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Baker Street Wiki
This page is for the real life person. For the character from Murder Rooms see Joseph Bell (Richardson).
Joseph Bell

Joseph Bell (2 December, 1837 – 4 October, 1911) was a Scottish lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh in the 19th century. He is perhaps best known for being an inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

Life and career[]

Bell was a great-grandson of Benjamin Bell, a forensic 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. 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, a Justice of the Peace, and a Deputy Lieutenant.

Bell wrote the book Manual of the Operations of Surgery, which was published in 1883.[1]

Joseph Bell died on 4 October, 1911. He was buried at the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh alongside his wife, Edith Katherine Erskine Murray, and their son Benjamin, and next to his father's and brother's plots.

Inspiration for Sherlock Holmes[]

Sir 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.[2] Bell was aware of this inspiration and took some pride in it. According to Irving Wallace (in an essay originally in his book The Fabulous Originals[3] 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 (surgeon born 1826).


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 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 US 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.[4]


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 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.


  1. Bell, Joseph (1883). "Manual of the Operations of Surgery". Retrieved 2014-05-30.
  2. Hume, Robert (2011-11-04). "Fiction imitates real life in a case of true inspiration". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 2014-01-19.
  3. Wallace, Irving (1955). "The Fabulous Originals: Lives of Extraordinary People Who Inspired Memorable Characters in Fiction". Retrieved 09 July 2020.
  4. Hume, Robert Ernest (2005). "Dr. Joseph Bell: The Original Sherlock Holmes". Retrieved 09 July 2020.