but was always a little flattered by the customary formula with which strangers were introduced to him as ‘Dr Joseph Bell – Sherlock Holmes, y’know’.”



Other events that occured in December

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