Edinburgh, SCOTLAND – Had he lived and had he been a real person, Dr. John H. Watson, Sherlock Holme’s faithful companion, would have been 159 years old today.

Some devout Sherlock Holmes fans have tracked July 7, 1853 as the date when Watson was born which gives the fictional character a link to his creator. On this day in 1930, Arthur Conan Doyle, the Edinburgh physician turned writer who created Holmes and Watson, died at the age of 71. During his time in medical school, Doyle met the men who would inspire him to create Holmes and Watson.

At a current exhibit at Surgeons’ Hall Museum in Edinburgh, there are photographs, letters and articles about Doyle’s connections in the city and details of his relationship with Dr. Joseph Bell, his teacher in medical school and another physician Dr. Patrick Watson,

“I thought of my old teacher Joe Bell, of his eagle face, of his curious ways and his eerie trick of spotting details,” wrote Doyle. “If he were a detective, he would surely reduce this fascinating but disorganized business to something near an exact science.”

A photograph of Bell, in a deerstalker hat and cape, looks eerily similar to the portrayal of Holmes by actor Basil Rathbone in the black and white movie versions.

In Doyle’s medical school class notes, he wrote about an exchange between Bell and a patient who walked into a clinic. Using his observation skills, Bell was able to even before talking to the patient, assess the man had been in the army, a Highland regiment specifically, and had recently been stationed in Barbados.

It’s the kind of assessment that Holmes would have done with startling accuracy much to the amazement of his sidekick like the time Watson returns for a visit and the detective correctly deduced he went for a walk in the country a week ago, was quarrelling with his maid and had gained seven pounds.

“You would certainly have been burned, had you lived a few centuries ago,” Watson once told Holmes.

Dr. Patrick Heron Watson, the real life counterpart to his fictional namesake, was an assistant to Joseph Bell. Later, the Edinburgh physician who received his medical licence at age 22 went to the Crimean War where he became a war surgeon just like the fictional Watson did during a rotation in Afghanistan. The real life Watson eventually became a physician to Queen Victoria and later King Edward VII.

The Conan Doyle and Joseph Bell exhibit called The Real Sherlock Holmes include some of the author’s first writings including his first published article in the British Medical Journal dated to 1879. Conan Doyle poisoned himself taking a dose of gelsemium over a period of days to see what kind of effects it would have on him.

“I determined to ascertain how far one might go in taking the drug and what the primary symptoms of an overdose might be,” he wrote.

Sherlock Holmes would have been proud.

The Surgeons’ Hall Museum is located on The Royal College of Surgeons’ campus on Nicolson Street in Edinburgh.



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