Who was the real Sherlock Holmes?

Many believe that Dr. Joseph Bell was the inspiration behind the Sherlock Holmes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Many believe that Dr. Joseph Bell was the inspiration behind the Sherlock Holmes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“WELCOME, MY DEAR CHAPS!” Herb Wascomb tipped his deerstalker hat to the other gentlemen assembled in his basement. “We are glad to have you with us tonight, Mr. Lewis,” Herb gestured to a potential new member of their group. The other men nodded at Mr. Lewis. “This is our four hundred and thirty-second meeting held right here in my basement, because it was the only place available for our meetings.”

The men assembled were there for a meeting of their own version of The Sherlockian Society. They came from residences scattered about in a small section of Pennsylvania and had gathered in this same basement room for several years.

The familiar and accepted image of Sherlock Holmes.
The familiar and accepted image of Sherlock Holmes.

Herb continued, “Later on the agenda for tonight, we will be discussing money-making projects to purchase our own small building. It will take awhile but if we can locate a suitable property, it would make a wonderful little museum for our artifacts and documents, and will be a suitable meeting place for years to come. Maybe we can find a tiny little home somewhere that needs the application of some elbow grease. We could fix it up in no time. But first, we are going to solve our own mystery.” Herb took a long draw off of his ornate meerschaum pipe with its delightfully curved stem. He glanced around to observe the reactions to his announcement.   He was satisfied. “I have it under good authority that there is an object in this room of great value to us. Where is it, and what is it? I will say that it has arrived this week from London from the fellow I am fond of corresponding with. So, without further ado, you may get up and look around the room. Please do not disturb anything—just look. Remember these clues. It is from London, from a member of a large Sherlockian Society—from across the pond. It is on loan for a month and will have to be sent back. It is in this very room and it is, oh, smaller than a bag of peat moss, yet larger than a thimble. If I have provoked you sufficiently, let us begin. Please fill out these little paper forms with your answers. Add your own comments at the bottom if you wish!”

Herb began passing out little forms with the questions: 1) What is it? 2) Where is it located? 3) Explain the significance.

“Oh this is jolly good!” Mr. Livingstone exclaimed. Several of the other members laughed.

After five minutes—Wascomb had set a timer—the slips of paper were turned in. As he went through the slips of paper he shook his head. “Not even close, no and no again,” he was heard to say often. Then, he was heard to say. “Hmm. Uh huh, uh huh. Yes!” He was reading the slip of paper turned in by John Henry Prescott. “I believe you are onto something, John Henry. I will now reveal the answer to the mystery.”

The men watched as Herb Wascomb walked to a wooden bust carved by one of their members. It was a bust of Dr. Joseph Bell. He lifted the bust with the help of another member and withdrew a manila envelope from beneath the base. He pointed to the postmark. “You see, it is from London, it says right here, ‘The Royal Mail.” There were low murmurs of approval and little clicking noises throughout the room. He carried the manila envelope to a little desk where white cotton gloves were waiting. He dramatically donned the gloves and opened the envelope. After he had withdrawn a document and placed it on a piece of black velvet, he adjusted a gooseneck lamp over the artifact.

“What is it, man? Don’t keep us in suspense!” Derrick Donaldson was getting impatient.”

“This is one page from an actual paper written by Dr. Joseph Bell.” Wascomb paused to listen to the gasps in the room.”

Mr. Lewis had the unfortunate compulsion to ask, “Who was Dr. Joseph Bell?”

When Wascomb had recovered from his astonishment, and when another wave of gasps had died down, he explained. “We all know there is a real 221 B Baker Street in London. It is seen by millions of tourists each year. There are many who even believe Sherlock Holmes is a real man. This belief has quite a following and they cannot be convinced otherwise. But the truth is this, Mr. Lewis. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did base his character of Sherlock Holmes on a real man. That man was Dr. Joseph Bell. Dr. Bell was the grandson of another medico, Dr. Benjamin Bell an esteemed forensic surgeon. When Arthur Conan Doyle was a clerk in the Royal Edinburgh Academy, he spent many hours studying Dr. Joseph Bell. They first met in 1877 and Doyle noticed that Bell had the most astute powers of observation. He could solve medical mysteries instantly from observing physical and circumstantial characteristics. Joseph Bell became a renowned lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh in the 19th century. He was the very inspiration for Doyle’s character, Sherlock Holmes. He even sometimes wore the deerstalker hat, long cloak and carried the pipe we so often associate with Sherlock Holmes.”

Mr. Lewis had the gall to then ask, “Did he play the violin?”

Wascomb laughed and replied. “I don’t think so. This paper of Bell’s here on the table, I intend to make many photocopies of for our own future purposes. In fact I will make a copy for ever member here.” There were more gasps. “I am astounded, John Henry, that you not only answered all of the questions correctly on the slip of paper, but you also wrote a mini-bio of Dr. Joseph Bell at the bottom. How on earth did you figure it all out?”

John Henry Prescott turned and said, “Elementary, my dear Wascomb! Elementary!”

Please click the book cover image to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her books.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Sara, it’s fascinating to know that Sherlock Holmes was actually based on someone who had the talent to see the little things, add them up, and come to astonishing conclusions. I’ve seen documentaries on Dr. Joseph Bell, and he was indeed a brilliant man.

    • Sara Marie Hogg

      The whole deal is brilliant. Bell, Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dr. Watson, 221 B. Baker Street, Professor Moriority, Mycroft, Lestrade and even Irene Adler, I might say. Thanks, Caleb. I would have loved to See Dr. Bell in action.

      • Caleb Pirtle

        Arthur C. Doyle saw him in action, and, as a result, we’ve all seen him.

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