"The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is the ninth of the twelve stories collected as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It was first published in The Strand Magazine in March 1892.
In his narration, Dr Watson notes that this is only one of two cases which he personally brought to the attention of Sherlock Holmes. The story, set in 1889, mainly consists of a young London hydraulic engineer, Mr Victor Hatherley, recounting strange happenings of the night before, first to Dr Watson who dresses the stump where Mr Hatherley's thumb has been cut off, and then to Sherlock Holmes himself. Hatherley had been visited in his office by an old, suspicious man who identified himself as Colonel Lysander Stark. He offered Hatherley a job at a country house to examine a hydraulic press used, as Stark explains, to compress fuller's earth into bricks, but Stark warned Hatherley to hold his tongue about the lucrative job, which will apparently pay 50 guineas (£52 10s, or £52.50 by today's decimalised system). Hatherley felt compelled to take this work, despite his misgivings, as he had had very little work.
Upon arriving late at night at the appointed station, Hatherley is met by Stark and driven a considerable distance to the house where he is to render his services. He is still under the spell of the 50 guineas and does not become afraid even when a woman at the house warns him to flee. He is presently shown the press, and makes his recommendations as to needed repairs. Then, he rashly decides to inspect the press a bit more closely, discovering that it is certainly not used for pressing fuller's earth. Hatherley narrowly escapes getting crushed to death when the machine is turned on, and is forced to run for his life, culminating in him getting his thumb severed. Holmes then makes sense of the happenings, recognizing Stark and his allies as counterfeiters, but he, Watson, and the police arrive too late: the house is on fire, and the perpetrators have fled. Ironically, the press was destroyed when Hatherley's lamp was crushed inside it, setting the machine on fire and ruining the criminals' operation.
Complete Story Text
- This case is one of the few where Holmes fails to bring the villains to justice.