Detective Sherlock Holmes solved his first case 125 years ago. Our fascination with his character has spawned numerous fictional representations books, TV shows, and movies. The truth about Detective Sherlock Holmes is that his character was based on Dr. Joseph Bell.
Joseph Bell, was a Scottish lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh in the 19th century. Dr. Joseph Bell was the real expert at what Sherlock refers to as the “science of deduction”. The author was profoundly amazed at his nearly instinctive ability to diagnose diseases and disabilities on momentary observation. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock, was a student of Bell’s while at medical school and served as his clerk for a time. This set up the Holmes-Watson relationship with the inexperienced Conan Doyle as the young doctor trying to keep up with the master. Doyle also claims that Sherlock’s dressing style was derived from Dr. Bell’s. Dr. Bell was also involved indirectly in the investigation of the notorious “Jack the Ripper” murder case.
Under his guidance, Joseph Bell emphasized the importance of close observation in making a prognosis. To demonstrate, he would often pick a stranger and, by observing him, deduce his occupation and recent activities. These skills caused him to be considered a pioneer in forensic science (forensic pathology in particular) at a time when science was not yet widely used in criminal investigations. Dr. Bell’s lectures in college were considered to be highly enthralling. It has been recalled how he could accurately predict number of hours of sleep a student through a mere glimpse. He used several simple tricks to test his students’ concentration. During one lecture he brought a pungent chemical to class and announced that he had dipped his finger into the beaker to smell it. He then passed the beaker to the rest the students who all dipped their hands into the beaker only to bear its strong odour. Dr. Bell then revealed how he smelled with one finger, but dipped using the other. None of the students were able to identify his slight of hand.