Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, British writer and physician, most noted for creating the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and writing stories about him which are generally considered milestones in the field of crime fiction, is born at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 22, 1859.
Doyle’s father, Charles Altamont Doyle, is an Englishman of Irish Catholic descent and his mother, Mary (née Foley), is Irish Catholic. Charles dies in 1893, in the Crichton Royal Hospital, Dumfries, after many years of psychiatric illness. Supported by wealthy uncles, Doyle is sent to the Jesuit preparatory school Hodder Place, Stonyhurst, at the age of nine. He then goes on to Stonyhurst College until 1875. From 1875 to 1876, he is educated at the Jesuit school Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria. Doyle later rejects the Catholic faith and becomes an agnostic. He also later becomes a spiritualist mystic.
From 1876 to 1881 Doyle studies medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. While studying, he begins writing short stories. His first published piece, The Mystery of Sasassa Valley, is printed in Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal on September 6, 1879. After stints as a ship’s doctor and a failed medical practice with former classmate George Turnavine Budd, Doyle arrives in Portsmouth in June 1882 and sets up a medical practice at 1 Bush Villas in Elm Grove, Southsea. The practice is slow to develop and while waiting for patients, Doyle again begins writing fiction. In 1890, Doyle studies ophthalmology in Vienna and moves to London.
Doyle’s first work featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, A Study in Scarlet, is published by Ward Lock & Co. in November 1886. The piece appears one year later in the Beeton’s Christmas Annual and receives good reviews in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald.
A sequel to A Study in Scarlet is commissioned and The Sign of the Four appears in Lippincott’s Magazine in February 1890, the last under agreement with the Ward Lock company. Short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes are published in The Strand Magazine.
In December 1893, wanting to dedicate more time to historical novels, Doyle has Holmes and Professor Moriarty plunge to their deaths together down the Reichenbach Falls in the The Final Problem. Public outcry, however, leads him to feature Holmes in 1901 in the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes is ultimately featured in a total of 56 short stories, the last published in 1927, and four novels by Doyle.
Between 1888 and 1906, Doyle writes seven historical novels, which many critics regard as his best work. He also authors nine other novels and, later in his career between 1912 and 1929, five stories, two of novella length, featuring the irascible scientist Professor Challenger.
He twice stands for Parliament as a Liberal Unionist, in 1900 in Edinburgh Central and in 1906 in the Hawick Burghs, but he is not elected. In May 1903, he is appointed a Knight of Grace of the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.
Doyle is a supporter of the campaign for the reform of the Congo Free State, led by the journalist E. D. Morel and diplomat Roger Casement. He becomes acquainted with Morel and Casement and, together with Bertram Fletcher Robinson, they inspire several characters in the 1912 novel The Lost World. When Casement is found guilty of treason against the Crown during the 1916 Easter Rising, Doyle tries unsuccessfully to save him from facing the death penalty, arguing that Casement has been driven mad and cannot be held responsible for his actions.
Found clutching his chest in the hall of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, East Sussex, on July 7, 1930, Doyle dies of a heart attack at the age of 71. At the time of his death there is some controversy concerning his burial place, as he is avowedly not a Christian, but rather considers himself a Spiritualist. He is first buried on July 11, 1930, in Windlesham rose garden. He is later reinterred together with his wife in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, Hampshire.