Wish You Were Here….

As I read the evidence at the inquest, which led up to a verdict of willful murder against some person or persons unknown, I realized more clearly than I had ever done the loss which the community had sustained by the death of Sherlock Holmes

“The Adventure of the Empty House”

Sherlock Holmes spent almost three years–from May 4, 1891, until (apparently) the beginning of April, 1894, as a dead man. And whatever he was up to during that time–spying for Mycroft, studying at the feet of Tibetan mystics, mopping up the remnants of Moriarty’s gang, conducting exciting experiments on coal-tar derivatives, or even enjoying a romantic interlude with “The Woman”–he was not solving crimes at home.* This meant, just as he told Watson, “an unhealthy excitement among the criminal classes.” Even a few hours’ meandering through an online newspaper archive  reveals dozens of murders (or possible murders) which seem to have gone unsolved–crime which the police would gladly have turned over to the world’s only consulting detective, had he not been (supposedly) in his own grave at the foot of the Reichenbach Falls. Every so often, we’ll examine a few in this blog; today’s mysterious offerings all took place in 1892.**

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Inspector Lestrade will solve this Adair case–he has several ideas already.

One thing that leaps out at even the most casual researcher are the number of corpses which are found in or around bodies of water–whether that water be a canal, a river, a pond, or the ocean. The inquest frequently returns a verdict of drowning, and often of suicide, as in the death of Gertrude Elizabeth Smith:

THE SUICIDE OF A HARROGATE LADY.–Yesterday, at the Victoria Hotel, Harrogate, an inquest was held before Mr. Henry Wood, coroner, on view of the body of Gertrude Elizabeth Smith, daughter of Mr. George B. Smith of Rose Lea, Beech Grove, Harrogate, who committed suicide by drowning at Harrogate, as already reported in our columns.–Harry Russell Smith stated he was a land agent, and that the deceased was his youngest sister, and was a spinster. Witness saw her on Sunday morning last and spoke to her about a quarter-past eleven. She went to see an aunt about going away for the good of her health. The lady was not in, and he deceased returned in the direction of her home. Witness saw her pass the garden gate, and rapped at the window. The deceased came to him, and he proposed going for a walk. She said she would make Cold Bath-road as the limit of the walk. The deceased complained of a headache the same morning. At the gate she said she was too tired to talk, and that she would rather go by herself. She did not say that in a complaining tone. The deceased did not return at noon. After tea they became anxious, and decided to make a search, and the police were instructed to assist. Witness and his sister searched the Harlow Moor, and the first place visited was the wood, as the deceased was fond of rambling in the woods. He heard about one a.m. on Monday morning that the deceased had been found by the police in the reservoir, close to the place where they had been searching. The body was afterwards taken home. The deceased had been found by the police in the reservoir, close to the plane where they had been searching. The body was afterwards taken home. The deceased had been at Newnham College, and since that time had been under a specialist at Brighton for an ailment in her back. She had shown no signs of depression, but was disappointed at not being able to go to London and abroad for her health. When the deceased left him she was not in a state of mind that would lead anyone to think she would commit suicide. P.S. France stated that along with two other constables he searched Harlow Moor and the Harlow reservoir. After that they went down to the filter beds of the Ironbridgegate Road reservoir. By flashing his lamp he caught sight of a hat floating in the reservoir, and further on he saw the face of the deceased. They subsequently got the body out of the water. Deceased was quite dead. Her watch stopped at a quarter to 12. There would be about 18 inches of water where they found the deceased.–Dr. Ward deposed to examining the body. There was a wound on the bridge of the nose an inch long, and a slight abrasion on the cheek. He had no doubt that death was caused from suffocation by drowning. She had complained to him of having a pain in her head whilst she was at Bradford.–The Coroner having summed up, the jury returned a verdict of suicide during temporary insanity.

–York Herald, Wednesday , 3 February 1892, p.3


Of course, Miss Smith’s death could very well have been suicide–it probably was. She may have hidden her state of mind from her family. But, if there were doubts–if there were, for example, no note, and the marks on the body, as well as the depth of the water occasioned any suspicion, Sherlock Holmes may have found this an interesting case.

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Harlow Moor, around the turn of the century. (From oldukphotos.com)

Other drowning deaths were much more suspicious….

The body of an elderly man named Morris Samuels, a Jew, living Gravesend, was picked up yesterday morning in the Canal at Hingham. He had been missing since March 27, on which day he was seen to enter a train at London. How he came into the canal is a mystery.

