John H. Watson

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
John H. Watson
(Illustration by Sidney Paget in august 1901)

Dr. John H. Watson is a fictional character created by Arthur Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes saga. He is an English M. D. which shared lodgings with the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and was his biographer and friend.

At first Arthur Conan Doyle named the character as Ormond Sacker (see manuscript in A Study in Scarlet). But he changed his mind afterward and renamed him John H. Watson.

The following informations only take their source in the original texts written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. All references are sourced in parenthesis with abbreviation of the story title.

His physical appearance

Watson was a middle-sized, strongly built man, square jaw, thick neck, with a moustache (CHAS 433). He was a rugby player for Blackheath (SUSS 126).

When he returned from Afghanistan, he was as thin as a lath and as brown as a nut (STUD, 26). Thin because he was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet (STUD, 10), which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery, and after being moved to the base hospital at Peshawur, he was struck down by enteric fever. (STUD, 12)

He was quite handsome, Sherlock Holmes told about his natural "advantages" with the women (RETI, 172). His experience of women extended over many nations and three separate continents (SIGN, 207).

His family

We don't known a lot about his family :

  • He had an elder brother of untidy habits and careless. He threw away his chances, lived for some time in poverty with occasional short intervals of prosperity, and, finally, taking to drink, he died (before 1888) (SIGN, 139)


He was married at least two times. With Mary Morstan in 1889 (she was Sherlock Holmes' client in The Sign of Four (SIGN, 2819) and to another woman in 1903 (BLAN, 10) as Mary Morstan died between 1891 and 1894 (unknown cause).

His life

John H. Watson was born beginning of 1850. As a child he lived in Australia, but soon moved to study in England. He was in the same school than Percy Phelps though he was two classes behind. (NAVA 8)

In 1878, he took his degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army. (STUD, 3)

His military career

Having completed my studies there, I was duly attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as Assistant Surgeon. The regiment was stationed in India at the time, and before he could join it, the second Afghan war had broken out. On landing at Bombay, he learned that his corps had advanced through the passes, and was already deep in the enemy's country. He followed, however, with many other officers who were in the same situation as himself, and succeeded in reaching Candahar in safety, where he found his regiment, and at once entered upon his new duties. The campaign brought honours and promotion to many, but for him it had nothing but misfortune and disaster. He was removed from his brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom he served at the fatal battle of Maiwand. There he was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery. He should have fallen into the hands of the murderous Ghazis had it not been for the devotion and courage shown by Murray, his orderly, who threw him across a pack-horse, and succeeded in bringing him safely to the British lines. (STUD, 4)

Worn with pain, and weak from the prolonged hardships which he had undergone, he was removed, with a great train of wounded sufferers, to the base hospital at Peshawur. Here he rallied, and had already improved so far as to be able to walk about the wards, and even to bask a little upon the verandah, when he was struck down by enteric fever, that curse of the Indian possessions. For months his life was despaired of, and when at last he came to himself and became convalescent, he was so weak and emaciated that a medical board determined that not a day should be lost in sending him back to England. He was dispatched, accordingly, in the troopship Orontes, and landed a month later on Portsmouth jetty, with his health irretrievably ruined, but with permission from a paternal government to spend the next nine months in attempting to improve it. (STUD, 12)

He had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air - or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be. Under such circumstances he naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. There he stayed for some time at a private hotel in the Strand, leading a comfortless, meaningless existence, and spending such money as he had, considerably more freely than he ought. So alarming did the state of his finances become that he soon realized that he must either leave the metropolis and rusticate somewhere in the country, or that he must make a complete alteration in his style of living. Choosing the latter alternative, he began by making up his mind to leave the hotel, and to take up his quarters in some less pretentious and less expensive domicile. (STUD, 16)

In 1914, upon the outbreak of WWI, he rejoined his "old service" (i.e. The Royal Army Medical Corps). (LAST, 447)

His medical career

Watson had 3 practices:

