(Originally posted on my rarely updated Holmesian blog)
At the Royal Society of Medicine there is small collection of items from the Royal College of Surgeons’s exhibition on ‘The Real Sherlock Holmes‘. It’s a fascinating collection, great to read more about ACD as a medical student and take a look at the people who inspired him.
An interesting thing I discovered whilst there was that the president of RCS from 1878 called Sir Patrick Heron Watson (1832 – 1907); his surgical career carries a certain resemblance to Watson’s. I tried finding an online resource, and all I could really find was this article (PDF) titled ‘An Edinburgh surgeon of the Crimean war–Patrick Heron Watson (1832-1907)’ by WB Watson, published in the Medical History journal v.10 (2) in April 1966.
Basically, after his training and whatnot, Sir Patrick Heron Watson decided to become an army surgeon and headed out to help in the Crimean War. Initially he was posted to Koolalee Hospital in Turkey, where he caught typhus and after a short convalescence was posted to the Crimea with the Royal Artillery – where unfortunately he contracted dysentery. He was put back on a boat going to Scutari (ships doctor said he wouldn’t last the night) and spent the next four weeks in the hospital there, where he became ill with mercury poisoning before finally being sent back to England and spent further recovery in a hotel in London.
Given that ACD used so much from his own experiences and life as influence for Holmes, it wouldn’t surprise me if Sir Patrick Heron Watson’s early army career was inspiration for John Watson’s career and that the ‘H’ is for Heron.
As with all things Holmesian, there are more resources out there talking about Sir Patrick Heron Watson being the source for both Watson’s middle name and surname.
An article in the Baker Street Journal titled ‘Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Bea (sic)‘ (PDF) by S. E. Dahlinger reveals that in 1949 Jay Finley Christ wrote an article called “John H. Watson Never Went to China” which challenged John Dickson Carr’s belief that John Watson was based on ACDs friend James Watson, as ACD didn’t met him until after he wrote STUD. The case was then followed up in the 1980s by Jon L. Lellenberg and W. O. G. Lofts who published “John H(eron) Watson, M.D.” in vol. 30, No.2 of the Baker Street Journal (pages 83 – 85 if you want to look it up).