–Morning Post (London), Tuesday, 12 April, 1892, p.5


A CHESHIRE CANAL MYSTERY–Jane Badrock, a Cheshire servant girl, who had been missing since the 18th inst., was found on Sunday night in the Shropshire Union Canal, near Calvely, Cheshire. When the body was taken out it was found that both arms were broken, and the face had been badly scratched, while there were other marks of violence. The last time the girl was seen she was with her lover, whom she afterwards left to go home, the way to which was a lonely walk of about a mile and a half by the canal side. The police had examined the path, but failed to find any trace of a struggle. It is suggested by some that the girl has been a victim of violence, but others believe that it is a case of suicide, and that the bones were broken by barges. Badrock was to have been married next Christmas.

–Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, 27 September, 1892 p.4


ENVELOPED IN MYSTERY.–Mr. G. P. Wyatt, coroner for East Surrey, received information yesterday morning of the death of Henry Stone, aged 27, proprietor of the Beaufort Arms, Commercial-road, Peckham, whose body was floating in the Grand Surrey Canal, near the Globe Bridge. Deceased had only just take possession of the tavern, and up to the present time his death is enveloped in mystery. An inquest will be held.

–Hull Daily Mail, Wednesday, 31 August 1892, p.3


The archives reveal nothing more about Mr. Samuels, Mr. Stone, or Miss Badrock. John Taylor’s death was also a drowning. Had he been available, however,  Sherlock Holmes,  may have objected to the official police conclusion:

THE DERBYSHIRE MYSTERY:–The Press Association’s Matlock Bath correspondent telegraphs this morning that the young man who was found drowned near there with his hands and feet tied, has been identified as John Taylor, of 19, Varley-street, Manchester. It is supposed now that it is a case of suicide, and that Taylor after tying his feet together, managed to tie his hands together with the aid of his teeth, before jumping into the water.

–Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette,

Thursday, 22 September, 1892, p.3


Ok then….


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You can’t seriously believe that.

Watery graves weren’t the only ones yielding up their dead that year, either. Home renovations took a decidedly macabre turn in at least two incidents. One provided at least some answers in a the case of a gardner’s missing wife:


THE BLACKHEATH MYSTERY:–An inquest will be held in the course of a few days upon the human remains found some weeks ago buried under a laundry at Dartmouth-hill House, Blackheath, and believed to be those of Eliza Smith, or Flabbell, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances on Christmas-eve, 1870. The bones have been examined and pronounced to be those of a female.  The doctor will be able, at the inquest, to state approximately the time that has elapsed since death. The skull is missing, and it is surmised that if the woman met her death by foul means, the murderer burnt the head in a large furnace used for the purpose of heating the conservatory. It is not now considered probably that the husband of the missing woman will be traced, as he has been lost sight of for 17 years.

–Exeter and Plymouth Gazette , Saturday, 26 March, 1892, p. 6


The dead woman was found with beads which Eliza Smith’s daughter claimed had belonged to her mother, and during the inquest a Mrs. Tomlinson denied having received a letter from the deceased saying that she had gone off to Brighton. Another witness, Jane Spooner, testified that when she had accused Smith’s husband, Frederick, of murdering his wife, “he replied that they could look as much as they liked, but they would never find her.” A man believed to be Mr. Smith, a gardner at Anerley, was present at the inquest, but there was some disagreement as to whether  he had been the victim’s husband, or was truly the “John Smith” he claimed to be. In the end, the London Morning Post reported that the jury’s verdict was that “the evidence failed to show who the deceased was, how she came by her death, and where the death occurred.”***  Sherlock Holmes would have sorted everything out in short order.

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The Green Man, where the Blackheath inquest was held.

Shortly after the sensational discovery at Blackheath, another body was found during a demolition, this time in Ireland’s County Cork:

MYSTERIOUS DISCOVERY:–The body of a girl was discovered on Saturday in a labourer’s cottage about two miles from Bandon, It was buried under the floor, and must have been there for a considerable time, as it was much decomposed. An inquest was held, but the evidence given threw no light on the affair. The house had been unoccupied for some time. The police are investigating the affair.

–Portsmouth Evening News, Monday 4 April , 1892, p.  2


The girl’s name, and what happened to her are lost to history, as is that of this unfortunate gentleman:

SINGULAR DISCOVERY AT DARWEN:–Yesterday afternoon very considerable sensation was caused by a discovery which was made at a colliery recently opened by Messrs. Place at Eccleshill near Darwen. A man named John Holden was looking down the “L” hole, in which the pumping shaft works when he observed a man’s body, 18 ft. from the surface. The man was standing on his head in a hole, and when brought to the top was found to be quite dead. His jaw was broken and his head very much swollen. The body was apparently that of a man of about 30 years of age of the labouring class. The deceased is entirely unknown in the neighbourhood.

–Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser

Wednesday,  16 November 1892, p.  6


When he pointed out those “three unsolved murders in one year,” therefore, Holmes was obviously just being kind to his old friend Lestrade. One has to wonder if he didn’t spend quite a few hours over the next year quietly putting cold cases like these to rights. Thank goodness for Sherlock Holmes. If he didn’t exist, someone would have to invent him.

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*William S. Baring-Gould hypothesized that the detective Nero Wolfe was the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler Norton, conceived in Montenegro during the Hiatus.

**Contrary to what Watson writes in “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge,”  Sherlock Holmes was not at Baker Street during this year.

***Morning Post, Wednesday, 13 April, 1892, p. 8. This article also gives the interesting detail that the body had been cut into eleven pieces, by someone who was not very skilled in such things.




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Verdict: The Damnation of John Donellan

Note: I know, it’s been AGES since I’ve posted a book review, and this one has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes. The truth is, the kind of review I write tend to be very labor-intensive, and I have been swamped with life for quite awhile now. There have been times when I’ve considered shelving this blog for good, but…I just can’t.

The following review was written for another blog I started a long time ago, lightly linked to this one, the idea of which was to look at historic crime as they related to our Favorite Detective and his Boswell. If you saw my kitchen right now, you would realize how insane I was for even considering keeping more than one blog, but…I am at heart an optimist.

I hope to be able to post my next Sherlockian book review soon; I have the notes done, so it’s just a matter of having a day to actually write it. In the meantime, I though you might like this one, written about a murder that most certainly had a place in Holmes’s commonplace books.


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Cooke, Elizabeth. The Damnation of John Donellan: A Mysterious Case of Death and Scandal in Georgian England. New York: Walker and Company, 2011.


The saying goes that “only the good die young, ” but on the day that he died, 20 year-old Sir Theodosius Boughton was not exactly a good man. Left fatherless at twelve when Sir Edward Boughton, 6th Baronet, dropped dead, and apparently neglected by Sir William Wheler, the man tapped to serve as his guardian, Theodosius spent his brief time at Eton brawling, overspending, and enjoying all of the charms of female companionship. By the time his mother, Anna Maria, decided to bring him home, he had made one poor decision too many, and contracted syphilis.

Until penicillin came on the scene in the mid-1940s, the only treatments available to the syphilitic patient were completely ineffectual and typically involved repeated doses of mercury; both the disease and its treatment caused horrific symptoms, and given the nature of mercury poisoning, one or the other would eventually prove fatal. Sometime during the summer of 1780, Sir Theodosius either contracted a new syphilitic infection, or experienced a resurgence of his first. Whichever the case, Lady Boughton obtained medication for her son from apothecary Thomas Powell. Theodosius found the liquid foul-tasting and balked at taking it, so on the morning of Wednesday,  August 30, his mother made sure that he swallowed his daily dose as prescribed. She could not have imagined, as she urged him to finish it, that within minutes her son would be in convulsions, and within an hour, he would be dead.

Or did she?


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In The Damnation of John Donellan,  Elizabeth Cooke tackles a case which for decades was held up as an example of the dangers of circumstantial evidence. The unexpected, dramatic death of a young aristocrat who was (as far as the public knew) in good health caused a  virulent rash of rumors to spread across the county; with a week, the question was not why Sir Theodosius had died, but who had poisoned him. Although, as Cooke points out, there were several viable suspects, the finger of Justice quickly moved to point at Theodosius’ brother-in-law. Captain John Donellan was a disgraced soldier who had also served as doorman at a notorious London social club before eloping with Theodosia Boughton three years before. Despite this scandal, Donellan had, by 1780, become a trusted member of the family, living with his wife and their two children at Lawford Hall and taking charge of much of the household business, including looking after the young heir after he left Eton and getting him out of various scrapes, boyish and otherwise. Although he did not give Sir Theodosius his medicine, and wasn’t even in the room when the young man was first taken ill, Donellan, according to witnesses, did and said several odd things after being summoned by Lady Boughton. He washed out the medication bottles stored on the dead man’s mantel  (possibly pouring their contents into a waste basin) and had them removed from the bedroom. He insisted to others that his brother-in-law had taken cold, and allegedly told coachman William Frost that “you are my evidence” after confirming with him that he had been nowhere near Theodosius’ room that morning* Most damning, however, was Lady Boughton’s testimony that her son’s tonic smelled of “bitter almonds,” and the fact that Donellan possessed a still, ostensibly for distilling lavender and rose-water, but which, it was whispered, he also used for concocting laurel-water, a source of prussic acid.**

