2 December 1837 (
October 4, 1911, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Modern Diesel Technolo, Condemned : Criminal Origins: P, The Last Colonial
Arthur Conan Doyle, Bob Geldof, David Raksin, Jo Soares, Bertram Millhauser
Joseph Bell, JP, DL, FRCSE (2 December 1837 – 4 October 1911) was a Scottish surgeon and lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh in the 19th century. He is best known as an inspiration for the literary character Sherlock Holmes.
Life and career
Bell was the son of Dr. Benjamin Bell (1810-1883) and his wife Cecilia Barbara Craigie (1813-1882), and he was a great-grandson of the famous Benjamin Bell, considered to be the first Scottish scientific surgeon. In his instruction, Joseph Bell emphasized the importance of close observation in making a diagnosis. To illustrate this, 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.
Bell studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and received an MD in 1859. During his time as a student, he was a member of the Royal Medical Society and delivered a dissertation which is still in possession of the society today. Bell served as personal surgeon to Queen Victoria whenever she visited Scotland. He also published several medical textbooks. Bell was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RSCEd), a justice of the peace, and a deputy lieutenant. He was elected president of the RSCEd in 1887.
Bell wrote the book Manual of the Operations of Surgery, published in 1866.
In 1883, Bell bought 2 Melville Crescent, a very large townhouse, previously the home of the engineer John Miller of Leithen.
Joseph Bell died on 4 October 1911. He was buried at the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh alongside his wife Edith Katherine Erskine Murray (1840-1874) (daughter of the Hon James Erskine Murray), and their son Benjamin, and next to his parent's and brother's plots. The grave is mid-way along the north wall of the northern section to the original cemetery.
Inspiration of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle met Bell in 1877, and served as his clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Doyle later went on to write a series of popular stories featuring the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, who Doyle stated was loosely based on Bell and his observant ways. Bell was aware of this inspiration. According to Irving Wallace (in an essay originally in his book The Fabulous Originals but later republished and updated in his collection The Sunday Gentleman), Bell was involved in several police investigations, mostly in Scotland, such as the Ardlamont Mystery of 1893, usually with forensic expert Professor Henry Littlejohn. Bell also gave his analysis of the Ripper murders to Scotland Yard.
The BBC television series Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes was a fictionalised account of Doyle's time as Bell's clerk. The series may have exaggerated Bell's criminal investigations as well as the degree to which Holmes was based on Bell (played by Ian Richardson), and it positioned Doyle in the role of a Dr. Watson to Bell's Holmes. The original one-off production, which led to the later series, was released on DVD and VHS in the U.S. in 2003, titled Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle – The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes.
In 2006, Stone Publishing House published a book, written by historian Dr. Robert Hume, aimed at schoolchildren titled Dr. Joseph Bell – the Original Sherlock Holmes.
In episode 11, Season 5, of the Fox TV show House M.D., Wilson presents House with Joseph Bell's Manual Of the Operations of Surgery as a Christmas gift. The character of House is based on Holmes, who, as noted, was based in turn on Bell. When House's staff begin to wonder what dark meaning to put to House throwing away the expensive Christmas gift of the book, an amused Wilson begins making up a story about House having a closeted infatuation with a patient named Irene Adler whom he will always consider to be "the one who got away".
A bronze plaque was erected to Joseph Bell at 2 Melville Crescent, Edinburgh on 8 October 2011, marking the centenary of his death. Organised and funded by The Japan Sherlock Holmes Club, the building at this address, which was his home for his final decades, is now the Japanese Consulate in Edinburgh.
The plaque explains Bell's connection to Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.
The unveiling ceremony was attended by the several persons involved in the erection of the plaque (principally Mr Takeshi Shimizu) and representatives of various Sherlock Holmes clubs and societies. All present gave a short speech on their connections to either Holmes or the project, with a piece from Prof. Owen Dudley Edwards.
The plaque was created and cast by Powderhall Bronze of Edinburgh.