Was Sherlock Holmes an original character or an amalgam of others?

Was Sherlock Holmes an original character or an amalgam of others?

Dr. Joseph Bell

It is commonly accepted that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle loosely based the character of Sherlock Holmes on Dr. Joseph Bell (1837-1911) who was a Scottish surgeon and professor of medicine. Born on December 2, 1837, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Bell had a notable career in medicine and made significant contributions to the field of surgery.

Bell obtained his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1859, where he later became a lecturer and eventually the Chair of Surgery. He was known for his exceptional diagnostic skills and surgical expertise. However, it was his keen powers of observation and deductive reasoning that made him famous and influenced Conan Doyle in creating the character of Sherlock Holmes.

Dr. Bell's ability to make accurate deductions about patients' conditions and backgrounds based on subtle physical cues and details became legendary. He emphasized the importance of careful observation, noting that one could learn a great deal by paying attention to small details that others might overlook. This approach earned him a reputation as a brilliant diagnostician.

Bell's observational and deductive skills were not limited to medicine. He was known to apply his talents to everyday situations as well, making accurate deductions about people he encountered in various contexts. His abilities in this regard were so impressive that they caught the attention of Conan Doyle, who was a student of Bell's during his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Conan Doyle's experiences with Dr. Bell left a lasting impression on him, and he drew heavily from Bell's remarkable abilities when crafting the character of Sherlock Holmes. Many of Holmes' distinctive traits, such as his acute powers of observation, deductive reasoning, attention to detail, and scientific approach to problem-solving, can be traced back to Dr. Bell.

Outside of his medical career, Dr. Bell had a keen interest in forensic science and was involved in several high-profile criminal cases, providing expert testimony, and contributing to the development of forensic techniques. He served as a consultant to the Edinburgh police and was known for his insights into criminal behaviour.

Dr. Joseph Bell passed away on October 4, 1911, leaving behind a legacy as a brilliant physician and diagnostician. Although his name may not be widely recognized today, his influence on the character of Sherlock Holmes has ensured that his remarkable abilities and approach to problem-solving continue to captivate audiences worldwide.

Edgar Allan Poe

Of course, no good work of fiction can rely on only one influence. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also acknowledged that the character C. Auguste Dupin, created by Edgar Allan Poe, had a significant influence on his creation of Sherlock Holmes. Dupin is considered one of the early prototypes of the detective genre, and his deductive reasoning and analytical approach to solving mysteries laid the foundation for future detective characters, including Holmes.

Conan Doyle himself mentioned Dupin's influence on Holmes in several instances. In an interview published in 1894, Conan Doyle stated, "Each [Holmes and Dupin] was the first, and in each the position of the investigator was different. Poe's stories fascinated me, and I tried to follow his example, though I could not hope to equal it." He also referred to Dupin as the "forerunner" of Holmes.

Dupin, like Holmes, possessed extraordinary deductive skills and employed a logical approach to solving crimes. He utilized careful observation, analysis of evidence, and reasoning to unravel complex mysteries. Dupin's character resonated with readers, and his influence can be seen in Holmes' similar methods of investigation.

However, it is worth noting that while Dupin influenced the general concept of the detective character, Holmes became a more fully developed and distinctive figure in his own right. Holmes exhibited unique qualities and characteristics that set him apart from Dupin and made him an iconic literary character.

Conan Doyle expanded on the foundation laid by Dupin, incorporating his own experiences, interests, and imagination into the creation of Sherlock Holmes. The character of Holmes went on to have a profound impact on detective fiction and popular culture, surpassing the influence of any specific predecessor.


At Aegis Interaktif Asia we strive to live up to the forensic standards exhibited by Sherlock Holmes and the analytic concepts of Dupin. However, we do our best to remove the drama from our work. Want to know more about famous detectives? We are planning a short series here on LinkedIn discussing some of the more famous fictional detectives from popular literature as well as film and television. Stay tuned.

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