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If wagging tongues conspired to have John Donellan suspected, and ultimately arrested, for the poisoning of his brother-in-law, the English justice system of the late 18th century seemed designed to work against him as well. Modern readers used to the notion of “innocent until proven guilty,” and the right to a competent defense will wonder at Cooke’s description of a trial that was highly criticized even in its own time for bias and inadequacy–and which, in our century, would be farcical were man’s life not  at stake. Witnesses were coached and intimidated (or not called at all), questions went unasked by both sides, and potential exculpatory evidence was ignored or missed entirely. The most useful testimony of all, that of famed surgeon Sir John Hunter, was criticized by the magistrate, Sir Justice Francis Buller, and buried under the weaker evidence presented by several less able colleagues. Still, Captan Donellan maintained his innocence and, on the eve of his trial, was looking forward to being back in London once his ordeal was finished.

Devotees of Dateline-style television mysteries are familiar with true crime documentaries that lead viewers to favor  one side, only to flip their opinions like pancakes with a new set of information. Cooke begins her story with an in depth description of Theodosius Boughtons’ last hours, taken from his mother’s depositions and testimony. I have read this book twice, and even the second time, I have to say that there appear to have been very good reasons to fear poisoning, and to suspect John Donellan. As the  book progresses, however, the weight of reasonable doubt becomes greater and greater, to the point that one wonders if there had never been a crime at all–only gossip which drove weak men, and one weak woman, to the point of sacrificing an outsider on the altar of public opinion.

Or perhaps he did it.

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The Damnation of John Donellan is a deft combination of whodunit, courtroom drama, medical history, and social commentary, stuffed into a compact 254 pages. Thanks her skillful analysis of Boughton family documents and newspapers of the time, Cooke is able to portray Sir Theodosius, Donellan, Anna Maria, and even minor players as real, sympathetic human beings with strengths and foibles. By telling the story chronologically, she keeps up the suspense while providing the reader with the same evidence the jury was given. Made up of well-to-do landowners and tradesmen (though not of the aristocracy), this jury sat in a courtroom which operated quite differently than those the reader might be acquainted with; Ms. Cooke explains the workings of British justice in 1780 clearly, while at the same time pointing out how John Donellan’s attorneys frequently fell below the standard of practice for their own time, let alone our own. For all of the detail involved, The Damnation of John Donellan manages not to be dry; it does, however, lag in places, largely due to the difficulty of presenting the two very different timelines described by Lady Boughton and Donellan himself. The two accounts can be difficult to follow; a chart contrasting both would have been a welcome addition.

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And how would Sherlock Holmes have viewed this case? We know from his advice to Watson regarding Thoreau’s “trout in the milk” in “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor,”  that he did not discount circumstantial evidence. At the same time, however, he was well aware of its dangers. “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing,” he warned his friend in “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”:

It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.

Given his success  in “The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier,” we also know that Sherlock Holmes did not discount medical information in favor of more sensational interpretations.*** He may have come to see Sir Theodosius’ death as due to a coincidental seizure or other event, either completely unrelated to his purging draught, or accidentally triggered by it. Unlike nearly everyone involved in the case (except for the nervous Powell himself), Holmes would not have ignored the possibility that at least one bottle of the young man’s physick had been mislabelled, or misprepared in some way, leading to a tragically accidental poisoning. Nor would he have forgotten a phial of medication Sir Theodosius had allegedly ordered made up for himself which contained Occuli indicus berries, a known convulsant–commonly prescribed for mercury poisoning. Coming across this case as a boy or a young man–and it is likely that he did–Holmes would also have been struck with the difficulty of reconciling witness testimonies and timelines, and he may well have wondered, as does Cooke, what role John Donellan’s social status (particularly when contrasted with that of the Boughton family)  played in his arrest, and his treatment in court. As an adult, Sherlock Holmes was no respecter of persons, nor did he see women as necessarily virtuous; a thorough reading of the Donellan case and its critics would have only added another layer to this foundation of his character.

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In most crime stories–including the cases of Sherlock Holmes–focus tends to shift very quickly from the victim to the list of possible perpetrators. In her conclusion, Cooke brings us back to Sir Theodosius, reminding us that he was only twenty years old when he died, still quite capable of emerging from a protracted adolescence to fulfill the responsibilities which were his inheritance, every bit as much as Lawford Hall. The reader might be forgiven, however, for looking past the body on the bed to the man and woman by the fireplace, holding empty bottles, staring at each other with frightened, suspicious eyes.

