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Last Updated: Friday, 14 May, 2004, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Holmes creator's fascinating life
By Tom Bell
BBC News Online at Christie's

A lost collection of personal papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which have gone on view at Christie's in London ahead of an auction on 19 May, offer a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Sherlock Holmes creator.

The collection was recently discovered in the London office of a firm of lawyers, after going missing during a dispute over his estate 40 years ago.

Conan Doyle's election poster
Conan Doyle stood for parliament twice, in 1900 and 1906
The 3,000 items, many of which have never been published, are expected to fetch anything up to 2m.

Many of the literary items - including the first sketch of his famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, plotlines which shed light on his literary technique and the author's first, unpublished novel - have caused great excitement amongst scholars of the writer.

Yet also among the artefacts are some intriguing examples of Conan Doyle's lesser-known achievements - he was also a sportsman, a campaigner and a doctor.

Before fulfilling his literary ambitions, Conan Doyle worked as a GP in Southsea, Portsmouth.

Medicine man

He had earlier served as a surgeon on the Peterhead-based whaler SS Hope.

There was also a stint as a ship's doctor aboard West African steamer The Mayumba.

Journals recording life aboard both vessels go under the hammer, along with the brass name plate from the door of his practice.

Conan Doyle's Boer War medical armband
Conan Doyle was a physician in the Boer War in 1900
Later, in 1900, Conan Doyle served as a physician in the Boer War, and various souvenirs from the conflict, including his medical armband, are among the items up for auction.

Conan Doyle's papers include correspondence from several famous names.

One piece, from Oscar Wilde, thanks him for his positive comments about Wilde's book The Picture Of Dorian Gray.

Wilde in return wrote: "I am conscious that my work lacks those two great qualities that your work possesses in so high a degree - the qualities of sincerity and strength."


Also up for grabs are letters from such illustrious names as Sir Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling and PG Wodehouse.

And there is fan mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes, including one from an apiarian specialist advising Holmes on beekeeping, one of the sleuth's hobbies.

A letter from Oscar Wilde to Conan Doyle
Oscar Wilde was fulsome in his praise for Conan Doyle in this letter
Along with his friends the Branger brothers, Conan Doyle has also been credited with popularising skiing in Switzerland, after arriving with some primitive skis acquired on his travels in Norway.

An article in which he explained his new pastime is up for sale, as is evidence of his interests in boxing and ballooning.

In his 40s, Conan Doyle took up cricket, appearing for Marylebone Cricket Club and once bowling out WG Grace.

In the auction is a letter from Grace, inviting him to become president of London County Cricket Club's new bowling club.

"You can come down just when it is convenient, we will not bother you in any way," the cricketing legend wrote.

There are also records of Conan Doyle's successful fights against miscarriages of justice.


Bidders can vie for papers detailing the plight - and eventual release - of George Edalji and Oscar Slater, both of whom were jailed after what Conan Doyle saw as unfair trials.

Included is a plea for help by Slater which was smuggled out of prison by a fellow inmate.

A later note from a grateful Slater reads: "Sir Conan Doyle, you breaker of shackles, you lover of truth for justice sake."

Other items of interest detail Conan Doyle's part in setting up the Civilian National Reserve - a forerunner of the Home Guard - and his two attempts to become an MP.

An article on skiing by Conan Doyle
Conan Doyle helped to introduce skiing in Switzerland
And there are papers from World War I, when he helped Army officers to secure better body armour for British troops and called for a Channel Tunnel to be built.

Some people - including MP Alex Salmond, have expressed concern that such an important collection is to be broken up.

But Christie's manuscripts specialist Thomas Venning said: "There were more than 3,000 pieces of paper and we've divided them into 135 lots, so we're presenting it in a way that means related items are kept together.

"The informational aspect is something that we've been quite careful to preserve."

The Conan Doyle Collection will be auctioned at Christie's in London, on 19 May.



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