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The View from the East End (86)

By Inspector Hopkins

June 1, 2008

What about Watson?  (part 1)

 by Inspector Hopkins

Although Watson did a remarkable job in documenting Sherlock Holmes’s exploits, and gave a stellar performance in his descriptions of people, places, and things in the Canon, he offered precious little information about himself.

I thought we might take a bit of a closer look at this topic . . .

Watson the Athlete

While setting up some questions for our Chat Room concerning The Sussex Vampire, I included one about what Watson revealed about his background, i.e. that he used to play rugby. Recall that he initially met the client in this case, Bob Ferguson, many years beforehand on the rugby field, and that Ferguson mentioned this via a postscript in his letter to Holmes.

Although I had read the story many times before, I never stopped to completely savour this point, and just went on reading the story.  In the back of my mind, I had always assumed it was just some harmless bit of detail that was unimportant to the actual plot. But consider that for a moment: would it really make any difference in the story if Watson had met Ferguson before, or not?  I think not.

Nonetheless, this time around I decided to investigate it a bit more thoroughly.  In Ferguson’s letter he stated that “I believe your friend Watson played Rugby for Blackheath when I was three-quarter for Richmond.” Watson verified this, and noted that Ferguson was “the finest three-quarter that Richmond ever had”.

What does all that mean?

Without going into all the technical details of the sport of rugby (and with apologies to rugby fans everywhere for that), let me just say for the sake of this series that rugby is somewhat of a cross between soccer and American football. It is a rough, strenuous, exhausting, demanding, and sometimes violent sport played without protective equipment. You would have to be a real glutton for pain and punishment and be totally dedicated to your teammates in order to participate in this sport . . .

Blackheath vs. Richmond

A careful investigation around the Internet shows that these two references actually do mean something.  It turns out that The “Blackheath Football Club” aka “The Blackheath Rugby Club” (Blackheath R.C.) and the “Richmond Football Club” (Richmond F.C.) are two rugby clubs formed in the mid 1800’s. There is extensive documentation and history to verify this.   They vigourously competed against each other during the Victorian era, and they both still exist today, over 150 years later!

Thus, according to what he recorded in SUSS, Watson was indeed a member of the Blackheath Rugby Club, and this can be verified by checking out the following link:

Note that they have Watson listed as one of their “Past players”  . . .     ;-)

What possible implication and/or connection does all this have to Sherlockiana, you might ask?

Stay tuned to find out.

Until next time, and thanking you for your attention, I remain indeed,

Yours faithfully,