The Damnation of John Donellan is available from all major booksellers, in hardback, paperback, and e-book formats. Elizabeth Cooke, who also writes fiction, can be found on both Twitter and Facebook. You can learn more about her work on her website, http://www.elizabethcookeauthor.com.  Those interested in primary sources on the trial of John Donellan can read (free of charge) The Proceedings at Large on the Trial of John Donellan, Esq., for the Willful Murder (by Poison) of Sir The[odosius]…Boughton….  at https://archive.org/details/b20443602.  Interestingly, A Defence and Substance of the Trial of John Donellan, Esq.,  the accused’s thorough answer to the evidence presented against him at trial, which was published and sold by his attorneys, is currently only available as a paid reprint.


Cooke, p. 140.

**It would be revealed after his trial that Captain Donellan did, indeed, distill laurel water, which he claimed was used for foot lotion. Cooke points out that Lady Boughton is the only person who reported a bitter almond smell associated with her son’s medication, although Dr. David Rattray, one of the physicians involved in the (worthless) attempts to autopsy the body, also mentioned an acrid smell coming from the corpse. What Cooke misses, however, is the fact that not everyone can smell cyanide. Figures range from 50% to the “one in ten” mentioned in this article from the National Institutes of Health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2043049/). It is, therefore, quite possible that Anna Maria Boughton was right, and the phial did contain laurel water. Who put it there, and with what intent, would be another matter entirely.

***Of course, in “The Adventure of the Creeping Man,” the solution is both medical and  sensational.



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7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Final

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Hearty congratulations to Jim McArthur, who is our Grand Prize Winner! Here is his answer to the question: What do you think was Sherlock Holmes’s favorite case?

I believe that A Scandal In Bohemia was Holmes’s favorite case: for several reasons.

He had the opportunity to indulge himself in his love of disguise, theatrics, technical devices, and the utilization of agents. . . to deal with Royalty, while demonstrating to His Majesty that he, Holmes, was the smarter man. . . he received a jeweled, gold snuffbox as his reward: and more importantly, his treasured photograph of Irene Adler.

He met the woman he most came to admire, and (most important of all to him, since he loved a genuine contest of wits), he had one of his few experiences of being bested by an opponent.

Also, since much of his professional life was lived amidst gore and murder, he would have appreciated the fact where no real crime was committed in this case: other than by himself and Watson.

And with that, the 7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway comes to an end.  I want to thank you all for sticking with me this year, which has not been my best blogging year ever. I hope to make it up to you in 2019. Now to ship off the prizes, and start gathering more for next year…time flies when you’re having fun!

Wishing all the best in 2019. May it be your best year yet–but not your best year ever!

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7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 14

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January 6, 1895


It seems a bit magical that we would end up here, in the “memorable” year Watson declared “I have never known my friend to be in better form, both mental and physical, than in the year ’95.” Of course, on this, his 41st birthday, Sherlock Holmes had no idea of what awaited him. Perhaps he was even on a case, and the day went wholly unnoticed. But I like to imagine him in the sitting room of 221B, looking out on a cold winter’s night (the weather report for that day shows 30 degrees and yellow fog), warm and glad to be back for his first full year in London since 1890. Perhaps there was sherry. Perhaps Mrs. Hudson had made a Victoria sponge to celebrate to occasion. Maybe Watson treated him to a birthday dinner at Simpson’s, and Mycroft popped ’round for cake and chess.

Hopefully, it was happy.

It seems fitting, then, in a year that is a calendar twin to that remarkable anno 1895, to close out this year’s Giveaway and open a New Year of blogging with a poem that takes us up to the lamplit window of 221B, and lets us stand in the glow of goodness it cast over the darkest corners of London, and of our hearts.


Here dwell together two men of note

Who never lived and so can never die:

How very near they seem, yet how remote

That age before the world went all awry.

But still the game’s afoot for those with ears

Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo;

England is England yet, for all our fears–

Only those things the heart believes are true.


A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane

As night descends upon this fabled street;

A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,

The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.

Here, though the world explode, these two survive,

And it is always eighteen ninety-five.

Vincent Starrett


And, of course, as it is The Birthday, it’s time for the Grand Prize. Remember, everyone is allowed to participate, even if they’ve won twice this time around. As for the question? Since I’m feeling reflective at the moment, how about…

What case do you think was Sherlock Holmes’s favorite? Why? You can choose from one written in the Canon, or one of the “unsolved” cases with which Watson delights in teasing us.

Send in your answer via blog post or FB message. If your name is chosen in the drawing, you’ll receive…



You know you need this on your wall, right next to your portrait of General Gordon. I haven’t torn open the matte, but while the photo seems like a high-quality print, while the autograph is genuine, from well-known and reputable dealers Markus Brandes. I will include the COA (certificate of authentication) with the autograph. The winner will be drawn on Monday evening, after 9:00 pm EST (which is when I get off work). Best wishes for a wonderful Birthday!


