By Den Ardinger 32° KCCH
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, best known as the creator of that astute detective, Sherlock Holmes, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on May 22, 1859. He was the eldest child born into a middle-class family with relatives well established in the artistic fields. His father, Charles Altamonte Doyle, was an alcoholic and dreamer while his fiercely protective mother, Mary Foley Doyle, had a strong influence on her seven children instilling in them a love of the English code of honor and a passion for chivalric romances.
At the age of nine, he was sent away by his parents to a Jesuit school in Austria even though the family financially struggled to make ends meet. Although difficult, Arthur found he excelled in this environment which prepared him for medical studies at the University of Edinburgh. He later admitted that he studied to be a doctor more in the hopes of finding a good profession than an interest in the subject. He found studying at the university difficult and boring. He did discover that he had a talent for sports, and he excelled in cricket and football. It was at the university that he met the instructor, Dr. Joseph Bell, who would later become the model for the imaginative Sherlock Holmes. Now prepared for life, he graduated from medical school at the age of 22 in 1881.
He had a love of adventure and in traveling and signed on as a ship’s doctor for voyages to Antarctica and Africa. It was at this time he began writing short stories based on his expanding imagination, his travels, and the romantic stories his mother told him as a child.
In 1885 he married Louise Hawkins while at the same time he began to have modest success as a physician. In 1886, Doyle finished writing his first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet”, and sold it for 25 pounds. He quickly wrote other stories and novels but none were as popular as Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, John Watson. For the rest of his life he had a love-hate relationship with the storyline which he considered frivolous and at one point even killed off Sherlock Holmes but pressure from the public forced him to resurrect the detective so he could live on again in other stories.
When he was 27, Arthur Conan Doyle was initiated into Freemasonry in Phoenix Lodge Number 257 in Portsmouth on January 1, 1887. For the next two decades he was in and out of Freemasonry whenever his time and travel permitted but it was in Phoenix Lodge that he was raised to the third degree. He was also given honorary memberships in Lodges because of his fame. He was given honorary membership in Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2 in Edinburgh in 1905 among others. He frequently mentioned Freemasonry in his stories and placed clues, such as a character wearing a Masonic ring, into a case.
His wife, Louisa, died in 1906 and in 1907 he married Jean Leckie. In all he had five children; two by Louisa and three by Jean.
Doyle had a keen interest in Spiritualism and in 1916 openly declared his support for the movement. He traveled widely proclaiming his strong beliefs while directing his writing full time in this direction. He believed in fairies, the communication with the afterlife, and held strong views on both that he expressed for the rest of his life.
He died in his garden in Sussex, England at the age of 71 on July 7, 1930. He died secure in his spiritualist beliefs, while leaving a legacy worldwide that lives on to this day in the characters he created in his many stories and books.
Note that the Portrait of Doyle is by Herbert Rose Barraud in 1893