From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, M.D., Kt, D.L., LL.D., (22 may 1859 - 7 july 1930) was a British writer with many facets : Physician, Writer, Sportsman, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist, Campaigner, Adventurer...

The following is a short overview. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his own biography Memories and Adventures in 1923-1924.

See also A Life in Pictures and A Life in Movies.



Birth, Family.

Arthur Conan Doyle was born on 22 may 1859, at Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. His mother, Mary Josephine Foley, was Irish and descendant of the famous Percy family of Northumberland, in the line of Plantagenet. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was a not very ambitious officer with some artistic talent [1]. When he lost his job, he sank into alcoholism and was interned after severe seizures before dying in 1893. The three brothers of his father distinguished themselves in England: James wrote The Chronicles of England, Henry was director of the National Gallery in Dublin and Richard was one of the most famous illustrators of Punch. Arthur was the second of seven children (Annette, Caroline, Constance, Innes, Jane and Bryan Mary).


Hodder, Stonyhurst, Feldkirch.

His education began at home and in a small Edinburgh school. At nine, he entered the Jesuit college Hodder in Lancashire to prepare his admission to the Stonyhurst College. He succeeded two years later and was already interested about literature like Walter Scott, Jules Verne or Macaulay. He even founded a little magazine, The Stonyhurst Figaro. However, the Jesuit education hardly suited him and when he left the school in 1875, he completely rejected Christianity, and preferred to be agnostic. Nevertheless, he spent an additional year at a Jesuit college in Feldkirch, Austria, to improve his German.


University, Joseph Bell, Professor Rutherford, First short stories.

In 1876, he began his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh. There he met two men who influenced the choice of his future novel heroes. Professor Rutherford, whose Assyrian beard, booming voice and broad chest, inspired him Professor George Edward Challenger [2] and Dr. Joseph Bell, Professor of Surgery, whose amazing deductions on his patients and their diseases did germinate the idea of a detective using the same methods. In 1879, two of his short stories were published anonymously (The Mystery of Sasassa Valley and The American's Tale).

Medical practice

Hope, Mayumba, Medical practice, Dr. George Turnavine Budd, Ophtalmology.

Alongside his studies, Arthur tried to earn some money to help his family. In 1880, he worked as a medical assistant in Sheffield, Birmingham and Shropshire and doctor aboard a whaler, the Hope, in Greenland.

On 22 october 1881, he graduated and enlisted as a doctor aboard a steamer (the SS Mayumba) to Western Africa. The voyage was unpleasant because of a storm and a fire on board, and Conan Doyle became seriously ill (probably malaria) in Lagos. He then decided to use his skills more peacefully. After a brief and disastrous partnership in 1882, with a colleague, Dr. George Turnavine Budd, he opened a practice of ophthalmology in Southsea, near Portsmouth. His clientele left him plenty of time to read, write and began to publish other short stories but without great success.

First marriage

Louisa Hawkins, Mary Louise Conan Doyle, Kingsley Conan Doyle, The Firm of Girdlestone, A Study in Scarlet, Micah Clarke, Vienna.

In august 1885, he married Louisa Hawkins ("Touie"), the sister of one of his rare patients. She gave him two children (Mary Louise and Kingsley) and encouraged him to persevere in literature. He followed her advice because in 1886 he finished his first novel, The Firm of Girdlestone, but failed to find a publisher (it will be serialized in 1889-1890 in The People newspaper).

In 1887, he wrote his first Sherlock Holmes adventure, A Study in Scarlet. The manuscript was rejected by several publishers before Ward, Lock & Co. bought it for the paltry sum of £25. They published it in their Beeton's Christmas Annual in november 1887 and was totally unnoticed at the time. But the young author, disciple of Walter Scott, was already working on historical novels (the kind he considered the only worthy of his vocation) like Micah Clarke (published in 1889). Having some success, he devoured the chroniclers of the Middle Ages as Froissart and Philippe Commynes. As a result, he wrote The White Company (published in 1891). With this novel, which is a somewhat an idealized description of the English chivalry, Conan Doyle was proud to give England a second Ivanhoe.

