“Knowledge of Botany: Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.”
That was Dr Watson’s assessment of his friend Sherlock Holmes’s expertise in plant sciences, as revealed in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first outing for the detective, A Study in Scarlet.
And now we know where Holmes got his knowledge – from the man who created him.
Newly unveiled records dating back to 1877 show that Doyle interrupted his training as a medical doctor to take a course at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. Doyle attended around 60 classes, as well as demonstrations and field excursions, and his signature can be seen on the register from the course.
Holmes was of course well versed in the use of other plant-based poisons too – namely opium and cocaine – if only for recreational purposes…