10 things you didn’t know about Arthur Conan Doyle

Did you know Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of everyone’s favourite detective Sherlock Holmes, was a Scottish physician? Discover 10 other things you may not know about the character’s creator.

Holy Trinity Church Buckfastleigh, visited on the tour. Image credit: Unique Devon Tours.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Image credit: Wikipedia.

Doyle was knighted but not for writing Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Conan Doyle was knighted in 1902 by King Edward VII and appointed a Deputy-Lieutenant of Surrey, but for his work on a non-fiction pamphlet regarding the Boer War, not his illustrious novel.

He believed in fairies

He was convinced that fairies existed, even writing a book, The Coming of the Fairies, about the authenticity of the Cottingley Fairy photographs (a famous hoax) and spending a fortune promoting the images.

He was almost Dr Doyle

He set up an ophthalmology practice in London but wrote in his autobiography that not a single patient ever crossed his door.

He was a keen sportsman, and used to play cricket

He helped to popularise skiing and predicted that in the future hundreds of Englishmen would come to Switzerland for the “skiing season”. He was also an avid cricketer, playing on the same team as Peter Pan creator, JM Barrie.

He ran for Parliament, twice

Conan Doyle’s political aspirations led him to run for parliament once in Edinburgh (as a member of the Unionist Party) in 1900 and once in the Border Burghs in 1906. He was relatively successful both times but was never actually elected.

He died holding a flower

His dramatic death on 7 July 1930 saw him collapse in his garden, clutching his heart with one hand and holding a flower in the other. He whispered his last words to his wife: “You are wonderful.”

Conan is not part of his surname

Conan is, in fact, only one of his two middle names. He started using it as part of his surname after he graduated from high school but his full name is Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle.

He was one of the earliest motorists in Britain

Having purchased a car without ever having driven one before, he took part in the Prince Henry Tour in 1911 – an international road competition organised by Prince Henry of Prussia.

But Conan Doyle didn’t like Sherlock very much

In 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.” He even raised his fees extortionately to put his publisher off but found instead they were happy to pay more, thus making him one of the best-paid authors of his day.

He was something of a detective in real life

Conan Doyle got involved with The Curious Case of Oscar Slater – the murder of Marion Gilchrist, a wealthy old lady from Glasgow. He uncovered new evidence, recalled witnesses and questioned the prosecution’s evidence, all of which was then published as a plea for Slater’s pardon. The writer’s remarkable findings led to calls for a retrial, but all this was of course ignored by the Scottish authorities, just like what frequently happened to the fictional Holmes. Slater later smuggled messages out of prison to contact politicians, one of whom, Ramsay McDonald – Britain’s first Labour prime minister – informed the Scottish Secretary that the police and the legal authorities had withheld evidence. Slater was released from prison with £6,000 compensation, of which Doyle never saw a penny.