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Congratulations to Claudia, who won the Birthday Eve Book Club prize! The answer was, of course, Hatherly from “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb.”

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7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 13

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Christmas, 1894


It may not have been the happiest Christmas of John Watson’s life, but it was certainly the happiest in recent memory. His Mary would always be a ghost of Christmas past, but at least there was only one ghost, now. 221B reeked of shag again, papers all over the floor–and his own medical magazines and writing things. He was back in the flat with “the best and wisest man,” and if he only wrote of two of their cases that year, it wasn’t because they’d been idle. Work was the best antidote for sorrow–but it was nice to not have two deaths to mourn anymore.

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I’ve shared a lot of murder with you this Giveaway (and those were not the worst cases I found) but crime wasn’t always grim in Victorian London. Sometimes it was just…ridiculous. Here are some cases that never made it to 221B:



Some little excitement was occasioned at several of the Government offices by the delivery of suspicious-looking parcels addressed to the Secretary of the Duchy of Cornwall, Colonel Sir Nigel Kingscote, Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests, and three or four other officials. In one case the parcel contained a box, with mechanism attached; and fears being entertained as to the possibly dangerous character of the parcels sent to Scotland-yard for examination. They were, however, found to contain nothing more dangerous than paper torn up, and it was evident that some person had perpetrated a stupid practical joke. The parcel addressed to the Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests was sent from Tamworth, Staffordshire, and was delivered at the offices in Whitehall by a Midland Railway porter. It was handed to a messenger, who cautiously untied the string and, noting the appearance of the enclosed box, immediately gave information to the police.


The sequel to the receipt of the mysterious packages at the various Government offices in London yesterday followed at Tamworth to-day, when Detective Fisher arrested Charles Joseph Bent, master plumber and decorator, and Frank Cannock, mechanic, of Tamworth, on a charge of sending parcels containing twenty-four bombs to the Government offices at Whitehall. The police believe the action of the accused was a ruse for securing the prize for advertizing a certain periodical, copies of which were enclosed in the packages. It is stated that the bombs were provided with a cap which would explode with a loud noise, but were otherwise harmless.–Pall Mall Gazette,  December 1, 1894.

I don’t know what the “periodical” was–but I can’t imagine he won the prize, can you?


BOW-STREET.–A Striking Christmas Box.–One of the prisoners who was stated to have been fighting said to the magistrate: “It was like this, your worship. A man comes up to me, and says, says he, ‘Here’s a Christmas box for you.’ With that he gave me a box. I accepts it because I couldn’t help it, and returns the compliment.” –Sir John Bridge: What sort of Christmas box was it?–Prisoner: One behind the ear-hole, your worship, and a good ‘un it was. (Laughter).–It was stated the prisoner was a hard-working man, and he was discharged.–Another man charged with being drunk and fighting urged as an excuse that he had been to a music-hall.–Sir John Bridge: It is said that music charms the savage breast. It seems to have aroused your fighting instincts. (Laughter.) Go away.–The Daily News,  December 28, 1894

Now for today’s question, in which, astoundingly, Canon and real life may well collide…..

Do you ever wonder what happened to Holmes’s clients after their cases were concluded? I found this interesting little article in Reynolds’s Newspaper of December 16, 1894:

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Allowing for the (reasonable) possibilities that Watson changed the name of the client in order to protect his identity, and that Baring Gould was wrong on the date he assigned this particular case, which story would this article be a fitting coda for?

If your entry is selected in the drawing, you’ll win the final “book club” prize of the year, this time including books that examine the history of Sherlock Holmes and his creator:



As always, to enter, send your answer in via blog comment or FB message. Now to get caught up on the drawings! We’ve got one more day!!!

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Noreen Pazderski is the winner of the Strand subscription!  Here is what she thinks Holmes did after pitching over the edge in “The Adventure of the Final Problem.”

I think that Holmes needed some time to recover from injuries sustained trying to escape from Reichenbach so he did spend time in Tibet and traveling Europe in disguise. Then he cleaned up the remainder of Moriarty ‘s network before coming home to London to defeat Moran.


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7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 12

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From hyperallergic.com*


Christmas, 1891-1893


I think it’s safe to say that Dr. Watson was not in the Christmas spirit during this time. Nor, I assume did Scotland Yard. Everywhere they looked, they saw reminders that Sherlock Holmes was no longer with them.