In august 1889, during a dinner hosted by J. M. Stoddart, an American agent of the Lippincott's Magazine, Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde were hired to write two stories. Published in 1890, Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray and Conan Doyle The Sign of Four, the second adventure of the detective. The same year, the Conan Doyles stayed a few months in Vienna for Arthur to improve his medical knowledge. Back in England, they moved to London on Montague Place and the young doctor's office opens at 2 Devonshire Place. Patients were scarce again, Conan Doyle took up the pen again.


Sherlock Holmes, Lecture tour in USA, Davos, A Story of Waterloo, Egypt.

In january 1891, discovering the first issue of The Strand Magazine, he decided to write to the publisher and proposed new adventures of the detective as short stories, including A Scandal in Bohemia and The Red-Headed League. He then provided five other short stories and renewed his contract for six additional stories at the rate of one per month [3]. The success was stunning. He abandoned medicine and devoted himself entirely to writing. Nevertheless, he wanted his name to remain associated with more literary works and in november 1891 he wrote to his mother: "I plan to kill Holmes in the sixth adventure. He prevents me from thinking to better things." His mother then started to find him more plots [4] and Sherlock Holmes got a reprieve.

Conan Doyle moved in december 1892 to Davos, Switzerland, where the air was healthier for his wife suffering from tuberculosis. Not far away are the Reichenbach Falls, a gorgeous, magnificent and terrifying framework for a dramatic end. After a series of twelve new adventures [5], Holmes died there, resulted in a fall into the abyss with Professor Moriarty (The Adventure of the Final Problem). Despite fierce public outcry, and under his mother's pressure, Conan Doyle refused to resurrect his detective.

A new life began. In 1894, he gave a series of lectures in the United States and was received by Rudyard Kipling in Vermont. He also corresponded with Robert Louis Stevenson which told him he was telling the Sherlock Holmes stories to the Samoan natives. The same year, his play A Story of Waterloo was performed in London with Henry Irving at the Lyceum Theatre.

In Davos, he gives a demonstration of ski which he ha discovered in Norway during a previous trip [6]. This is the first time that such "snow shoes" were introduced in the Alps. There, he also wrote The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (first novel in the saga of the soldier of the First Empire) and Rodney Stone (a novel about boxing). During the fall of 1895, in order to improve the health of his wife, Conan Doyle stayed in Egypt for several months. When the conflict between the British and the dervishes was growing seriously, he became a war correspondent for the Westminster Gazette. These events inspired him the novel The Tragedy of the Korosko.

The Boer War

The Great Boer War, Political adventures, The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct, Knighthood, The Edalji Case.

In october 1899, war broke out between England and African Orange and Transvaal Republics in South Africa. Conan Doyle engaged in december. Unfortunately, the Middlesex Yeomanry Regiment put him on a waiting list. Meanwhile, a friend, John Langman, who wished to raise a fifty-beds hospital in South Africa, offered him to supervise the operation. From march to august 1900, he led the hospital in Bloemfontein, capital of the Orange state. In october 1900, he ran for election in Edinburgh for MP, in favor of retaining Ireland within the United Kingdom. But was defeated.

After his return to England, he wrote two books related to the war, The Great Boer War (1901) and The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct (1902). The latter was virulent against those who accused the English of abusing the Boers (rapes, use of dum-dum bullets...). This position, rather than his participation in the conflict earned him the title of Knight Bachelor. He was from then: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes then made a temporary return. The Hound of the Baskervilles was serialized between august 1901 and may 1902 in The Strand Magazine. But it is an adventure which takes place shortly before the death of the detective. It was only in 1903 that an American publisher convinced Conan Doyle to resurrect the detective, by offering him a large amount of money. Then, thirty-three new stories will be published between september 1903 (The Adventure of the Empty House) and march 1927 (The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place) [7].

In january 1906, Sir Arthur ran for elections (always Unionist so conservative) and suffered another defeat. The health of his wife Louisa suddenly worsen. Tumor occured and caused partial paralysis. She gradually weakened and died on 4 july 1906. This drama plunged him into a state of prostration near depression.

He then launched headlong into the George Edalji case, a young notary of Indian origin, sentenced to seven years of prison for mutilating cattle and sending anonymous letters. In the manner of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle lead his own investigation and proved his innocence.

