About this Recording
NA321312 - DOYLE, A.C.: Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (The), Vol. 4 (Unabridged)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Volume 4

A Case of Identity

The Adventure of the Crooked Man

The Naval Treaty

The Greek Interpreter


Arthur Conan Doyle was born in 1859, in Edinburgh, a city soaked in history, which gave him a strong sense of the past, which he never lost. He was educated at Stonyhurst School, where he excelled at sport, a lifelong interest, and developed a passion for reading. The ideals he read about in his history books influenced him all his life. He trained to be a doctor at Edinburgh University, and before qualifying, signed on as ship’s surgeon aboard a whaler. The hardened crew’s tough stories of life at sea, were to have a strong influence on his own burgeoning skill as a writer. Doyle began in medical practice at Southsea, in 1882, where he met his wife Louise Hawkins, later they moved to London. His lack of success as a doctor was balanced by his growing reputation as an author. His future was assured after the creation of the scientific detective Sherlock Holmes, though Doyle was always of the opinion that his historical novels were his true life’s work. These included The White Company (1891), and The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (1896). He also ventured into science fiction, having a great success with The Lost World (1912). His interest in history encouraged his patriotism, and at the time of the Boer War (1900), he published a pamphlet explaining the causes and true course of the war. It made him ‘the most famous man in England’. His first wife died in 1906, and he married Jean Leckie with whom he’d had a platonic relationship for some time. In his later years, Doyle developed a deep interest in Spiritualism, and espoused many minority causes. He traveled the world furthering the cause of Spiritualism, and died peacefully, convinced his spirit was eternal, in 1930. His simple philosophy of life was caught perfectly in the epitaph on his tombstone ‘Steel true, Blade straight.’ But Conan Doyle will always be remembered as the creator of the greatest fictional detective in the world; in those works his spirit is truly immortal.



This case, written in 1891, centers on the personality of Miss Mary Sutherland, a representative of the new type of woman that was beginning to emerge in the decade of the 1890s. A woman with a profession. Even by the end of the 19th century there were few areas of work open to young women, but the typewriter, which had been invented in America in 1867, was now opening doors to the world of commerce. Until this time, young women with their way to make in the world had to rely on such jobs as teachers, with an annual income of less than $75. Miss Violet Hunter in The Copper Beeches was one such.

Mary Sutherland also had a private income from stocks and shares amounting to a gross income of around $175 a year, which would give her a considerable degree of independence. As Holmes says, ‘a single lady can get on very nicely upon an income of about sixty pounds.’  Her strength of purpose in determining her own future by defying her stepfather, Mr. Windibank, makes one think that perhaps, in the new century, she would have been ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the Suffragettes.


Conan Doyle seems to have liked these independent young women who crop up throughout these stories. He was by no means a supporter of the ‘new woman’, but where he saw a social injustice being committed, as in the divorce laws, which were heavily weighted against women, he threw his considerable support behind the efforts to change them.


On the subject of income, it is interesting to examine Holmes’ own. He was still establishing himself in these early stories, set in the 1880s, and Conan Doyle makes a particular point of Holmes showing off his considerable acquisitions from recent successfully concluded cases. His ‘snuff box of old gold, with a great amethyst in the center of the lid’, and a ‘remarkable’ ring on his finger, were both gifts from Royal Houses of Europe, who seem to prefer this method of acknowledging their debt to Holmes rather than give him hard cash. Indeed, the fledgling detective may have been distinctly short of funds at this time, which led to Dr. Watson sharing the Baker Street rooms and the connected expenses.


It should be noted though, that these expenses seem to have included a ‘boy in buttons’ to usher clients in! However, one should remember Holmes’ own philosophy from The Speckled Band, that, ‘as to reward, my profession is its reward.’ A particularly interesting case was always pursued, even if there was little chance of a fee. It is doubtful, in view of the outcome of A Case of Identity, that Holmes would have expected a payment from Miss Mary Sutherland.



The Indian Mutiny of 1857 forms the colorful background to this case. It was the revolt of Sepoy troops against their British masters, who with the utmost insensitivity disregarded the religious beliefs of the Hindu religion. Cartridges at this time were sealed with pork grease; to load them, it was necessary to bite off the seal. This direct contact with pork was anathema to the Hindu soldiers, whose protestations were ignored. The ensuing conflict unleashed decades of pent-up resentment and the end results were bloody and savage. The British finally quelled the mutiny in 1858.


