His analytical skills in solving crime is legendary, but who was the elusive Sherlock Holmes?

Step forward Joseph Bell, JP, DL, FRCS (2 December 1837 – 4 October 1911.)


He was a famous Scottish lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh in the 19th century. He was a great-grandson of Benjamin Bell, a forensic surgeon. In his instruction, Bell emphasized the importance of close observation in making a diagnosis. To illustrate this, he would often pick a stranger and, by observing him, deduce his occupation and recent activities. These skills caused him to be considered a pioneer in forensic science (forensic pathology in particular) at a time when science was not yet widely used in criminal investigations.

Arthur Conan Doyle


met Bell in 1877, and served as his clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Doyle later went on to write a series of popular stories featuring Sherlock Holmes, whom Doyle stated was loosely based on Bell and his observant ways. Bell was aware of this inspiration and took some pride in it. According to Irving Wallace (in an essay originally in his book The Fabulous Originals but later republished and updated in his collection The Sunday Gentleman) Bell was involved in several police investigations, mostly in Scotland, such as the Ardlamont Mystery of 1893, usually with forensic expert Professor Henry Littlejohn.

Bell served as personal surgeon to Queen Victoria whenever she visited Scotland. He also published several medical textbooks. Bell was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, a Justice of the Peace, and a Deputy Lieutenant.

Joseph Bell died on 4 October 1911. He was buried at the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh alongside his wife, Edith Katherine Erskine Murray, and their son Benjamin, and next to his father’s and brother’s plots.


3 thoughts on “Who Was Sherlock Holmes?

  1. I never knew the background to this. The power of observation is a wonderful thing. Look forward to more.

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