Second marriage

Jean Leckie, Denis, Adrian and (Lena) Jean, The Crime of the Congo, Oscar Slater, The Prince Henry Tour, The Lost World.

In september 1907, Conan Doyle married Jean Elizabeth Leckie with whom he was in love since 1897 but always maintained a friendly relationship in respect for his wife. He moved to Crowborough in Sussex, where Jean gave him three children (Denis, Adrian and Jean).

Two years later, the public discovered the crimes committed in Congo by the Belgian administration. Conan Doyle decided to take action at an international level by publishing The Crime of the Congo, sending several articles in newspapers and corresponding with the President of the United States and the Emperor of Germany. All means were good to stop these crimes, which in twenty years, did more than a century of slavery victims across Africa.

Conan Doyle intervened in 1910 to restore the truth in the Oscar Slater case, a German Jew accused of murder and sentenced to death. He noted serious irregularities in the police investigation. Convinced of the innocence of the man, he sought to prove it. He didn't success completely but managed to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment [8].

In 1911, Conan Doyle drove his green 16 horse-power Dietrich-Lorraine from Germany to England for 15 days during The Prince Henry Tour.

In 1912, Conan Doyle created a new character that will mark the literary world: the Professor Challenger in the novel: The Lost World.

World War I

To Arms!, Volunteers, Sir Roger Casement, Spiritualism.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Conan Doyle formed a local volunteer unit that would later become officially The Crowborough Company of the 6th Royal Sussex Volunteer Regiment, where he served as second class. But when he wanted to go to the front, this "privilege" was refused due to his advanced age (55 years-old). So he put his pen to the service of his country and published a pamphlet entitled To Arms!. Throughout the war, he wrote carefully the history of the Great War day by day [9]. For this, he was directly communicating with generals on the battlefield. In 1916, he visited the English, Italian and French fronts and even met Clemenceau. The same year, his eldest son, Kingsley, was seriously wounded at the Battle of the Somme. He died of pneumonia in october 1918. The following february, his brother, Innes (Brigadier General) died the same way.

Also in 1916, Conan Doyle intervened to obtain the grace of Sir Roger Casement, a leader of the Irish insurgents who joined the Germans. Despite all his efforts the writer could not save him. Accused of treason, Sir Roger Casement was executed.


In october 1916, Conan Doyle announced in the journal Light his conversion to spiritualism. During the last years of his life, he became the "crusader" of this movement that preaches salvation of humanity through science.

Thus, from 1920 to 1923, he gave a series of lectures about spiritualism in Australia, in USA and in Canada. He published his autobiography, Memories and Adventures in 1924 and opened a bookstore dedicated to spiritualism, The Psychic Bookshop in London, where he handled the editing of his own works. In particular he published The History of Spiritualism in two volumes and The Land of Mist, the latest adventure of Professor Challenger on a spiritualism topic.

He spent more time on lectures: in 1925 in Paris, at the International Spiritualist Congress; in 1928 in London, at the Congress he chaired himself, and then in South Africa, Rhodesia, Kenya, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries. After these trips, in 1929, exhausted, he suffered a heart attack.

Nevertheless, against the advice of his doctors, he insisted on speaking at a ceremony commemorating the Armistice, then spent weeks in bed. He recovered slowly but on 7 july 1930 at dawn, he died from a final heart attack. His last words to his wife at his side were "You are wonderful".

The Old Horse

See the details of The Old Horse picture.

Published Biographies

  1. Probably inherited from his father John Doyle, the famous cartoonist "HB". Charles Altamont Doyle was one of the first to illustrate the investigations of Sherlock Holmes. There are six of his drawings in A Study in Scarlet published in 1888 (Ward, Lock & Co.) where Holmes is shown bearded.
  2. The Lost World, The Poison Belt and The Land of Mist.
  3. The twelve new stories will be collected later in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
  4. She proposed, for example, the plot of The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.
  5. From december 1892 to december 1893. The stories will be collected later in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
  6. In 1892, the Conan Doyles spent their holidays there with Jerome K. Jerome, the author of Three Men on a boat.
  7. Stories collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. Plus the novel: The Valley of Fear.
  8. The innocence of Slater will be recognized in 1928.
  9. The British Campaign in France and Flanders (in 6 volumes). He completed it only in 1920.