With Watson, of course, it was more personal. No more cryptic telegrams. No more middle-of-the-night summonses or crazy hansom rides through London streets. No more brilliant deductions, no more violin, no more strange smells, no more reason to happen by Baker-street.  When the paper reported a “mysterious explosion” near Regent’s Park, he nearly wept because this time, he could be certain it had nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes.**

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While British law enforcement likely “moved on” more quickly, there were no doubt many times that they, and the public they served, wished that Sherlock Holmes was still among the living. Here are a few “Christmas time” cases which may well have gone unsolved thanks to the tragedy at Reichenbach Falls.***




On Tuesday evening, shortly before 7 o’clock, a singular discovery was made by the railway-station officials at Hereford, shortly after the arrival of the 3.35 pm train from Manchester to Bristol. From statements made by the engine driver, the guard proceeded to examine the various compartments of the train and found the door of one of the third-class carriages swinging on its hinges. Inside the carriage he found a man’s black felt hat and a dark blue overcoat, but the owner was nowhere to be found. This circumstance in itself would have excited but little curiosity had it not been for an incident which had previously occurred during the journey, and which would seem to involve the discovery with dark significance. Shortly after the train left Shrewsbury the passengers were somewhat alarmed to find the train coming to a dead stop though many miles away from any of the stations en route. Immediately afterwards the voice of the guard was heard shouting, “Who is it that keeps ringing that bell?” The question was repeated by someone who walked along the metals the entire length of the train. Receiving no answer, and imagining someone had been signalling the train to stop out of pure mischief, the man muttered something to the effect that whoever it was he deserved “a good hiding,” and went back seemingly in the direction of the engine. A fresh start was made, and during the rest of the journey to Hereford, the passengers in the next carriage to the one in which the hat and coat were found repeatedly heard something banging in the next carriage. Being very dark, showery, and cold, however, none of them felt inclined to open the window and ascertain if there was anything wrong. There were no cries or sounds of disturbance, and so the matter was not given a second thought until their arrival at Hereford. So far as we can learn, there was nothing in the coat pockets to indicate who was the owner, but inside the hat were the name and address of a firm of hatters in North Shields. It was thought that the things may have belonged to some seafaring man journeying from North Shields to Cardiff or Bristol, whose disappearance from the train, coupled with the mysterious twitching of the alarum bell, has created a considerable sensation. The carriage in which the articles of clothing were discovered bore no traces of any struggle or disturbance. The right hand door fronting the engine was locked, but it was evident that an attempt had been made to open it, as the handle had been twisted round. Whether the carriage contained one or more passengers on leaving Shrewsbury is also unknown. In fact, the whole affair seems shrouded in mystery.–South Wales Daily News,  December 2, 1891.




MYSTEROUS DISAPPEARANCE.–The disappearance of a young married woman named Spurgeon from Braintree is occupying the close attraction of the Essex police. The missing woman, who had been married about two years, left her husband on December 13 without any apparent reason, except that her mind was unhinged by religious mania, was seen crossing the fields in the direction of the River Blackwater, and nothing has been seen or heard of her since. The river has been dragged, and the woods and ponds in the neighbourhood have been searched. As yet not the slightest clue to the mystery has been found.–The Morning Post, December 23, 1892



Great excitement prevailed on Saturday in the neighbourhood of Henley-on-Thames on its becoming known that a mysterious murder had been committed on the preceding evening at Lambridge, a lonely wood situated not far from the town. Lambridge House is occupied by Mr. Mash, who carried on the business of a fruiterer in Glasshouse-street, Piccadilly-circus, and is one and a half mile from Henley by the footpath. It stands quite alone, no other house being within a mile. The only adult occupant of the mansion was Mr. Mash was away (as he is during the greater part of the week) was the housekeeper, Miss Kate Dungey, who was 30 years of age, and who had held the position of governess to Mr. Mash’s children. It is a fortnight since Mr. Mash was last at Lambridge House. About five o’clock on Friday evening George Dawson, who was left in charge of the small model farm, left the house, and about eight o’clock two lads who sleep there when the family are away went up to the house as usual. They were, however, unable to gain admittance, although they noticed that lights were burning in the front room. They stayed about endeavouring to gain entrance until nearly ten o’clock, when they returned home and found Dawson. The latter went back, and entering the house by a window noticed that there were signs of a struggle having taken place. The boys having told him that they had heard, on going to the house, a sound like scuffling in the wood, he instituted a search, and shortly afterwards, within a few hundred yards of the house, came upon the body of Miss Dungey with her head and face terribly injured. Close by was a broken hedge-stick and a poker. Dawson immediately communicated with the police, and Superintendent Keel and a constable were promptly on the scene. The police have thoroughly scoured the neighbourhood, but up to last evening had not succeeded in obtaining a clue to the perpetrators of the crime. Four or five sovereigns were found in a handbag belonging to Miss Dungey, and nothing had been touched in the house, not even the watch on the sitting-room chair. The lady’s pocket had, however, been rifled, and this, it is suggested, would go to show that the murderer wanted something which Miss Dungey possessed.–Morning Post, December 11, 1893.