  • In 1888, after The Sign of Four case and shortly after his marriage he had bought a connection in the Paddington district. He purchased it to old Mr Farquhar an excellent general practice, but his age and mental disease had very much thinned it (STOC, 2). But he had a fairly long list of patient a year later (BOSC, 11).
  • In june 1890, he had moved for a practice in Kensington... Then, in 1894-1895, a young doctor, named Verner, had purchased his small Kensington practice, and given with astonishingly little demur the highest price that he ventured to ask - an incident which only explained itself some years later, when he found that Verner was a distant relation of Holmes's, and that it was his friend who had really found the money (NORW, 12).
  • Around 1902, he had a new practice in Queen Anne Street (ILLU, 27), which was by this time not inconsiderable. (CREE, 257)

In 1889, he was also Isa Whitney's medical adviser (TWIS, 43).

His meeting with Sherlock Holmes

On the very day that he had come to this conclusion, he was standing at the Criterion Bar, when someone tapped him on the shoulder, and turning round he recognized young Stamford, who had been a dresser under him at Barts. In old days Stamford had never been a particular crony of him, but now he hailed him with enthusiasm, and he, in his turn, appeared to be delighted to see him. In the exuberance of his joy, he asked him to lunch with him at the Holborn, and they started off together in a hansom. (STUD, 21)

In the exuberance of his joy, he asked him to lunch with him at the Holborn. He gave him a short sketch of his adventures and tell him he was looking for lodgings at a reasonable price (STUD, 24). Stamford is surprised as Watson is the second man to say the same thing that day. A friend of him, Sherlock Holmes, was also complaining he could not get someone to go halves with him in some nice rooms which he had found, and which were too much for his purse (STUD, 32). Watson told Stamford that he could be the very man for him as he should prefer having a partner to being alone (STUD, 37). Stamford and Watson made their way to the Barts hospital and he met Sherlock Holmes for the first time (STUD, 92). Holmes told Watson he have his eyes on a suite in Baker Street (STUD, 143). After some questionning about their habits, they decided to meet the next day to inspect the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street (STUD, 182). The bargain was conclude upon the spot, and they at once entered into possession (STUD, 184).

His relationship with Sherlock Holmes

Watson considered Holmes as the man whom above all others he revered (THOR, 10) and the best and wisest man whom he had ever know (FINA, 410).

On the first weeks of their relationship, Sherlock Holmes habits stimulated Watson's curiosity. He tried to discover the profession of his flatmate. (STUD, 200)

In march 1882, the friendship between the two men was so good that Holmes asked him to accompagny him to the crime scene of what will became the first story A Study in Scarlet (STUD, 469). Then Watson spoke of the seventy odd cases in which he had during the last eight years studied the methods of his friend Sherlock Holmes (SPEC, 1).

Watson had the position of a partner and a confident (3GAB, BLAN). However Holmes's affection showed itself at only some occasions (BRUC, DEVI, EMPT, 3GAR). But Watson was his closest friend (ILLU, 459) and also his only one (FIVE, 17).

But when Watson was married, their relation changed to some extent (FINA, 9), and had drifted them away from each other (SCAN, 13).

The relations between them in those latter days were peculiar. Holmes was a man of habits, narrow and concentrated habits, and Watson had become one of them. As an institution he was like the violin, the shag tobacco, the old black pipe, the index books, and others perhaps less excusable. When it was a case of active work and a comrade was needed upon whose nerve Holmes could place some reliance, the rôle of Watson was obvious. But apart from this Watson had uses. He was a whetstone for Holmes's mind. He stimulated him. Holmes liked to think aloud in his presence. His remarks could hardly be said to be made to Watson - many of them would have been as appropriately addressed to his bedstead - but none the less, having formed the habit, it had become in some way helpful that Watson should register and interject. If he irritated Holmes by a certain methodical slowness in his mentality, that irritation served only to make his own flame-like intuitions and impressions flash up the more vividly and swiftly. Such was the humble rôle of Watson in their alliance. (CREE, 7)

John H. Watson Performers