Baker Street Wiki
Baker Street Wiki

Jonathan Small is the main antagonist of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Sign of the Four‎‎. He is a peg-legged man who has an accomplice in his loyal friend Tonga.


Small came from a poor family in England. He joined the army, and served in India. During that time, he was swimming in a river when a crocodile bit his leg off, leaving him crippled. He was saved by another soldier, who was the best swimmer in the regiment. Later Small worked on a plantation as an overseer, and during the Indian mutiny of 1857 his friends were killed and he was forced to flee to Agra to save himself.

At Agra, Small was charged as a guard. Two Sikhs, on duty with him, took him hostage and told him of their plan to kill a merchant of Raja, who was to arrive shortly carrying a treasure box full of jewels.  If he refused to join them they would kill him.  They promised there was no danger to the fort at Agra which was under seige and Smalls' duty to defend.  Given these facts Small readily agreed.

Small, the two men and a third Sikh killed the merchant, hid the treasure, and drew a map with the four signing as the Sign of Four, and pledging an alliance to always act in the best interests of the four.

Their plan was ruined when the body of the victim was discovered although the treasure was not found. The three Sikhs (Singh, Akbar and Khan) were sentenced to serve life in jail, while Small was at first sentence to death.  This was later commuted to hard labor for life in the Andaman Islands.

In the prison, Small overheard two officers of guard, Arthur Morstan and John Sholto talking about their gambling losses and how they may have to hand in their commissions and be ruined.

He told them about the treasure, and also told them that if they help him and his friends, they can have equal share amounting to £50,000 each.

Morstan sent Sholto to check, but Sholto tricked Small and Morstan, and took the treasure back to England.

Small was enraged. At one point of his sentence, he saved an Aborigine pigmy from death, who then became loyal to him. Small called him Tonga.

In 1882 Small then with Tonga managed to escape the prison by killing a guard who had tormented him during his incarceration.  He hit the guard with his wooden leg, saying later that that was his only crime. After their escape from prison island in Tonga's boat, they travelled the world, earning money by Tonga's performances, including him eating raw flesh.

When they reached England, Small found out where Sholto was but not where the treasure was.  Sholto was, by this time a dying man, and had called his sons Thaddeus and Bartholomew to him to reveal the treasure's location.  A glimpse of Small's face in a window panicked Sholto so much that he died before revealing where the treasure was to his sons.  Small kept an eye on the house through an agent in the house though he travelled much.  In 1888 Small found out about the recovery of the treasure. He wanted to stage robbery. Tonga who was agile climbed up the Sholto house and tied a rope, and Small climbed up. When they climbed up, Small saw Bartholomew Sholto. Small wanted only to tie him up, but Tonga who got there first shot a poison dart into him killing him, which enraged Small.

Small took the treasure and ran away. He engaged a fast steam launchboat called Aurora for their escape to a liner bound for South America, but was tracked down by Holmes, Watson and the police. In the chase on the Thames, Holmes and Watson killed Tonga, who tried to kill them with a poison dart. While the Aurora managed to make it to the shore, Small got stuck in the mud. The treasure box was empty - Small had dumped it overboard just prior to his capture

At Baker Street, Small told his history, and the police took him away.

Small admits but doesn't express regret for any of the crimes he was involved in - except for the death of Bartholomew Sholto. He observes that despite his "claim" to the Agra Treasure that it never brought anything except bad luck to those who tried to posses it {The Servant who had it was killed; Major Sholto lived in years for fear and guilt; Small spending over half of his life building a breakwater in the Adaman Islands and will likely spend the rest of his life building drains in Dartmoor Prison}.


Jonathan Small was an unfortunate man, followed by bad luck, which was manifested in him losing his leg, getting put in prison for a crime he was forced to commit to survive, and his plan of getting the treasure back failed. He was not evil and sadistic by nature, but he was an unfortunate man driven by fate to commit crimes. Further more his act of saving Tonga showed that he was a good man, who knew mercy and compassion, but had very bad luck in life. He ended up in prison once again at the end of novel.

Small can be compared with Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean, who also was an unfortunate man, but Valjean was at least lucky enough to die as a free man.