Murder doesn’t stop for the holidays. And if you win today’s drawing, you can expect new murders every three months. Fictional ones. That get solved. By detectives created by today’s best-known and upcoming authors–with an occasional classic thrown in! The Strand still exists–in title, if not in form, and today’s prize will be a one-year subscription.

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Now, of course, there is no Holmes case for 1892 or 1893, and only one for 1891 (“The Final Problem”), so I thought I would do something more open-ended for the “hiatus years.”

What do you think Holmes did during The Great Hiatus? Did he travel around, visiting Tibet and France, gaining knowledge and doing experiments, as he told Watson? Did he hunt down and capture (or kill) the rest of Moriarty’s network (as BBC Sherlock surmises), did he spy for Mycroft? Hang out with Irene Adler Norton in Montenegro? Or do something else entirely?

Send your ideas in via blog comment or FB message–and don’t be afraid to let your imagination run!




*Why a dead bird on a Christmas card? Follow this link: hyperallergic.com/344920/why-are-there-dead-birds-on-victorian-xmas-cards/

**There really was one, reported in the St. James’s Gazette of December 29, 1892.

***Note: They may well now be solved; I haven’t had time to check. But when they first made the news, it wasn’t looking good.

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7th Annual 12th Night Giveaway: Day 11

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Christmas, 1890


Well, we have looked a good deal at Christmas matters involving Sherlock Holmes, or Holmes and Watson together but, come the holiday season 1890, we know for certain that Dr. Watson had someone else to buy gifts for. Yes, while I could be missing someone, I think that, no matter whose chronology you look at, and how many wives we’re talking about,Mary Morstan had become Mary Watson by December of 1890, and I have to imagine that her husband wanted it to be a special Christmas for them both.

So. What would their Christmas look like?

Ok, let’s be honest. John H. Watson, M.D., no doubt spent the entire time looking after patients with cattarh and flu,  kids with earaches, measles, mumps, and various coughs; babies which decided to come at very inconvenient times, people with various injuries caused by slipping on ice, uneven pavement or heaven knows what, gout and lumbago flares, and indigestion–so that by the time he surfaced for New Year’s, even the leftover goose was gone and Mary had given up and was spending the rest of the winter with friends, none of whom actually understood what her husband’s professional life was like, and privately speculated that he had another flat (complete with music hall tart) in St. James’s Wood.

But let’s pretend that London remained miraculously healthy that year.  If so, John and Mary might have gone to some sort of classical music performance with John’s erstwhile flatmate, but it’s more likely that they went to see a special Christmas pantomime:


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The Stage, December 5, 1890


We know Mary was a kind and generous soul, so she likely devoted some of her time to charitable ventures like this one. I can see her knitting cuffs, can’t you?

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South London Press, December 20, 1890

And while I think we can be sure the Watsons were charitable this season, the mention of “cheques” in the article makes me wonder if Dr Watson didn’t give himself a little Christmas joy at the turf….


To offset this little indulgence, I am guessing he and Mary attended church services, either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day–perhaps one of these:


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Daily Telegraph December 24, 1890

There would, of course, be a goose for Christmas dinner, and if Mary, like many new brides, had received a copy of Mrs. Beeton’s Guide to Household Management at her wedding, she may have made this Christmas cake for her beloved–and whatever detective may have come over for company….
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Then, of course, there were the presents. Mary would have put a great deal of thought into John’s gift. Perhaps one of these:

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Or one of William Clark Russell’s sea stories. A Voyage at Anchor  and My Shipmate Louise were both published in 1890.

And for Mary? Sweets, of course.

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Some nice perfume….
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And some jewelry that was–hopefully–not tainted by thievery, treachery, and death.

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Maybe there was a little something for Holmes as well….

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Or perhaps they looked out at the weather, thought about all of the aches and runny noses, criminals (and detectives) out there, and decided to chuck it all and spend Christmas in Italy–just the two of them.

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That would be my choice.


Whatever they did, let’s hope they had a marvelous time, because next year, Christmas 1891, would be much, much different.

Although Watson was married and “back in harness,” he still apparently had time to accompany Holmes on at least 3 cases in 1890, and today’s question comes from one of those adventures.

How did Sherlock Holmes know that the sender of a telegram was a woman? 


Send your entry in via blog comment or FB post, and include your choice of prize–yes, there are two again this time, and yes, they are both records. Again, please note that I have not played them, and so cannot guarantee they don’t skip.

Prize 1:






Prize 2:



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