Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: 9 Interesting and Lesser-known Facts

Last Updated On: July 7, 2018

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, born on 22 May 1859 in Edinburg, Scotland, is best known as the man who created Sherlock Holmes. Consequently, he provided a platform for the production of several movies and TV series on the iconic fictional detective. However, few are appreciative of the various valuable contributions of the British author throughout his life. On reading his biographies, one would be startled at how eventful his life was. In fact, there is an online encyclopedia dedicated to Conan Doyle.

From attempting ophthalmology to becoming a believer in fairies, I have compiled a list of 9 interesting, lesser-known facts about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

1. During his early writing career, Conan Doyle attempted to become an ophthalmologist. However, his medical career failed miserably, as Conan Doyle quotes in Memoirs and Adventures, “not one single patient had entered the threshold of my room.”

After returning to London from Vienna in 1891, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle started a small office at 2 Upper Wimpole Street.
Image source: The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Conan Doyle graduated with a degree in medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School in 1881, and further in 1885, he accomplished his Doctor Of Medicine degree. Six years later, Doyle sought the study of ophthalmology in Vienna but found the usage of German medical terms in the classes tough to grasp, so he abandoned his studies there.

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After returning to London from Vienna in 1891, he started a small office at 2 Upper Wimpole Street. As Conan Doyle wrote in his autobiography, his attempts to become an eye specialist were a complete failure. He then decided to switch to a professional literary career.(1,2)

2. Conan Doyle helped in popularizing skiing in Switzerland. In 1893, he moved to Davos as his first wife was suffering from tuberculosis and the climate of Switzerland was understood to be beneficial to such patients.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle helped in popularizing skiing in Switzerland.
Image credits: nike159/Pixabay

When Conan Doyle heard from the doctors that his first wife Louise Conan Doyle had only a few months to live, he took every action he could to prolong her life. He learned that the climate in Switzerland was beneficial to tuberculosis patients, so he wasted no time relocating to Davos.

Indeed, the transfer benefited Louisa, and Conan Doyle began various other pursuits, one of which was skiing. In an article for The Strand, he wrote of his skiing adventures in the Maeinfelder Furka pass which helped popularize the sport as it inspired thousands of readers.

In fact, there is a bronze statue in Davos in memory of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It mentions that his Maeinfelder Furka pass adventures helped in bringing the new sport of skiing to the world.(1,2)

3. In 1897, Conan Doyle met Jean Elizabeth Leckie for the first time, and they fell in love at first sight. While his first wife Louisa was alive and ill, he had a chaste relationship with Jean.

Jean Elizabeth Leckie (middle) with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (right)
Image credits: The Library of Congress/Flickr

Jean Leckie was an intellectual, a lyric vocalist, and a horsewoman. The two met on 15 March 1897 and fell in love at first sight. Jean was single, but Doyle’s marriage and code of honor meant that the couple would agree to maintain a non-sexual relationship. Despite being in love, Conan Doyle was devoted to Louisa and did not want to affect her whatsoever.

Although a secret to Louisa, Conan Doyle’s family members were aware of the relationship. The couple persisted in that way for almost ten years. Oblivious to the relationship, Lady Louisa Conan Doyle died in 1906. Arthur and Jean married in September 1907, and the couple bore three children.(1,2)

4. A natural athlete and an ardent sportsman, Conan Doyle played in the amateur cricket team Allahakbarries along with authors J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan and A.A Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh. Also, he played as a goalkeeper for Portsmouth AFC.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle played as a goalkeeper for Portsmouth AFC. (Image on right for representational purpose)
Image credits: Occult World/Flickr CC BY 2.0, Public Domain Pictures

A lover of sports, Conan Doyle actively took part in various activities throughout his life. He engaged in cricket, football (American soccer), rugby, hockey, golf, tennis, billiards, and also participated in boxing, swimming, and bicycling.

A keen cricketer, he played some first-class games for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and Allahakbarries which was an amateur celebrity cricket team. The team included the likes of J.M. Barrie, P.G. Wodehouse, A.A Milne, and Jerome K. Jerome. He also played as a goalkeeper under the name AC Smith for the amateur side Portsmouth Association Football Club.

When he relocated with Jean Leckie to Crowborough in Sussex in 1910, he also captained the Crowborough Beacon Golf Club. Perhaps it is not so astonishing now that he helped bring skiing into vogue.(1,2,3)

5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ran as a candidate for Parliament twice as a Liberal Unionist. He received a decent amount of votes but lost in both the elections.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ran as a candidate for Parliament twice as a Liberal Unionist.
Image credits: Special Collections Toronto Public Library/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

As Secretary of the Liberal Unionist organization, Conan Doyle ran for Parliament twice: in Edinburgh in 1900, and in the Border Burghs in 1906. In fact, he garnered a respectable amount of votes, especially in the 1900 election when he lost out to C.M. Brown on the Liberal Party. The latter received 3,028 votes as opposed to Doyle’s 2,459.

