What was the fastest that Sherlock Holmes ever moved from point A to point B?
It’s a question that might not matter to most – Holmes was no champion quarterback, NASCAR driver, or test pilot. But if you’re considering all aspects of a fellow, as those interested in the great detective often do, it’s a question worth considering. And the answers speak more to the era in which Holmes lived than anything about him personally.
In the Milverton blackmail case, for example, we know Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson ran a two mile dash across Hampstead Heath, fleeing the scene of a crime. Fear of incrimination and incarceration, as well as having someone chasing you, are good motivators, so we know Holmes ran fast – probably not the 20 miles per hour of a champion runner, but surely having spurts of speed over 10 mph.
With a basic Sherlock Holmes top speed somewhere between 10 and 20 mph, we can start to look at what Holmes could do with mechanical enhancement. In his investigation of the missing three-quarter, Holmes uses a bicycle to follow a carriage. He catches up to it, he passes it, he ably rides for miles in his stalking of the horse-drawn conveyance in question. Approximate speed for Holmes on a bicycle: somewhere between 15 and 25 miles per hour. Holmes kicks it up a notch . . . but what about the addition of an internal combustion engine?
Well, Sherlock Holmes and motorcycles is a subject that never comes up, but he did have Dr. Watson drive him to the conclusion of the Von Bork spy case in a Ford motor car. Odds are the car was a Model T Ford, as they were rolling off the assembly line in droves, even in Englad, by the 1914 time of that case. Top speed of a Model T Ford? 45 miles per hour. (And yes, this was before the British converted to metric, so Holmes was could still properly go 45 m.p.h., even in England!)
All that was left for Sherlock Holmes to increase his speed during his most active years was a speeding locomotive. And while locomotives could make 75 miles per hour, as the legendary Casey Jones did before jumping the tracks in 1900, most passenger trains were a little more casual in their day to day duties. And while Professor Moriarty may have engaged a special to go roaring after Holmes in the final days of Moriarty’s criminal empire, Sherlock Holmes was still getting about with the common folk – buying a ticket and going the going rate. How fast was that?
As Holmes and Watson rode the train to look into the missing race horse Silver Blaze, that speed was exactly 53.5 miles per hour. Sherlock Holmes calculates it himself, using the distance between telegraph poles as a guide. Thanks to Holmes’s little trick and Dr. Watson’s recording of same, we can positively say that the top documented speed of Sherlock Holmes was just that: 53.5 m.p.h.
So as you’re driving down the typical American highway with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour, try keeping it down to 53.5 . . . do you really need to move any faster than Sherlock Holmes? He was only headed to investigate a murder and a horse-napping. If you have something more important on your agenda, go right ahead, I’m sure Holmes himself would agree with the necessity of a higher rate of speed . . . .
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