Lost Sherlock Holmes story discovered – but is it by Arthur Conan Doyle?

A short story about the great detective has been discovered in an attic in Scotland over a hundred years after it was first published – but is it a genuine Conan Doyle?

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An 80-year-old man in Scotland has found a new Sherlock Holmes story.

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We know right? Walter Elliot found the long-lost story under a pile of books in his attic in Selkirk.

The 1,300-word tale is catchily titled Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar, and was found within a 48-page booklet published to raise funds for a local bridge, destroyed during a flood in 1902.

Conan Doyle – “the famous litterateur” as the book calls him – had agreed to open the event while he was campaigning to become a local MP.

Elliot, the man who found the book, picks up the story (quotes from the Telegraph): “The Saturday was opened by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He had written a wee story about Sherlock Holmes and Watson and this was in the book.

“I can’t remember how much they raised but they wanted it to be a carriage bridge but they didn’t get quite enough for that, but they built an iron bridge and it’s still there today.

“He really must have thought enough of the town to come down and take part and contribute a story to the book. It’s a great little story.”

But – and here is where the mystery begins – the story might not actually have been written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Elliot, quoted in the Guardian, admits the story was not signed by him: “It’s unsigned, and I’m not a specialist, but the vocabulary seems pretty close to the way Conan Doyle wrote. I’m fairly sure it was written by him.”

Holmes expert Mattias Boström challenges that assumption. He claims that newspaper reports from the time prove that he could not have written it: “By using quotation marks around Sherlock Holmes the author of the story showed that this person was fictional; the detective’s name was often written that way in the newspapers back then,” he writes on Sherlock blog ihearofsherlock.com.

Boström continues: “Conan Doyle’s host, the Selkirkshire historian Mr. Thomas Craig-Brown, made a long introduction to the recital –everything he said was reported in the weekly local newspaper The Southern Reporter – but he made no mention of a new Sherlock Holmes story by Conan Doyle soon being published in the local booklet.” 

“It would really have been worth mentioning since Conan Doyle had started publishing new Holmes stories in The Strand Magazine earlier that same autumn.”

A number of Sherlock Holmes stories and pastiches have been published that weren’t written by Conan Doyle. That said, surely it would be odd for Conan Doyle to have been named in the same booklet that contained a Holmes story that was not his own?

There is no doubt that Conan Doyle had a close connection with Selkirk, and the man who found the story believes it is a genuine Conan Doyle. The author returned a few months after his 1904 literary appearance to play cricket against the local Selkirk team. In 1906 the author ran for Parliament in the nearby constituency of Hawick Burghs (he didn’t win).

Sorry to dampen the excitement of a new Sherlock Holmes story, but we think you’ll agree the mystery is worth delving into. The full copy of the short story is below. Read it below: it tells the story of how Holmes deduced that Watson was travelling to Selkirk.

Do you think it is the genuine article? Or is there a clue that the experts have missed, that only the amateur detectives could decipher?


Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar

“We’ve had enough of old romancists and the men of travel” said the Editor, as he blue-pencilled his copy, and made arrangements for the great Saturday edition of the Bazaar Book. “We want something up-to-date. Why not have a word from ‘Sherlock Holmes?'”

Editors have only to speak and it is done, at least, they think so. “Sherlock Holmes!” As well talk of interviewing the Man in the Moon. But it does not do to tell Editors all that you think. I had no objections whatever, I assured the Editor, to buttonhole “Sherlock Holmes,” but to do so I should have to go to London.

“London!” scornfully sniffed the Great Man. “And you profess to be a journalist? Have you never heard of the telegraph, the telephone, or the phonograh? Go to London! And are you not aware that all journalists are supposed to be qualified members of the Institute of Fiction, and to be qualified to make use of the Faculty of Imagination? By the use of the latter men have been interviewed, who were hundreds of miles away; some have been ‘interviewed’ without either knowledge or consent. See that you have a topical article ready for the press for Saturday. Good day.”

I was dismissed and had to find copy by hook or by crook. Well, the Faculty of Imagination might be worth a trial.

The familiar house in Sloan Street met my bewildered gaze. The door was shut, the blinds drawn. I entered; doors are no barrier to one who uses the Faculty of Imagination. The soft light from an electric bulb flooded the room. “Sherlock Holmes” sits by the side of the table; Dr Watson is on his feet about to leave for the night. Sherlock Holmes, as has lately been shown by a prominent journal, is a pronounced Free Trader. Dr. Watson is a mild Protectionist, who would take his gruelling behind a Martello tower, as Lord Goschen wittily put it, but not “lying down!” The twain had just finished a stiff argument on Fiscal policy. Holmes loq—

“And when shall I see you again, Watson? The inquiry into the ‘Mysteries of the Secret Cabinet’ will be continued in Edinburgh on Saturday. Do you mind a run down to Scotland? You would get some capital data which you might turn to good account later.”