During his political campaigning, he supported the reform of the Congo Free State, which was led by the journalist Edmund D. Morel and diplomat Roger Casement. In his work The Crime of the Congo, he condemned the terrors of the colony.(1,2)

6. King Edward VII knighted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a Knight Bachelor in 1902.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at his knighthood ceremony in 1902.
Image source: Westminster City Council

We all know of Conan Doyle’s famous work The Hound of the Baskervilles. However, scarcely do people know of The War In South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct, a brief work that he wrote around the same period. The latter work is the reason, at least according to Conan Doyle, King Edward VII knighted him as a Knight Bachelor, the most basic rank of a knighted man. Furthermore, the work drove Doyle to become the Deputy-Lieutenant of Surrey.

In this widely translated work, Conan Doyle justifies the role of the UK in the Second Boer War that broke out in 1899. He also wrote a book on the subject in 1900, titled The Great Boer War.(1,2)

7. Conan Doyle tried to solve a couple of real-life mystery cases as well. One of these cases was of a man falsely convicted of killing and mutilating animals, while another case involved a man falsely accused of murdering an old woman.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to solve a couple of real-life mystery cases as well.
Image credits: GraphicMama-team/Pixabay

In 1903, the Great Wyrley area witnessed the death and mutilation of animals including sheep, cows, and horses. The accused man was solicitor George Edalji, who the police also convicted of sending threatening letters to women. In 1907, the police released the man when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle demonstrated his innocence. One point that Doyle reasoned was Holmes-esque; he assessed that Edalji’s eyesight was poor and thus, could not commit the killings at night.

Sir Arthur investigated another case that revolved around Oscar Slater, falsely adjudged of murdering an 82-year old woman Marion Gilchrist in 1908. However, the case was not exactly successful as Slater was released in 1927 but not pardoned. The release was partially due to Conan Doyle’s influence, and no one knows the real murderer of Marion Gilchrist.(1,2)

8. An automobile enthusiast, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was among the first in England to buy an automobile. He joined the Royal Automobile Club in 1903 and participated in the 1911 Prince Henry Tour with his then-wife Jean Leckie.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and family (Jean Leckie in the back seat) during their stay at the Hydro Majestic Hotel, Medlow Bath
Image credits: Project Gutenberg Australia via Wikimedia

Captivated by the arrival of automobiles, Conan Doyle, bought his first car, a Wolseley, from the Birmingham factory of the new Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company. Though he had not taken any driving lessons, his first ride on the vehicle was approximately 170 miles long from the factory to his residence, the Undershaw.

In 1903, Doyle became a member of the Automobile Club of Great Britain, renamed to the Royal Automobile Club in 1907.

Furthermore, he competed in various car racing contests. In 1911, he partook in the Prince Henry Tour, a 15-day contest in the glory of King George V’s coronation. The author drove his 16 horse-power Dietrich-Lorraine, and the British side emerged victorious in the race.(1,2)

9. Conan Doyle believed in fairies and mediums and even publicized them in the 1920s, which battered his reputation. He wrote 20 books on the subject of Spiritualism.

A believer in fairies, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a book titled The Coming of the Fairies in 1922.
Image credits: Kristian Nordestgaard/Flickr CC BY 2.0

In 1917, two young girls from England produced photographs of fairies which they claimed to be real. The photographs went viral and piqued Conan Doyle’s interest, so he published an article in The Strand Magazine’s 1920 Christmas edition. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle publicly expressed that the photographs were direct evidence of the psychic phenomena. Furthermore, he wrote a book titled The Coming of the Fairies in 1922, declaring the existence of fairies. The press ridiculed Conan Doyle’s release, and many people realized that he had lost his grip on reality. In the early 1980s, the two girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths (cousins), admitted that they faked the photographs.

Also, Conan Doyle believed in mediums and mediumship (the practice of communication between the spirits of the dead and the living). When Harry Houdini, a renowned magician, sought to expose the falsehood of the mediums, Conan Doyle tried to make Harry believe in the Spiritualist Movement. The argument destroyed their friendship, which started in 1920.

While Conan Doyle knew that his faith was harming his reputation, he continued to fight for Spiritualism until his death in 1930.(1,2,3)


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