With the skill of a born story-teller Conan Doyle mixes truth with fiction, thus, while the besieged town of Bhurtee is fictional, it was relieved by a genuine hero of the Mutiny, James George Smith Neill (1810-1857), a British soldier and Indian administrator, who was one of the leaders of the relief column that journeyed towards Lucknow, relieving besieged towns on its way.

He met his death in the lifting of the siege there. This clever mingling of fact and fiction by Conan Doyle gives edge and immediacy to the stories, such as when he places invented London street-names next to genuine ones, a device he was fond of using.


Although the popular image of Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant mind solving crimes single-handedly, it is evident that he relied on a network of helpers that could be called upon when needed. Watson seems always to be available at a moment’s notice, and able to change his plans and follow wherever Holmes leads. At the start of this story for instance, though late at night when Holmes turns up, without so much as a hesitation Watson agrees to go with Holmes on the morrow to Aldershot. His newly married wife, and his neighbor Dr. Jackson seem ever to be accommodating. Holmes made frequent use of a group of beggar-boys (only too common in the streets of London in the 1880s), whom he organized into an efficient band known as the Baker Street Irregulars. They were to ‘go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone’. It is certain that their relative anonymity as street urchins produced results, and young Simpson in this story, assigned to keep a watch on Henry Wood in Aldershot, would have been well rewarded for his keenness, for Holmes paid the boys a shilling a day, with the bonus of a guinea for any boy bringing in the information first.



Secret political negotiations at the highest levels of Government are at the core of this case. The Naval Treaty of the title deals with the sensitive issue of Great Britain’s attitude towards the Triple Alliance. This league between Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy, formed for mutual benefit in 1883, seriously threatened the balance of power in Europe. The position Britain adopted towards the Alliance was crucial. Thus, when the papers are stolen and a ‘leak’ seems inevitable, Holmes is put on his mettle to prevent a serious international complication. Once again Conan Doyle cleverly mingles historical fact with fiction.


Throughout these stories the official police force often seem less than enamored with Holmes’ interventions in their investigations. Here, it is the detective Forbes who is ‘decidedly frigid’ towards Holmes. Holmes, for his part, does not seem to have a very high opinion of Scotland Yard. The Detective Department of the Metropolitan Police only came into being in 1842 and by 1868 only had a force of 15! So it was a relatively new branch of policing in Holmes’ day, and developed slowly, too slowly for Sherlock Holmes. He was ever pursuing the very latest developments in criminology. A student of chemistry, like his creator Conan Doyle, Holmes used science to prove his theories, as in this story, ‘if this paper remains blue all is well. If it turns red it means a man’s life.’ His readiness to use new methods of detection accounts for his frustration with the plodding ways of Scotland Yard.


However, techniques were changing fast towards the end of the century, and the Bertillon system discussed in this story by Holmes and Watson, which was a method of cataloging criminals by measuring their bones, introduced in 1879, was completely superceded by the development of fingerprinting adopted by Scotland Yard in 1901.



In this case, we get a glimpse, and a glimpse only, of Holmes’ family and their ancestry. Conan Doyle was wise to keep these facts few and scattered throughout the stories, as it adds to the air of mystery so essential to Holmes’ character. Here though we meet his brother Mycroft for the first time—a brilliant man as de-energized as Holmes is hyperactive. Mycroft’s home away from home is the Diogenes Club. Club-land proliferated during the 19th century. There were clubs for all complexions of society, male society of course, from the grand political establishments such as the Carlton or the Reform, through to the military, gambling, artistic, Bohemian or just plain eccentric organizations. The Diogenes belongs to this last variety, with its rules demanding un-sociability. Other contenders for oddness were the Travelers Club, where it was essential that members had made a Continental journey to some resort at least 500 miles in a straight line from London, and the Eclectic, which had a short life because so many candidates were refused entry!

It is worth noting that one of the hotels on Northumberland Avenue, where Mr. Melas the interpreter found employment as a guide, is now the location of the famous ‘Sherlock Holmes’ pub, containing a meticulous recreation of the sleuth’s study at 221B Baker Street.


Notes by David Timson


David Timson


A familiar and versatile audio and radio voice, David Timson has also performed in modern and classic plays across Great Britain and abroad, including Wild Honey for Alan Ayckbourn, Hamlet, The Man of Mode, and The Seagull. He has been seen on TV in Nelson’s Column and Swallows and Amazons, and in the film The Russia House.

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