“I am very sorry,” replied Dr Watson, “I should have liked to have gone with you, but a prior engagement prevents me. I will, however, have the pleasure of being in kindly Scottish company that day. I, also, am going to Scotland.”

“Ah! Then you are going to the Border country at that time?”

“How do you know that?”

“My dear Watson, it’s all a matter of deduction.”

“Will you explain?”

“Well, when a man becomes absorbed in a certain theme, the murder will out some day. In many discussions you and I have on the fiscal question from time to time I have not failed to notice that you have taken up an attitude antagonistic to a certain school of thought, and on several occasions you have commented on the passing of “so-called’ reforms, as you describe them, which you say were not the result of a spontaneous movement from or by the people, but solely due to the pressure of the Manchester School of politicians appealing to the mob. One of these allusions you made a peculiar reference to ‘Huz an’ Mainchester’ who had ‘turned the world upside down.’ The word ‘Huz’ stuck to me, but after consulting many authors without learning anything as to the source of the word, I one day in reading a provincial paper noticed the same expression, which the writer said was descriptive of the way Hawick people looked at the progress of Reform. ‘Huz an’ Mainchester’ led the way. So, thought I, Watson has a knowledge of Hawick. I was still further confirmed in this idea by hearing you in several absent moments crooning a weird song of the Norwegian God Thor. Again I made enquires, and writing to a friend in the South country I procured a copy of ‘Teribus.’ So, I reasoned, so — there’s something in the air! What attraction has Hawick for Watson?”

“Wonderful,” Watson said, “and —”

“Yes, and when you characterised the action of the German Government in seeking to hamper Canadian trade by raising her tariff wall against her, as a case of ‘Sour Plums,’ and again in a drawing room asked a mutual lady friend to sing you that fine old song, ‘Braw, braw lads,’ I was curious enough to look up the old ballad, and finding it had reference to a small town near to Hawick, I began to see a ray of daylight. Hawick had a place in your mind; likewise so had Galashiels — so much was apparent. The question to be decided was why?”

“So far so good. And—”

“Later still the plot deepened. Why, when I was retailing to you the steps that led up to the arrest of the Norwood builder by the impression of his thumb, I found a very great surprise that you were not listening at all to my reasoning, but were lilting a very sweet – a very sweet tune, Watson – ‘The Flowers of the Forest;’ then I in turn consulted an authority on the subject, and found that that lovely if tragic song had a special reference to Selkirk. And you remember, Watson, how very enthusiastic you grew all of a sudden on the subject of Common-Ridings, and how much you studied the history of James IV., with special reference to Flodden Field. All these things speak, Watson, to the orderly brain of a thinker. Hawick, Galashiels, and Selkirk. What did the combination mean? I felt I must solve the problem, Watson; so that night when you left me, after we had discussed the “Tragedy of a Divided House,” I ordered in a ton of tobacco, wrapped my cloak about me, and spent the night in thought. When you came round in the morning the problem was solved. I could not on the accumulative evidence but come to the conclusion that you contemplated another Parliamentary contest. Watson, you have the Border Burghs in your eye!”

“In my heart, Holmes,” said Watson.

“And where do you travel to on Saturday, Watson?”

“I am going to Selkirk; I have an engagement there to open a Bazaar.”

“Is it in aide of a Bridge, Watson?”

“Yes,’ replied Watson in surprise; “but how do you know? I have never mentioned the matter to you.”

“By word, no; but by your action you have revealed the bent of your mind.”

“Impossible!”

“Let me explain. A week ago you came round to my rooms and asked for a look at ‘Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome.’ (You know I admire Macaulay’s works, and have a full set.) That volume, after a casual look at, you took with you. When you returned it a day or two later I noticed it was marked with a slip of paper at the ‘Lay of Horatius,’ and I detected a faint pencil mark on the slip noting that the closing stanza was very appropriate. As you know, Watson, the lay is all descriptive of the keeping of a bridge. Let me remind you how nicely you would perorate —

When the goodman mends his armour
And trims his helmet’s plume,
When the goodwife’s shuttle merrily
Goes flashing through the loom,
With weeping and with laughter.
Still the story told —
How well Horatius kept the bridge,
In the brave days of old.

Could I, being mortal, help thinking you were bent on some such exploit yourself?”

“Very true!”

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“Well, goodbye, Watson; shall be glad of your company after Saturday. Remember Horatius’ words when you go to Border Burghs: ‘How can man die better than facing fearful odds.’ But there, these words are only illustrations. Safe journey, and success to the Brig!”