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The View from the East End (89)

By Inspector Hopkins

September 28 , 2008

What about Watson?  (part 4)

 by Inspector Hopkins

Fortunately for the newcomer to Sherlockiana, a happy marriage exists between on-line resources for research and the desire to know more about the good Dr. John H. Watson!

On-Line Encyclopedias

Recently while surfing the web, and quite by accident, I stumbled across an article about Northumberland in the UK. Almost immediately, I recalled that in the very first Sherlock Holmes adventure (STUD), Watson said that he was attached to the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers after he had completed his medical studies.

As a newer Sherlockian reading through the Canon, I tended to ignore many of the details and instead focused my attention on the plot of the story itself. Now, after having read through it so many times, and in so many ways, I finally started paying more attention to the fine detail, and it’s about time I did.

It turns out that there was (and is) indeed a regiment in the British Army with that name, and it has quite a venerable ancestry. Of course, clicking around from one article to the other on my favourite Internet encyclopedia led me to try to form a chain of understanding about Watson’s military experiences.  He started in India with the Fusiliers and then got transferred to the Berkshire regiment. Looking them up, I found that the 66th Regiment of Foot was the unit to which Watson got transferred and which was engaged in the fatal Battle of Maiwand.

Where IS Northumberland, anyway?

Northumberland is an area on the east coast of England just south of the Scottish border.

Watson’s Background

Recall that we know very little about him, but that he stated that he “had no kith or kin in England.”  To me, as a beginning Sherlockian, the word “England” meant everywhere within the British Isles, and “London” was synonymous with “England” as well! But after becoming a bit more educated, I more fully appreciate the distinctions between various countries within the United Kingdom, and recognized that Watson was, in fact, being very specific about not being from England.

Thus, he could have had his roots in Scotland, Wales, or Ireland.

Of course, I may not the first Sherlockian to propose this, but it might seem reasonable to hypothesize that Dr. Watson was originally from Northumberland, based on his military regiment. Perhaps one of his parents was from Scotland and the other from Northumberland, but we may never know for sure. At least, a Scottish background might seem more plausible than Irish or Welsh.  In addition, many Sherlockians suggest that Watson’s middle initial stood for “Hamish”, the Scottish version of James.  This fits in very neatly for an explanation of why his wife called him by that name in TWIS.

Putting all the above together, we might reasonably well conclude that Watson indeed was of Scottish ancestry.

But wait, there’s more:

To top it off, further investigation and research shows an unbelievably remarkable similarity between Watson and his “literary agent”!  It seems that Arthur Conan Doyle also studied medicine around the same time as Watson did (1876-1881) and that he also played football as Watson did around that same time (although Watson played for Blackheath as we have seen earlier, and Doyle played for Portsmouth).  Doyle also wrote short stories as Watson did, and  . . . most importantly, he was born in Scotland.

Everyone knows that Scotsmen really stick together with a fierce loyalty!

Therefore, I conclude that, as a fellow Scotsman, Watson was strongly encouraged by his literary agent to write up his accounts of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

How’s that for a logical conclusion?   .  .  .   ;-)

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

Yours faithfully,